International experts are among those contributing to the event at University College Cork, with a clear focus on the need for quicker and more comprehensive interventions to protect victims and deal with perpetrators of domestic abuse.
The inadequacy of current systems is highlighted by research conducted by Dr Louise Crowley of the School of Law at UCC in workshops with participants in the MOVE (Men Overcoming Violence) programme in Cork.
It found that 50% of interviewees had never appeared before the civil or criminal courts for domestic violence and the majority of interviewees viewed the legal system as too lenient. According to one participant, “If the victim doesn’t push it, there isn’t a conviction.”
The conference, organised by the School of Law in UCC, will hear about how different systems operate in other countries and how they could potentially have more of an impact in limiting the scope of domestic violence here.
Rory Macrae of Safer Families Edinburgh will outline how the Caledonian System operates there. It is a criminal justice-based domestic abuse intervention system offering an accredited programme of work with men that lasts at least two years, including individual motivational sessions, a 26-session group-work programme, and ongoing maintenance work.
It also provides a service to women partners, ex-partners, and children, and aims to increase safety by operating in the context of protocols for the safe sharing of information.
Dr Crowley said: “Whilst priority is rightly given to providing for and protecting vulnerable women and children, we must now seek to break the cycle of gender-based violence and where at all possible, tackle the root of the abuse.
“There must co-exist a willingness to provide the opportunity for abusers to tackle their own behaviour, where such intervention provides a possibility for reduced incidents of abuse.”
Domestic violence is estimated to affect one in every five Irish women, amid fears of under-reporting of the crime.
Dr Crowley said there needs to be a co-ordinated, comprehensive community response to domestic violence and a strong message that violence against women and children would not be tolerated and that sanctions would act as a deterrent.
The conference will hear that currently there are inadequate and insufficient services provided for incarcerated men, and equally few targeted services are available for men who seek to address their own aggressive behaviour.
By contrast, the study involving men engaged with MOVE showed an increased level of self-awareness about the problem.
One participant said: “I won’t be cured... this is with me. I need structure. I am in the health system for years, this finally works.”
Another said: “It took me a year-and-a-half to get to honesty here, and I must stick at it.”