Domestic violence victims in Ireland are suffering unprecedented levels of abuse and social workers are now literally struggling to save the lives of women within the home, it was claimed today.
Representatives from the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency (NDVIA) briefed members of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality and Women’s Rights in Leinster today.
NDVIA clinical director Dr Don Hennessey said: “The intensity and severity of the violence has increased. We are seeing a much more severe form of abuse.
“What has emerged is the clear understanding that we are dealing with serious crime. We now see our work as homicide prevention”.
Dr Hennessey suggested that this change in behaviour could be caused by a drink and drugs culture.
The NDVIA intervenes in domestic violence situations and engages with offenders referred to it by the courts.
Every year, gardai receive call-outs to up to 10,000 domestic violence situations and a total of 5,000 applications are made through the courts for the safety or protection of victims.
Dr Hennessey said that “the system fails to prioritise victim safety and the offender has an extraordinary power” to manipulate it.
He said that “a combination of sanction and tracking” of offenders was the only way to tackle the problem but he couldn’t see any major change in attitudes in his lifetime.
Fine Gael’s justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe described domestic violence as the “hidden web of crime in Ireland that doesn’t show up in national crime statistics”.
Senator Sheila Terry noted that domestic violence was not always about physical violence “but also about psychological and emotional abuse”.
Deputy Marie Hoctor called for more media publicity on the domestic violence issue to pull back the veil of secrecy “and to show women out there that they are not alone.”
Responding to questions from Labour Party justice spokesman Joe Costello, Dr Hennessey said that 90% of offenders were male and between 5-8% were female.
The expert said he had worked closely with over 1,000 men in 15 years and that “they knew exactly what they were doing when they beat their wives”.
“Offenders have a tendency to feel they have an entitlement to behave in a certain way in their own homes.
“They are no different from you and me in many ways but they are self-centred and use violence and abuse as weapons of control.”
He said the notion of children trapped in domestic violence households “terrified” him when he thought of them “living in terror every evening”.
He added: “A lot of children grow up feeling so ashamed and guilty that they couldn’t protect their own mothers.”
NDVIA project director Martina Boyle earlier told committee members that her agency had received “overwhelmingly positive feedback” in its work from garda management as well as local senior officers.
Justice Department official Noel Sinnott told the committee that a forthcoming cross-border advertising campaign would raise awareness of the effect of domestic violence on children.
Mr Sinnot said the Legal Aid Board – which gives domestic violence victims priority access- received an allocation increase of 3 million euro this year.
He said providing resources for domestic violence straddled five Government departments.
The Justice Department was supporting several other agencies and projects in the area of domestic violence, Mr Sinnott said.