26% of Irish women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. That’s approximately 394,325 Irish women who have been abused in some way by a partner or non-partner in their adult lives. That is a shocking statistic.
It was revealed following a survey carried out by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights. They interviewed 42,000 women across the 28 Member States of the EU, asking about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including incidents of domestic violence.
The survey also included questions on stalking, sexual harassment, the reporting of crimes, reasons for not reporting and overcoming abuse.
While Ireland ranked below the EU average, the highest being Denmark with over half their female population having been a victim at some point, it still highlights a massive problem in our society.
Domestic Violence refers to the use of physical or emotional force or threat of physical force including sexual violence, in close adult relationships. It can also involve emotional abuse, destruction of property, isolation or stalking.
It is a crime and you are protected by the courts under the Domestic Violence Act 1996. The Gardai therefore have the power to arrest and prosecute a violent family member and victims can gain protection through a safety or barring order.
Until recently, only married women were entitled to protection against their husbands. However, in August 2011 legislation was passed to give the same rights to those in long-term cohabiting relationships. In the year following the change, applications for safety orders rose by more than 20%.
Unfortunately, this legal protection does not extend to those in dating relationships, meaning thousands of women still remain in danger from a violent partner.
This survey also highlighted an even greater problem. Of those 394,325 Irish women who have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, less than a third of them have actually brought the crime to the attention of the police. This means that approximately 73% of the offenses have never been reported.
The EU FRA survey gave a good insight into the reasons women choose not to report.
Sometimes, it’s the lack of control of what happens once it’s passed to the police is what prevents a lot of women from reporting such crimes. They either do not want to make a fuss or do not want the perpetrator to be charged. Nearly half of those surveyed stated that they had dealt with the problem themselves and just wanted to keep it private. Shockingly almost a third of women said that they felt the violence was too minor or not serious enough to tell anyone. Any act of violence against another person is worth telling.
Reporting the crime is easy and can be done in any local Garda station, your local GP or hospital. Women’s Aid recommends that you should “always report any physical assault or abuse, even if you do not want to take legal action at the time”. Apart from being essential to have injuries treated properly, medical and Garda reports can be useful as “vital evidence should you proceed at some point to legal action.”
In September 2012, a law was introduced in England and Wales allowing police to disclose information about individuals with prior convictions of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, ‘Clare’s Law’ was introduced following the murder of Clare Wood by her partner George Appleton who had previous repeated convictions for kidnapping, harassing and threatening women.
It is not a public register and information is only disclosed when deemed necessary. An application is made by a woman, their family or agencies working in the field, which is then deliberated upon by a multi-agency committee consisting of members of the prison service, probation service and social services, before a decision is reached. It is designed to act as a preventative measure, enabling potential victims to make informed decisions about whether to stay with somebody or not.
Schemes like this make it all the more reason to report these crimes. It’s not about vilifying someone, it’s about accountability and getting an abuser to take responsibility for their actions, so they never do it again. Moreover, it’s about protecting women’s safety.
As of yet, no such register exists in Ireland. Its introduction would really benefit women and could potentially encourage more to come forward if they knew that their words could help protect other women in the future.