Early education could help prevent domestic violence
Recent events have highlighted need for action in dealing with attacks against women
Protesters hold up a placard remembering Allison Marimón-Herrera and her mother Giselle who were found dead in a flat in Newry, during the International Women’s Day rally at Belfast city hall. Photograph: Michael McHugh/PA Wire
The shameful phenomenon of male violence towards women is never far from the headlines, usually in relation to the latest tragic case.
The year is still young, but the issue has been especially prominent in recent weeks.
Interviews with the family of Clodagh Hawe have brought all our minds back to her and her children’s deaths at the hands of her husband Alan. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last week announced a case review into the killings.
Then we read of a Dublin woman, Jessica Bowes, awarded ¤150,000 damagesagainst Jonathan McSherry, the father of her two children, who beat her so badly when she returned to her home from a Christmas night out that, as The Irish Times report put it: “The consequences of her injuries included that she found it impossible to fully close her lips due to the damage and felt her face appeared deformed. Doctors had to insert a permanent metal plate through her mouth to align the facial bones. Psychological evidence showed Ms Bowes had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, nightmares and is fearful for her own safety and that of her children. She was described by psychologists as severely damaged and vulnerable.”
Then, earlier this month, we had the case of a mother and daughter in Newry, killed, the police believe, by the mother’s partner who then killed himself.
Society tries to keep up with this horrible business – laws to protect women and to punish their domestic abusers have been introduced and refined since the 1970s when an ITV documentary based on Erin Pizzey’s book, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear, shocked viewers in Britain and Ireland. An outcome in Ireland was the establishment of Women’s Aid here.
Almost half a century later the director of Women’s Aid, Margaret Martin, is looking for more resources to deal with the new legislation on domestic violence which includes coercive control in the form of emotional and psychological abuse. The protection extends to dating couples because the abusive psychological control of women by men (sometimes, though less often, the other way around too) often starts when they are dating.
These men do psychological and emotional damage and, in extreme cases, they may kill.
They are masters of psychological manipulation which is why it can take so long for a woman to realise the full extent of what is going on.
It follows that gardaí, courts and others dealing with them need to be very well trained to deal with these individuals.
Martin wants the necessary money to be put into training everyone involved and she points out that a lot of services were “hollowed out” by austerity. Training will be important for everyone from the 999 telephone operator, the gardaí, the court clerk and the judge, she said.
The horrible toll of violence towards women has been with us for centuries and will be for a long time to come. All the more reason to put plenty of resources into combating it.
This, of course, should include well-resourced education on the issue for boys and young men. I imagine those who beat up or psychologically coerce women don’t have this behaviour in mind when they are still at school and an intervention at this stage could pay off in the long run.
A form of abuse can start when boys and girls are still in school when a girl is encouraged or persuaded by a boy to send compromising images to him which he then shares with his friends. The sharing of the images is a shocking event in the life of the girl. Older people would (I hope) understand that the whole event of the images will eventually be forgotten. A teenage girl caught in the nightmare cannot be expected to know that and the emotional wound must be deep.
So there is plenty of reason to have a well-resourced education programme from an early stage in the schools and I don’t see why it shouldn’t begin in the final year of primary school.
It’s not all about punishment: if we don’t change attitudes we can expect many more shocking headlines.
Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (email@example.com)