Ireland has a long way to go to ending the 'cultural impunity' of gender-based violence

Ireland has a long way to go to ending the 'cultural impunity' of gender-based violence

Dr Monica O’Connor said that, rather than just seeking to reduce gender-based violence, society should seek to 'eliminate'. File photo

Ireland has a long way to go in tackling the “cultural impunity” towards violence against women, a leading authority has told the Citizens’ Assembly.

Dr Monica O’Connor said that while there have been major strides to ending the “legal impunity” of violence, including sexual violence, against women, that wider societal change is taking much longer.

The senior researcher at the UCD Sexual Exploitation Research Programme was speaking on the topic of gender-based violence and gender equality at today's session of the Citizens’ Assembly, which was established by the Oireachtas.

Dr O’Connor highlighted a number of other issues and called for:

  • The term ‘sex work’ to be rejected, saying it “legitimises and normalises” violence against women;
  • Pornography to be included in the national action plan on violence against women;
  • A clause to be included in the constitution to make gender equality “a value of Ireland”.

'Systematic violence against women'

Dr O’Connor said international conventions had established that violence against women was “endemic and systematic”, causing profound harm.

“Men experience domestic abuse, and that should be recognised and responded to,” she said, “but it is important when we talked about gendered violence to realise that male domestic violence is known to result in serious injury, sexual assault, post-separation violence, homicide, and familicide”.

She said steps had been taken over the decades in addressing the “legal impunity” in relation to violence against women.

But, she added: “In relation to legal impunity, we have progressed far, but, in relation to cultural impunity, I think we have a long way to go.” 

She said people still hear questions in relation to domestic violence, such as, “why did she stay?” and in relation to sexual violence, “‘why did she go home with him?” “What was she drinking?” and “What was she wearing?” and that these narratives are heard in trials.

“As long as those myths are there, and that cultural impunity is there, it will impact legal impunity,” she said.

She said the commercial sex trade was a threat to all the principles of gender equality and noted between 800 and 1,000 women “continued to be entrapped and used” during the Covid-19 crisis.

“We need to reject the term ‘sex work’, which legitimises and normalises this form of gender-based violence. It is profoundly harmful.” 

She said the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in 2017 was a “major progressive step”.

Dr O’Connor said attitudes around prostitution and the purchase of sex will take longer to change than the law.

She said one of the biggest challenges for parents was online and the “prolific pornography” available on it.

She said “almost all” porn now is what people used to call 'hardcore' — which is violent, and where women are debased and demeaned.

The academic said recent court cases should have been a “wake-up call” that society needed to protect its girls, and its boys, from the models of sexuality online and the associated violence.

She said pornography should be included in the national action plan on violence against women, and urged tech giants to do more in the area.

Dr O’Connor called for “transformative change” — meaning that, rather than just seeking to reduce gender-based violence, society should seek to “eliminate” it.

She said a measure of progress would be to insert a clause in the Constitution to make “gender equality a value of Ireland” and recognise all citizens as equal.

She added: “Gender-based violence doesn’t just affect girls and women, it casts and shadow and diminishes us all. Women, men, girls and boys.” 

  • Women's Aid 24hour helpline 1800 341900
  • Men's Aid Ireland 01-5543811
  • Dublin Rape Crisis Centre National 24-hour helpline 1800 778888
  • Sexual Violence Centre Cork 1800 496496
  • One in Four 01 6624070
  • CARI Foundation 1890 924567
  • ISPCC Childline 1800 666660 

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