WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN AND SHOULD BE DONE TO STOP MEN’S VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.
Violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights. Physical, mental and sexual abuse coupled with the psychological impact have profound effects on those who are subjected to it either directly or indirectly. Male domination in the Church, the Dail, the Senate, the legal profession, the police force could be considered a deterrent to women to reveal ‘abuse’ particularly when one considers that violence is not confined to any one particular class and occurs equally in rural and local areas. The fact that the 1840 Law where the Judge affirmed the husband’s right to kidnap his wife, beat her and imprison her in the marital home remained in place in Ireland until 1978 is also significant and as it in ways provides judicial acceptance of such acts. Also, we have to consider the impact of corporal punishment within schools and particularly that administered by the esteemed religious hierarchy and its impact on making violence acceptable to some men. It is difficult to compile accurate statistics but the first national survey commissioned by Women’s Aid in 1995 shows that violence against women in the home in Ireland is extensive. 59% of the women surveyed knew of a woman subjected to violence by her partner and 18% reported violence ranging from mental cruelty, threats of physical violence, actual violence, and some women had their pets or property damaged. The media also are culpable for creating an image which makes women unsure about seeking solutions. This essay does not intend to accuse men of victimisation of women. However, it is my aim to draw attention to the known abuses and to examine options which could be used to deter men from this source of controlling power in relation to women.
It is worth considering just how acceptable violence is. Humans like animals are territorial by instinct and force as a means of protecting territory applies. No matter how advanced societies are, each country has its own army, nuclear weapons, defence systems and the ethos that if in danger fight and inflict whatever injuries to the enemy as necessary to ensure your survival. Crime rates exist, ‘blood and guts’ films are in demand, even cartoons for children make violence acceptable. Pornography is readily available on TV, video, magazines, computer programmes and now Internet is the latest means of enticing those so inclined. To make something unacceptable it needs to be condemned and hence the importance of committed groups who are prepared to lobby government and public opinion.
The Animal Rights Movement, the Anti-Nuclear Groups, Opposition groups to the Vietnam War, Greenpeace etc. emerged due to people coming together to express an opinion. Passivity as a characteristic gives rise to acceptance no matter how unacceptable the action and this ultimately leads to minority interests being neglected. The National Women’s Council of Ireland, since it formation in 1973, provides an important forum for women’s organisations to share experiences, exchange ideas and devise campaigns. It presently has 300,000 women members. Recognition of violence against women resulted in the establishment of Women’s Aid in June 1974. Women’s Aid believes in “women’s power to take back control over their lives” and provides the necessary support. This group along with other activists have sought more refuge spaces, better legislation and encouraged additional training in social skills for Gardai, Social Workers and health personnel and provide the necessary acknowledgement and assistance for victims. Violence against women needs to be addressed and Women’s Aid goal of “only zero tolerance of violence against women is an acceptable tolerance level” must be highlighted so that ultimately an awareness by the general public will be sufficient to impact on those who make the decisions i.e. ultimately the government of a country, the judiciary who administer the laws of the country, the Gardai, and health care workers.
As to what I think that can be done to stop Men’s violence against women. First and foremost, the message of its unacceptability must be conveyed. In Ireland we have an amazing capacity to live two lives, one (the hidden one) kept neatly packed away in the closet so our first priority must be to encourage victims to come forward. Funding and support must be forthcoming to the Agencies presently in existence to compile more accurate statistics which can be used to table motions in Government, gain media attention and further financial support for the establishment and running of refuges.
Greater awareness of groups such as the National Women Council of Ireland, Women’s Aid, the Rape Crisis Centre, Starting Over and others, is required. Support systems for violated women are far from adequate. English statistics indicate that 100 refuge spaces are required for our population. The Rathmines purpose-built centre only provides 14. A woman subjected to violence in the home be it emotional, physical or sexual cannot just leave. Invariably, their self esteem is low resulting in poor self worth which invariably leads to thought pattern of self-blame. The “If only’s” play like a broken record which ultimately compound the problem. More often, they have children, they are financially dependent, and the perpetrator portrays the ‘perfect picture’ to the outside world so this compounds their self-blame and vulnerability. For those in an emotional morass it is difficult to rationally think what course of action to take. It is easier to tell lies and play the pretend game. In this scenario, it is unlikely that one will have the confidence to seek help. A greater awareness that women are subjected to violence would make it easier for friends, neighbours, nurses, doctors, teachers to be alert to tell-tale indicators.
The Media have a very important role to play and must engage in highlighting the non-acceptability of violence against women. Reporting also needs analysis. Too often issues pertaining to women are played down. In the same week in 1995, there were two major news items released by the newspapers about the transmission of viruses, the first related to Government plans to deal with the infection of 1,500 people with Hepatitis C and the second concerned a priest’s unsubstantiated claims about the infection with HIV of 80 men in the Dungarvan area by a “WOMAN”. The latter made coverage world-wide. Headlines included – “Last Days of Aids Avenger”, “Town gripped by virus fear”, “I am a victim of HIV Horror”. This story merited the attention and “entered the public consciousness in the way that the terrible story of Hepatitis C has failed to do”. This perpetrates the myth of the evil woman. It is consistent with the tabloidism of the English papers. It is not acceptable and perhaps a “watch-dog” committee is required to achieve a more just and accurate method of reporting.
