Webinar hears Irish legal system 'not fit for purpose' in dealing with violence against women

Irish courts are "not fit for purpose" when dealing with violence against women, experts on gender-based violence have said.
Webinar hears Irish legal system 'not fit for purpose' in dealing with violence against women
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Irish courts are "not fit for purpose" when dealing with violence against women, experts on gender-based violence have said.

The legal process often re-traumatises victims, locking them into archaic systems blind to the subtleties of coercive control, a UN Special Rapporteur and NGO leaders said during a webinar, hosted by Orla O'Connor of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI).

Although the Istanbul Convention which was ratified in Ireland last year and aims to prevent and combat violence against women "provides a roadmap" towards a safer world for females, its measures have not yet filtered through into domestic laws and practice, Dubravka Šimonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women said.

Criminal justice systems currently lack the laws and procedures to adequately deal with the rape and sexual violence women are experiencing during lockdown, with marital rape still not classified as a crime in some jurisdictions, Ms Šimonovic said.

Current data on femicide which Ms Šimonovic has been gathering since 2015 shows that 80% of people killed in an intimate partner relationship are women.

"At the end of this year, when we look at those stats, will the numbers have increased?" she asked.

Sexual violence and rape have been a particularly harrowing issue for many women throughout lockdown but these crimes are often not seen in the context of domestic abuse, Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis said.

A report promised by the Department of Justice examining how victims are treated within the criminal justice system is two years overdue, she said, and throughout that time, victims of sexual and gender-based violence have had to grapple with a system which was not designed to support them.

"We have a duty to protect and promote people's right to live without sexual violence and to ensure that they have access to justice and support if they do," Ms Blackwell said.

Mary Louise Lynch, founder of Survivors Informing Services and Institutions (SISI), a domestic and sexual violence project, said that many women continue to be abused post-separation due to a system that is blind to coercive control and the complexities of abuse.

Courts and children are often manipulated by abusers to continue to exert control post-separation. This has led to women feeling forced to put photos of their rapist up in their house or risk being accused of alienating their child's father, she said.

One woman SISI surveyed recently found that her ex was coming back to Ireland from the UK throughout lockdown every three weeks to visit their child.

She is "petrified" when she has to meet him in a deserted carpark during lockdown to hand over their child who he has taken to stay in a packed refugee hostel during the pandemic.

Sarah Benson of Women's Aid said that Covid-19 has "been the perfect storm" for people for whom home is not a safe space.

The service received a spike in calls from March to May, with "ingenious survivors calling from sheds, cars and in the middle of the night" to get through without being overheard, but Ms Benson said she worried about those who cannot call.

The pandemic has revealed "cracks in the system like never before" and she urged the sector to push government for more support post-pandemic.

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