Domestic violence should be ‘a specific crime’

Radical changes to tackle domestic violence have been recommended, including new laws, specialist courts and a register of offenders.

A report sent to the justice minister also seeks the introduction of emergency barring orders to put an abuser out of the family home pending a full court hearing of the case.

Under current law, an abuser can only be forced to leave after a hearing, meaning many victims and their children have to flee to refuges or remain at home in danger if they have nowhere to go.

The report was compiled by the all-party Oireachtas justice committee after a public consultation on domestic and sexual violence which brought dozens of submissions from support groups as well as harrowing personal stories.

Report co-rapporteur, Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, said the aim of the exercise was to ensure a “zero-tolerance approach” to domestic and sexual violence.

“For too long in this country, we have swept domestic violence and sexual violence under the carpet. Women and children have been the victims, silent, suffering, and finding that when they seek help that the mechanisms of the State are not strong enough to give them the kind of help they want.”

Key among the 23 recommendations are for new laws to recognise domestic violence as a specific crime separate from the general offence of assault under which it is now prosecuted.

It says: “Legislation could create a new offence of domestic/marital assault which, as well as applying to physical harm, could also be applied to the humiliating impact domestic abuse has on the receiving party.

“Similarly, an offence of psychological abuse associated with an act of violence could be considered, which would apply to emotional abused of victims.”

It would also be an offence under these laws to subject a child to trauma or psychological abuse, either directly or through witnessing abuse in the family home.

The laws would cover not just married couples and cohabitees but also other close relationships characterised by emotional intimacy and mutual dependency.

Dedicated courts would be created, and publicly reported on, with specially trained judges working on a “one family, one judge” basis to ensure consistency, and offenders would be placed on an abusers register for life.

Independent TD Finian McGrath said it was essential to intervene early, as children in domestic violence situations were at greater risk of poor mental health, underachievement in education, addiction and offending.

The report was welcomed by Safe Ireland, which represents 40 domestic violence services.

Spokeswoman Caitríona Gleeson said: “We are delighted that the committee has recognised the need to strengthen legislation so that domestic violence is not treated as a lesser offence by our system and society. This unfortunately has been the experience of thousands of women throughout Ireland for many decades.”


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