THE year 1996 was a very grim year for women in Ireland. By the end of December, 20 women had been murdered.
To build a better understanding in the hope of preventing such violence, Women’s Aid started our file on female homicide. No other year since has had a female homicide rate that high, and over time, it began to average out to 11 women a year.
However, in contrast, this year the count was staying at zero. That was until Monday morning, when Clodagh Hawe and her three children were murdered at home in Cavan. They were killed by their husband and father, who then took his own life.
The shock, sadness, and hopelessness felt each time a woman is murdered are heightened when children are killed alongside their mothers.
Even more so in a case of murder-suicide when the only person who can answer for the crime has also died. Families, friends and society are left asking why.
To try to understand such a heinous act of violence many people immediately look to mental health issues or speak about it being a crime of passion, despair or even love.
However, this focus minimises and mis-categorises the horror of the crime perpetrated against innocent women and children.
It can blur or remove the victims from the picture and excuse the perpetrator. Most importantly, it also frightens and further isolates other women living in abusive situations around Ireland.
Already this week, staff and volunteers on our national freephone helpline have supported women afraid of their partners who have threatened to kill them, the kids or themselves. And their fears are founded on reality.
Risk factors for intimate partner homicide include physical abuse; threats to kill; controlling behaviour; stalking; and harassment. Extreme jealousy; possessiveness; and patriarchal concepts and attitudes are also red flags for domestic homicide.
Separation is also a risk factor for escalating violence and is often the most dangerous time for women in abusive relationships.
In 2015, women disclosed to us on 970 occasions, that their abusive partners threatened to kill them, their children and their families. There were 579 additional disclosures of assaults with weapons, threats with weapons and being strangled and smothered.
The threat of violence against women and children always hangs in the air and women disclosed being punched, cut with knives, hit with golf clubs, scalded, and strangled.
These statistics are a stark reminder of the dangerous and sometimes fatal nature of domestic abuse and the heartbreak it brings for family, friends and communities. The killing of women, and in some cases, their children, is an affront to our society and a problem we must take seriously.
A good place to begin is to properly name the dynamics of domestic homicide.
Women are more at risk of attack and or death from current or previous partners than they are from strangers.
We must clearly say that domestic violence and homicide is an act of violence, control and an assertion of power. There can be no excuse.
We must focus on preventing future cases by encouraging women being abused by their partners to speak out.
Our national freephone helpline is completely confidential. It offers women the freedom to talk to someone.
With better understanding and support, women and children can begin to feel safe and protected in their homes and in their relationships.
Since our records began in 1996, 87 women have been murdered by a current or former boyfriend, husband or partner and 14 children were murdered alongside their mothers. This week we shared the name of each woman and child online and have been overwhelmed by solidarity and remembrance of stolen lives.
Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900, www.womensaid.ie
Margaret Martin is director of Women’s Aid
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