Domestic Violence Bill: Bar on web contact with victims hard to enforce

Frontline support organisations remain dubious over functionality of any online ban

Efforts to bar perpetrators of domestic violence from contacting their victims online are welcome but may be difficult to enforce in practice, according to a leading support group.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald will bring the Domestic Violence Bill before Cabinet on Tuesday morning. It proposes to tighten rules around contact through text and social media where abuse has occurred, along with a raft of other changes to existing legislation.

Fiona Ryan, director of frontline domestic violence support organisation Sonas, says service users have reported threats of rape and even murder from partners and ex-partners through text and social media, some of which are aimed at children.

“We welcome the recognition in the Bill of the increasing role of electronic communications in facilitating the ongoing abuse of women and children. We have supported women who have had death, rape and physical violence threats via text and social media,” she said.


“In certain cases these threats were made against children as well. But when it came to establishing that chain of evidence it can be very, very challenging,” she said.


Even in cases where there is a clear intention to intimidate, perpetrators can typically claim plausible deniability by saying someone else got hold of their phone or social media account and posted the threats without their knowledge.

Advocacy organisations remain dubious as to the functionality of any online ban, although attempts to tackle the issue are broadly welcomed.

Ms Ryan is concerned that couples in a dating situation, who tend to be younger and more intensive users of social media, were not covered in the heads of Bill and so may not be subject to the new provisions.

“This could have an unintended disproportionate negative impact on girls,” she said.

This point is echoed in Safe Ireland’s submission to the Department of Justice on the Domestic Violence and Victims of Crime Bills, but the charity remains supportive of the prospective legislation overall.

"What we certainly welcomed in it was the increased protections and increased accessibility of the legislation, particularly in relation to reducing opportunities for intimidation and allowing for more comprehensive supports into the courtroom for victims," said Safe Ireland programme manager Caitríona Gleeson.

“For some of the changes that need to be in place we would have preferred that this was dealt with earlier,” she said.


Despite assertions to the contrary from the Minister and her department, Ms Gleeson maintains Ireland can ratify a Council of Europe convention dealing with domestic violence prior to the Bills being enacted, and should do so at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Our position is that we believe Ireland should be ratifying the Istanbul Convention without delay. Our understanding from the Council of Europe is that this legislation doesn’t have to be passed in order to ratify the convention,” she said.

She acknowledges that the eventual passage of the two Bills, expected to occur in the next six months, will improve the State’s compliance with certain tenets of the convention, and praised the “leadership” shown by Frances Fitzgerald on domestic violence in general.