The scale of abuse should shame us all - Domestic violence

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

THESE famous words of Mahatma Ghandi, the great Indian humanitarian and pre-eminent leader of his country’s drive for independence, come to mind in the light of the report published yesterday by Women’s Aid, the national service for victims of domestic abuse.

It highlights the reality of life in Ireland for thousands of women and children who suffer abuse, violence and, for some, even death in their own homes.

A staggering 22,341 reports of domestic abuse against married and single women and their children were made to Women’s Aid last year.

The organisation’s Impact Report also reveals that almost 2,000 threats of violence, including death threats, were made against women by their partners or former partners.

In its report, Women’s Aid said that 12,041 contacts were made to its National Freephone Helpline and Dublin based One to One Services, telling of being kept prisoner in their homes, of being cut with knives, stabbed, spat on, punched and choked and threatened with being killed.

Many women said they were beaten during pregnancy.

Data collected by the organisation shows that over the past 20 years, 211 women were murdered, most of them at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

Margaret Martin, the head of Women’s Aid, says these statistics are a stark reminder of the dangerous and sometimes fatal nature of domestic abuse and the tragedy it brings for family, friends and communities.

They should also provide a wake-up call for the Government, our legislators, the child and family agency Tusla and the wider community.

In the first instance, what prompted Tusla to decide last November to cut the budget to Women’s Aid by 20%? This threatened the very heart of their service.

As for the Government and our law makers, they have a huge job of work to do as current legislation all but ignores the changing nature of domestic abuse, including threats and harrasment by text and online.

Exactly a year ago, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced further protection for victims of domestic and she is to be commended for that, particularly as it addressed intimidation by phone and other electronic means. However, the bill remains at draft stage and, in any event, it ignores abuse suffered by women in dating relationships who do not live with their partner.

We have come a long way in Ireland since the days when children were frequently beaten in schools and since women had to resign government jobs when they got married.

Add to that equal pay legislation and the drive for gender quotas in politics and business and there is little doubt that the lot of women and children is far better than it once was.

But the reality of life for far too many women is that they live in fear for themselves and their children. That is something that shames us all.

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