Positive changes have occurred over the last decade, thanks to the increased profile of women as journalists and their ability to re-direct issues from “soft” stories like fashion, gossip, recipes, consumer affairs to more realistic issues. However male domination still persists and it is important to note that there are no women editors in any of the national newspapers which means ultimately women journalists are censored in their writings. Likewise there are no women on the RTE Board of Management. Fintan O’Toole states in the WPA Annual Journal 1996 “the people who decide what should be seen or heard or read are still overwhelmingly male” and this given the Patriarchal society we live in is unacceptable.
Since the 1970’s agencies who deal with women related issues have lobbied Government sufficiently that the Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, TD, provided funding for the preparation of a Report of the Working Party on the Legal and Judicial Process for Victims of Sexual and Other Crimes of Violence against Children and Women. The Action Now Report was published in October 1996. Women’s groups provided the necessary data for this report. The report is detailed and its makes 84 recommendations. In my opinion Radio and TV documentaries should allocate a greater percentage of time to the points raised in this and similar reports. Documentaries at night when men are likely to be watching them never appear to deal with the issue of violence perpetrated by men against women. I think both Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny shows on a Friday and Saturday evenings respectively should focus attention on areas relating to women. In England, programmes like the Thomas Cook, programme, Dispatches, Kilroy and others allocate a % of time to review issues relating specifically to Domestic violence, rape and other crimes perpetrated against women. The Women’s Aid Myths about Women brochure is most interesting.
In Ireland women are the majority sex, if only by 1%, and issues which relate to us need more prime air time. Advertising is required highlighting the criminality of domestic violence, detailing the support groups which women may contact and this advertising should likewise have prime time allocation particularly during news time intervals and sports events etc. I was greatly surprised to see a TV advert in Zimbabwe which shows a young African boy applying for a job and completing an application form. The form questions his mental state of health and the purpose of the advert was to encourage potential employers not to be prejudiced. This to my mind makes a positive statement and conveys it to the public in the hope that they will consider the issue.
However, there is little point to media coverage if the necessary facilities are not available and ultimately this means funds from Government are required. A woman who decides to leave the family home needs a refuge and there are very few places available. Legal advice is a priority to seek custody of the children, maintenance, the family home. Social Welfare will be required for immediate funding. The Police may be required for protection. Decisions have to be made about children, schooling, trauma to the victim and children so professional counselors are also required. The period is traumatic – the stepping stone from violence to freedom takes courage and often given the obstacles that are present it is easier to remain the victim for the sake of the children or to face the unknown future.
The Zero Tolerance National Strategy Document proposes that the Government set up an Inter-Departmental Committee to develop long-term strategies to combat domestic violence and establish ‘Good Practice Guidelines’ and procedures for each area – Health, Justice, Education. I concur with this and their suggestion that the school curricula be extended to cover social aspects. Strategies need to be developed. There is a requirement for on-going training on violence and psychological effects for teachers, community care workers, health officials, Gardai and more importantly the Judiciary. Marginalised groups e.g. Travelling Women, Prostitutes, Disabled also need specialised support.
While I do not agree with a male dominated judiciary passing lenient sentences on male perpetrators of violence against women within the context of a relationship – I have to admit that I would like to see funding into research in this area. Prison has far ranging consequences and a negative impact financially and emotionally on the family. In Brussels they have had a greater success rate with family therapy for men who sexually abuse their child than those who are sent to jail. Recidivism statistically proves to be less and moreover it is a less expensive alternative to prison. I note that the Working Party recommends that non-custodial options be considered only where the offence is of a minor nature. The WP further recommends that where a Court is considering a non-custodial option there should be in-built in that option, supervision of the perpetrator within the community and a serious sanction for failing to be of good behaviour. In America, treatment programmes have been established to deal with men who use violence. Funding for same is required in Ireland. MOVE is a voluntary organisation established to help men overcome violent tendencies.
Once it is established that a woman is subjected to violence and charges can be brought, then it is imperative that our legal system is conducive and supportive to the victim. Many women who have gone through the courts report the system to be as harsh on them as the abuse. It is horrific to read in the Zero Tolerance Report that Domestic Violence and Marital Rape are the only crimes where the victim must continue to live with the abuser for may be 6 – 18 months because of the inadequate, understaffed court system. The legislation which can be evoked for domestic violence cases is mostly antiquated. The relevant legislation is as follows: the Dublin Police Act 1842, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (s. 2, 47 and 18), the Criminal Damage Act 1991.
