At the launch of the 16 Days of Action Campaign outside Dáil Éireann yesterday, Women’s Aid used a striking visual installation to highlight the underside of intimate relationships for one in every five women in Ireland. Five women, dressed in black and red, held placards reading ‘?’. The question mark showed that domestic violence, often described as the most democratic of crimes, can affect any woman, and women from any walk of life. The five women were surrounded by others who held placards posing questions like: ‘Is she your sister?’, ‘Is she your mother?’ ‘Is she your friend?’. Women’s Aid drew attention to the fact that many women are not protected from violence by current domestic violence legislation.
Speaking at the event, Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid said: “On the UN Day Against Violence against Women, we are highlighting the fact that one in every five women living in Ireland today are living in fear of those closest to them – their boyfriends, husbands and partners. Domestic violence does not discriminate by age, socio-economic status, marital status or cultural background. It can affect any woman.”
She continued: “Women’s Aid statistics show that marriage is the most common context for domestic abuse and married women experiencing abuse can avail of the full protection of the law. However, 28% of women who rang the Women’s Aid Helpline in 2008 disclosed abuse by current or former partners to whom they were not married (18% current partner and 10% former partner). While many women will meet the strict criteria and are eligible to apply for domestic violence orders, many women who experience domestic violence cannot avail of legal protection from the violence because they do not meet the current co-habitation requirements for domestic violence orders. This includes women who are in dating relationships, not married to or living with their abuser, and women who have only lived with or have separated from their abuser for certain lengths of time.”
“Also, we know from women ringing our Helpline that abuse often does not end when the relationship does. 10% of callers to the Women’s Aid Helpline disclosed that they were being abused by former partners to whom they were not married. It is a common belief that leaving an abusive partner will end the violence but in many cases the opposite is true. These women are very vulnerable.”
One woman who called the helpline recently revealed that she is living in fear of her ex-boyfriend months after she ended the abusive relationship. According to Karen*: “He was totally controlling and possessive. I was very frightened of him. After I told him it was over it just got worse – constant texting, waiting for me after work, following me everywhere I went. He was threatening me and was physically violent. People were telling me to go to court and get a safety order to protect myself. But I found out very quickly that I was not eligible because I had not lived with or been married to Jim. I was so shocked and angry, I felt really let down. I don’t feel safe anywhere anymore. If I had gotten a safety order at the beginning then Jim would have known that what he was doing to me would have serious consequences for him – that the courts would deal with him. But now it seems that it is just me, on my own, and that is just the way Jim wants it. I don’t have any peace.”
Ms Martin concluded: “Domestic violence legislation needs to change to reflect 21st century Irish life and we call for the removal of all cohabitation requirements. This will ensure that those experiencing domestic violence in dating relationships and after separation will be eligible to apply for domestic violence orders. Until it does, women like Karen and thousands more like her will continue to live in fear and the law is powerless to protect them.”
*Karen’s story is based on real accounts as told to Women’s Aid. Specific details and circumstances have been changed in the interest of protecting identity and to preserve the confidential nature of Women’s Aid Services.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE EVENT
The launch of the 16 Days Campaign has been widely covered in the media over the last few days. We will post a comprehensive look at media coverage tomorrow but here is a short round up in the meantime:
News on Two, RTE 2, 25th November 2009 (11.08 mins)
Many Women Still At Risk of Domestic Violence – The Irish Times, 26th November 2009
Local Coverage of the 16 Days Campaign
Anti-Domestic Violence Campaign Launched, The Longford Leader, Wednesday 25th November 2009
Domestic Violence Highlighted, The Offaly Express, Wednesday 25th November 2009
Tuam’s 16 Days of Action, Western People, Wednesday 25th November 2009
Rugby Star Rob Kearney Backs White Ribbon Campaign, Dundalk Democrat, Wednesday 25th November 2009
This is a great start to the campaign and we will keep you posted of any further coverage.