Ireland behind on legal obligations, claims women’s group
Training on coercive and controlling behaviour urged for first responders and judges
Chairwoman of the National Women’s Council Ellen O’Malley Dunlop: judges need to look at their knowledge of physical or sexual assault and receive education on how perpetrators use shame and fear to manipulate victims.
The chairwoman of the National Women’s Council has said specialist training in understanding coercive and controlling behaviour must be provided for first responders and judges who deal with issues of domestic violence.
Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, who also spent 10 years as chief executive officer of the Rape Crisis Centre, also called on the Government to implement its obligations under the Istanbul convention on violence against women and the EU directive on victims’ rights.
While there is an understanding that violence against women and rape within a relationship is a crime, Ms O’Malley Dunlop said understanding of the coercive and controlling nature of abuse needed to be the subject of education “across the judicial system” and in schools.
She said first responders, including gardaí, need education and training in dealing with psychologically coercive behaviour within inter-personal relationships.
“These are very complex issues which are under-reported and we certainly need upskilling in terms of first responders and the courts,” she said.
Margaret Martin, director of Women’s Aid, said the organisation gets reports of about 300 inter-relationship rapes every year but since 1999 there has been just four cases before the courts. “Coercive control is endemic, everyone dealing with it needs to understand it better.”
Domestic violence investigators
She also said it was not sufficient to just add legislation, without enforcing existing law and resourcing gardaí. The Garda was committed to setting up a network of domestic violence investigators – of detective rank – and this needed to be extended nationally as soon as possible, she said.
A conference organised by Safe Ireland entitled, Understanding Coercive Control – Domestic Violence, Domination and the Defence of Liberty, takes place at Croke Park on Tuesday. It will be addressed by Evan Stark, an American academic who criticised Ireland’s record for investigating and prosecuting domestic violence. “For every 100 reports of physical or sexual assault, only about two result in any kind of police action in ireland,” he said. “Almost nobody is receiving any significant custodial sentence.”
Ms O’Malley Dunlop said the National Women’s Council welcomed the Garda Commissioner’s introduction of 28 victim service offices. The offices ensure victims of crime are kept informed about the progress of their case and the supports available to them.
But Ms O’Malley Dunlop also said judges needed to continually look at their own level of knowledge of such issues and receive continuous education on matters such as how perpetrators use shame and fear to manipulate victims.
Ms O’Malley Dunlop was speaking as it emerged that Ireland, as a signatory to the Istanbul convention on violence against women, was obliged to create a coercive control law. She said Ireland also needed to complete the transposition of the EU directive on victims rights, which was currently before the Oireachtas.
She said rape within marriage was criminalised in 1999, but there were few cases of this crime coming before the courts. Similarly, coercive and controlling activity still needed to be addressed, she said.
As a further measure, Ms O’Malley Dunlop said the State needed to implement education programmes in schools from where “the next generation of victims and perpetrators come”.