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'I could still feel the punches to my head as I ran up the road with my son'

Ireland’s legal system is failing women “at every level” according to new research.

Image: domestic violence image via Shutterstock

THE IRISH LEGAL system “at every level” is failing women who are victims of domestic abuse, according to research by an organisation which offers services to them.

The research by Safe Ireland found different layers of the justice system, from gardaí to the judiciary, “often failed to give each woman the time and attention necessary to properly analyse her specific case”, CEO Sharon O’Halloran said.

She said it has exposed a system that often regards domestic violence “as a nuisance rather than a crime”.

We need a radical change in culture in the legal system so that domestic violence is treated seriously by everyone.

‘The last time he beat me was the worst’

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, one victim described the horrors her husband put her through.

The mental abuse started six months after they married, when she was pregnant with their daughter. He started calling her fat and drinking excessively.

In one incident at a restaurant, she said he “pulled me by the hair and put my face into the corner of the table”. Three men stood up to intervene and he told them “he would take them on too”.

“The worst time he beat me was the last time he beat me,” the woman, referred to as Jane, told the programme. He had been out drinking and when she let him in the door he started to choke her.

Jane doesn’t remember how she eventually got out of the house that night.

I just remember running with my son. He was only two and a half at the time. My son was in my arms and my daughter was screaming running up the road in the lashings of rain. We were in our bare feet, we had no clothes. I could still feel the punches to the back of my head as I was running up the road with my son in my arms.

‘Just a domestic’

According to the research, which centred on 13 victims living in both urban and rural areas, women are not taken seriously by the legal system, are generally silenced in court and their allegations of domestic violence were not fully investigated. Breaches of safety and barring orders also went unpunished.

Women interviewed recounted a number of high-risk behaviours, like threats to kill or coerced sex, were not always heard or included in evidence.

All of the women quoted “just a domestic” as a phrase they have experienced in Ireland’s justice system.

Though the report points out many flaws in the system, there were also pockets of good practice where it is working well, where women are being heard.

“We are confident that we can work to ensure that these pockets become the norm for women and children, that change in culture and committed leadership can over-ride dismissal,” O’Halloran said.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said it is “absolutely tragic” that this problem is still being grossly mismanaged.

He accused the government of displaying “some of the more obvious characteristic characteristics of a domestic abuser by its continually making empty pledges to change while only succeeding in making things worse”.

Safe Ireland have made 34 recommendations, with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald due to launch the report later today. O’Halloran said it would make an immediate difference if the following four were implemented:

  • Establish a civil and criminal law definition of domestic violence which includes coercive control;
  • Introduce risk assessment systems so that risks of violent behaviour are recognised, including review structures for intimate partner homicides;
  • Introduce restrictions on reporting victims identity in related criminal proceedings where the victim needs to remain anonymous;
  • Remove the existing fee for legal aid for victims of domestic violence.

A major European survey published last year showed 79% of Irish women who had experienced violence or abuse did not contact any service or organisation, including gardaí. The European average is 53%.

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