'We need to aim for zero women or children, or men for that matter, being killed in a domestic situation.'

'We need to aim for zero women or children, or men for that matter, being killed in a domestic situation.'
Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid (L) pictured with Kathleen Chada, mother of two boys murdered by their father and victim advocate, today. Picture: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

Mary O’Connor from Women’s Aid pictured today  at the 'Legacy of Loss' installation to remember the 230 women and 16 children included in the report. Picture: Pic Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX
Mary O’Connor from Women’s Aid pictured today at the 'Legacy of Loss' installation to remember the 230 women and 16 children included in the report. Picture: Pic Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

Ryan Hart, who addressed the launch of Women's Aid's 2019 Femicide Report, may not be Irish, but his story is one that will be eerily familiar to an Irish audience.

His sister Charlotte and mother Claire were brutally murdered by his father, before he took his own life, in July 2016, just five days after he and his brother Luke had freed them from the man who had psychologically abused them their entire lives.

The figures from the Women's Aid report are numbing. Some 230 women have died at the hands of men in Ireland since 1996 - 16 children have been killed at their mother’s side. Last year Women’s Aid dealt with 17,000 disclosures of abuse by women. More than 60% of women killed in Ireland lose their lives in their own homes, a place that should be a “sanctuary” according to Women’s Aid chief executive Sarah Benson.

As if the loss he endured weren't bad enough, Ryan described the pain of having to parse the media reportage of the murders in the aftermath - one with a narrative of trying to understand why his father Lance did what he did. How it became an issue of fragile male mental health, as opposed to calculated, despicable domestic abuse.

The parallels with the story of Alan Hawe, who murdered his wife Clodagh and three young sons in Co Cavan in August 2016, are striking. Much of what was said in the aftermath of that travesty revolved around an attempt to understand why the unthinkable had happened.

“Our society considers men’s feelings as more important than the lives of women and children,” Ryan Hart said, the intimation being that it’s still possible to be a good man despite killing your family.

He said his father’s suicide note was highlighted in reporting, as opposed to the “murder note” it had represented for his mother and sister.

Mr Hart said the devastating impact of such narratives were uncovered by police in the aftermath of the murders, when it was discovered that his father had been searching for online reports of other men who had killed their families.

He added that despite the prolonged psychological abuse perpetrated by his father within the home, he had always been “exceptionally friendly” to everyone outside the home, often discussing how important protecting his family was to him.

The femicide conference pitched the idea that these crimes are examples of bad people, who are very good at hiding their wickedness to the outside world, doing bad things. The key is to try and spot the danger signs. But can you ever truly predict such a crime before it happens?

This was a question put to Kathleen Chada. Ms Chada’s own heart-rending story is well known - her husband Sanjeev murdered the couple’s two sons, aged 10 and five, in July 2013 - a crime subsequently blamed on his having amassed massive gambling debts using embezzled money.

“It’s a difficult question, and I don’t actually know what the answer is, what I will say is that these cases are not as hidden as they used to be,” she said.

“We need to aim for zero women or children, or men for that matter, being killed in a domestic situation. Now the reality is that human nature will kick in at some stage. But what we can do is educate our young girls, our young boys, in what is right, and educate them in what the signs are, or if they’re starting to become embroiled in a situation that is not right.”

Ms Chada said that, on hearing Ryan Hart’s story, she could mentally check off every point as having chimed with her own experience - the perpetrators in both instances controlling the familys’ finances via unchecked gambling for example.

“I’m there nodding, because there are so many points he’s made that happened with us. The money, the control, and it’s all very, very subtle. The embezzlement, the gambling, it was always something hidden in the open. When you look at all these cases, that’s where you can trace that line, when these people have reached a stage where they can’t hide what they’ve been doing any more.”

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