Women were beaten with weapons, strangled or choked in around a quarter of reported domestic violence court cases, new research shows.
Hammers, boiling water, baseball bats and sharp weapons were used and in one in eight cases the women were hospitalised because of their injuries.
Charges brought against their assailants, almost 40% of whom were former partners, included assault, threat to kill, rape and aggravated sexual assault.
The details are contained in new research, conducted by Women’s Aid, into 65 domestic violence court cases reported in the media.
A separate study of 20 women who suffered domestic violence found they had a mixed response from gardaí, ranging from excellent to very poor, with one woman claiming she was “actively” encouraged to drop the charges.
The women described the courts’ process as prolonged and stressful, with most of them dissatisfied with the sentences and the majority saying they would not go through it again.
The report Unheard and Uncounted called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system, including an Oireachtas inquiry, as well as changes to bail laws and “urgent” action to be taken to gather basic data on domestic violence.
In her foreword to the report, Senator Ivana Bacik, professor of criminal law at Trinity College Dublin, said there may be potential for “legal action to be taken against the State” for failing to provide adequate protections against domestic violence to women and children.
A Sentencing Media Watch study, conducted as part of the research, examined 65 domestic violence cases reported in the media between May 2018 and April 2019. It found:
- 63% of victims said they sustained injuries and 12% required hospitalisation;
- 23% said they were assaulted with weapons; 15% with sharp weapons, with other implements including hammers, boiling water, baseball bats and brush handles;
- 25% said they had been choked, strangled or otherwise stopped from breathing;
- 32% said children were present nearby and in 8% of cases were injured themselves;
- 37% said there was a history of domestic violence;
- 37% said their attacker had consumed alcohol/drugs during the incident;
- 23% said there was a domestic violence order against their attacker at the time;
- 18% of the 104 charges brought related to serious assault, 13% to assault, 9% to threats to kill and 8% to rape.
The report found of the 50 cases where sentences were imposed, there were 45 prison sentences, ranging from one month to eight life sentences. Some 32 of the 45 sentences were suspended, seven of them completely and 25 partially.
The report, co-authored with policy consultant Monica Mazzone, also spoke to 20 women who said they experienced a range of crimes, including attempted murder, serious assault, threats to kill and rape.
They experienced a wide range or responses from gardaí, from excellent to mixed to negative. In some negative cases, women found gardaí rude, or had minimised the abuse, while in one case the garda was “actively encouraging” her to drop charges.
In three of the 20 cases the perpetrator had close personal links to the Garda Síochána, either as a member, an alleged informant or through family. The report said this was a “major stumbling block” for the cases to proceed. The women found the courts process “draining” and “drawn out” and some felt they were the ones on trial. One woman said: “Going through the court was as traumatic as the abuse, if not worse. It was like a kick in the teeth.”
Only four of the 16 women whose case was completed said they would go through it again. Most said they did not feel safer.
- Women’s Aid 24 hour National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900