A US CITIZEN has revealed how she had to drop charges against her husband for rape and assault in order to remain in Ireland with her two children.
Deborah* and her now ex-husband, who is a European citizen, moved to Ireland in 2001, and she was obliged to go to the garda immigration office every six months with him to confirm that he was still working in the country so that she could stay.
“We had separated because of the violence after I had my first son but we tried to work things out,” she told TheJournal.ie. “In 2004, things were OK for a while but by Christmas he had become more violent and he took a belt to me, and split the back of my head open.”
A few months later, Deborah told her husband she wanted a separation and she said that night he beat her and sexually assaulted her in their house.
“I called the gardaí and they arrested him – he admitted that he’d done it,” she explained.
The woman and her two children moved into a women’s refuge for a short period but when the time came to apply for emergency funding, she said the social welfare workers were “hostile” towards her.
My immigration card had expired and the man who was there said it was illegal for me to be here and how dare I try to get money. I was standing there with two small children, my face was a mess, it was obviously someone had tore into me and he actually told me that he had a good mind to call the gardaí on me.
Deborah said that she had thought of leaving Ireland but one of her children had been born in a European country and she was told by a solicitor that if she left to return to the US with the two children at that time, she could be accused of kidnapping them.
“”I really had no way to leave,” she said. “It was either leave them behind with him or take them with me and possibly have to send them back alone since there was no guarantee I’d be allowed back in. I was trapped in a place it was illegal for me to be in.”
When she tried to have her immigration status renewed, Deboarh was told that this could not be done without her husband, who was, by this time, remanded to prison.
The charges against him meant that he could not be within a certain distance of her and when he came before the courts, Deborah said she was “forced to drop the rape charges” so that he could help her to stay in the country.
“It was a humiliating experience,” she said. “I spoke in front of the same gardaí who were there when I went for the medical examination, they knew what had happened and the only reason I was dropping the charges was because of my immigration status. In any other situation, I would have seen it through but I had to let him away with it”.
After receiving free legal advice and writing to the government about her situation, Deborah was eventually granted leave to stay in the country, independent of her husband, by the Department of Justice.
Recently, the Immigrant Council of Ireland warned that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence are feeling trapped as they are worried reporting the crime will impact on their ability to remain in the country. The council is seeking to have domestic violence formally recognised in immigration law and the provision of emergency accommodation and welfare benefits for victims.
In a statement to TheJournal.ie, The Department of Justice said that it “does not accept that the lack of specific legislation in this area is keeping people trapped in violent relationships”.
The Department already deals with these cases as they arise in a sensitive and sympathetic way and has granted independent status to several people who have come forward. Cases obviously have to be looked at on their merits but that would be the case irrespective of whether there was specific legislation referencing domestic violence scenarios.
* The woman’s name has been changed in order to protect her identity.