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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 21 October, 2014

These stories of domestic abuse are prompting calls for a change in law

Women’s Aid and several other organisations will come before an Oireachtas committee to discuss potential changes.

Image: domestic violence via Shutterstock

A LACK OF specific stalking offences, around-the-clock protection services, and child welfare regulations are all to be stressed to government today as part of a review of domestic violence legislation.

Support and advocacy groups will meet the Oireachtas Justice Committee this afternoon to discuss potential changes to keep those affected by such violence safe.

It follows the invitation of written submissions on the topic last April and published late last year.

“Following the hearings our Committee hopes to make genuine, practical and realistic recommendations to the Minister in a report on the subject,” the committee chair Deputy David Stanton said.

Women’s Aid, a domestic violence charity, are to present three situations they have encountered to demonstrate what action is needed.

They say that access to protection is needed 24/7 as domestic abuse can occur at any time. They say emergency barring orders would protect victims by allowing an order to cover weekends until a longer-term measure can be sought in the courts on a weekday:

Sarah was badly assaulted at home by her husband on a Friday night and called the gardaí.

They were very helpful and called an ambulance but said there was little they could do as there was no order in place and suggested she go to court ASAP. When she was discharged from the hospital Sarah rang the Women’s Aid Helpline as she was afraid to go home.

There was no refuge space available and; as her husband had threatened to burn down her parents or sister’s house if she went there; Sarah had no option but to sleep in her car that Saturday & Sunday night until the courts opened on Monday morning.

Women who contact the organisation’s helpline have said that stalking is a contact issue, and has now been aggravated by new phone of technology. They say that current harassment legislation is too complex to cover the event of stalking by an ex-partner:

Niamh, who’s 19, went out with Sean for a few months last year but split up as he was ‘too intense and clingy’.

He hasn’t left her in peace since. He always seems to be at the corner of her road when she leaves the house, no matter what time it is, and he follows her a lot of the time. He calls or texts her almost every day.

After he bad mouthed her on Facebook she went to the gardaí and was informed that they couldn’t do anything until he makes serious threats or harms her. Niamh was deeply shocked at this as she is very frightened.

She doesn’t go out any more than she has to – so she’s lost her freedom as well as her peace of mind.

What happens to the child in a case of domestic violence is also a cause of concern for the organisations. Women’s Aid believe that a safety assessment should be carried out and to ensure that the child’s opinion is taken into account is proceedings.

They also wish judges to be supported to “make informed and safe decisions regarding custody and access in the context of domestic violence”.

Aoife had arranged access visits for her ex-partner with their 3 year old daughter Jamie at her house, despite previous physical and emotional abuse when they were together. Her ex continued to be emotionally abusive and physically threatening to Aoife during access visits and on one occasion when she tried to stand up to him, he hit her.

She went to court and successfully applied for a Safety Order. When her ex then applied for court-ordered access, she asked for it to be supervised due to the previous abuse witnessed by Jamie, as well as his past verbal abuse of Jamie, but supervision was not ordered.

Jamie has told Aoife that she doesn’t like seeing her father, that she doesn’t like going to the toilet with him, that he tells her that she is smelly and that her mum is a slut. She is usually screaming when she’s dropped off at his house. Aoife has reported this to social workers but there has been no action taken. So Aoife would wait outside for the two hours access to help Jamie feel comfortable and safe. Then, the last time Jamie was dropped off at her dad’s, he assaulted Aoife in front of her.

She went back to court to make sure Jamie would be safe during access in future. This time-after two assaults, a safety order, and worrying reports from her daughter, Aoife was able to arrange supervised access. Her ex was very abusive in the court and his access was suspended until it can be provided on a supervised basis.

The Domestic Violence Coalition, who will also be attending today’s meeting, will be recommending measures be introduced to protect those afraid to come forward regarding domestic abuse due to their immigrant status.

“It is clear that there are people in this country who feel trapped in violent relationships because of fears that their status in Ireland is dependent on their spouse,” said Brian Killoran of the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

“In recent years our front-line services at the Immigrant Council alone assisted in 54 cases where domestic violence was a factor, through our work we are also aware of other incidents where victims are being supported by others.”

Read: Study finds sexual violence against women “endemic” in some countries >

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