The Domestic Violence Act 1996 is the most current and provides the following remedies: Protection Order, Safety Order (does not oblige the accused to leave the family home), a Barring Order. However it is disturbing to note that the recent 1996 Act does not cover couples who are living apart – this makes the issue extremely complicated where there is a child and the Father exercises rights of access and harasses the mother. In order to make these laws stringent and to act as a real deterrent to violent men, the laws must be enforceable and the Gardai and Judiciary must take the breach of civil orders seriously.
Women’s Aid state that the wording on the Orders be changed from “may” arrest to “must arrest”. The Gardai Siochana policy on domestic violence introduced in 1994 quite clearly states the primary role of protection and law enforcement yet “Making the Links” research shows their different approach to domestic violence cases, they are hindered by the concept that domestic violence is a private affair and even if they do proceed with an arrest it is more than probable that there will be no conviction. In 1995 only 21% of reported incidents resulted in arrest and only 13% were convicted. This is not acceptable – when violence occurs it is a criminal offence and irrelevant of the relationship between the parties, an arrest should be made. ‘No crime’ report should be replaced with “crime detected but not proceeded with” with the reasons for the decision stated. The offender also should be retained in custody and the decision for bail should rest with Judge. If this happened, the backlog of such cases would not occur and protective measures could be given to protect the witness. The arresting officers should be sufficiently informed to direct the woman to the various support agencies.
Just as the Gardai must pursue with arrest, once charges are in place and the case goes to court then it is equally imperative that consistent sentencing applies. The Judiciary likewise have an obligation to treat violence against the woman in the same way as they would treat criminal charges of assault in other cases. Also, the court system should be less hostile and there should be specific family courts to deal with family issues. It should not be necessary for the woman to be in view of the abuser. The waiting list for a hearing of up to 6 weeks is unacceptable. More women judges must also be appointed to the family division. Some form of affirmative action is required to ensure a greater number of women than the present 12% in the Irish judiciary. If the procedure to prosecute was more facilitating and legal aid funds for representation were available then women may be more eager to proceed with the necessary action and in turn this would make available more accurate statistics which in turn would be available to the media to pass on to the public with the long term effect aimed at reducing the acceptability of violence to women.
Rape constitutes violence of the worst kind. Yet our legal system appears to make the victim suffer rather than the perpetrator. The process of reporting rape, the examinations, the length of time it takes to bring the matter to court, the questioning by the Gardai all prove to be harrowing for the woman who has been raped. The RCC report that only 28% of cases they deal with are referred to the Gardai. This is not acceptable because it permits rapists to offend again. The other area which greatly bothers me about rape is the possibility of becoming infected with HIV. Our Government have not yet amended the law to take account of the impact of this dimension. Surely, if one is raped and becomes HIV positive as a result then a charge of attempted murder is appropriate with a life sentence. I know the perpetrator is not likely to live passed the max. term of 7 years for rape but it is the statement which is required.
HIV to me is significant partly because I lived in Africa where the incidence ranges between 1 in 2 to 1 in 3 being infected. The women I worked with at Mashambanzou often became infected by men who knew they carried the virus and this to me constitutes a violence in its own right. It is an abdication of responsibility and I am sure the same applies in this country. Negligence is not acceptable and people must be responsible for their actions. Men who have affairs, who frequent brothels, sleep with prostitutes and then sleep with their wives can impose tremendous hardship to those wives/partners if their affairs are revealed. This surely must be termed as violence and again this area needs profile.
The 4th UN Conference in Beijing put forward that women’s work within the home, or doing voluntary or community work, should have an economic value assigned to it and if this moral obligation became law in Ireland in the 1996 year, the contribution of women who work within the home would contribute £40 billion to GNP. I know this is an ideal but surely if one recognised the valuable contribution of women “homeworkers” then maybe there status would change and those rated as vulnerable members subjected to men’s violence would be in a position to survive with the assistance of support groups like Women’s Aid and extricate themselves and their families from violent behaviour which they should not have to succumb to.
The groups involved in the preparation of the Act Now report have considerable experience in the area of violence against women and children and I would like to see the politicians, the senate, the Gardai, and people who are in a position to highlight the findings to seriously take on board the issue of violence and its destruction of a group of people who with the given support, education and retraining could provide a benefit both economically and socially to our country.
Action Now – Report of the Working party on the Legal and Judicial Process for Victims of Sexual Abuse and Other crimes of Violence against Women and Children.
Madoc-Jones, B and Coates, 1996. An Introduction to Women Studies. Blackwell Publishers UK
Making the Links, Commisioned by Women’s Aid November 1995.
Smyth, Ailbhe, 1993. Irish Women Studies Reader. Attic Press, Dublin.
Women’s Political Association, 1996 Annual Journal.
Zero Tolerance – A National Strategy on Eliminating Violence Against Women
Written by Michelle Clarke 1997: Amended slightly and uploaded to WordPress.com canisgallicus