Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Domestic Violence (No-contact order) (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Domestic Violence Act 2018 to provide for no-contact orders.
I seek leave to introduce new legislation entitled the Domestic Violence (No-contact order) (Amendment) Bill 2019. We are seeking to introduce a new type of order that anybody can apply for, whether that is a victim of ongoing domestic violence or perhaps somebody who has just started to experience harassment and would, therefore, be excluded from applying for a barring or protection order. This legislation would allow an applicant to seek to have a judge award an order mandating that there be no contact whatever from a named person. These orders exist in other countries, for example, Scotland.
The purpose of the Bill is to respond to the epidemic levels of violence against women that we are experiencing. Last year, thousands of people marched last year to support #IBelieveHer or #WeStandWithHer protests in response to victim blaming in rape trials. We have also seen the "This is not consent", #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as global phenomena but we have seen very little concrete change in this Dáil in response to such demands.
The Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, report was conceded on foot of protests and this is another concrete step we can take. It follows requests from women who have experienced domestic violence. Jessica Bowes approached me about this issue in recent months. People may know that Ms Bowes spoke on "The Late Late Show" and "Prime Time" about the horrific assault she experienced. She explained that in the days leading up to the attack she had received increased contact from her ex-partner, some of which had the appearance of being of a romantic and harmless nature. She could not bring it to the Garda as evidence that the barring order was being breached. Those declarations of undying love then turned much more menacing and mutated into emotional abuse and psychological manipulation. We are speaking about someone who did have a barring order. Ms Bowes is extremely anxious that we adopt something like this legislation and she has helped me initiate this Bill.
An order of this type could also be accessed by somebody who has not gone especially far in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. We all know that young women can experience sexual harassment and we are trying to allow people to act on early warning signs and red flags. What power are we giving people to challenge such behaviour from an early stage? People should be able to stop contact from someone who is causing upset, distress or fear.
There is no entitlement, or there should not be, for someone to contact anyone one likes regardless of the impact. What we are trying to do here is prevent, not mourn, and to empower women, or a male, an LGBT person or whoever. However, we are also talking about women who have been the victims of this ongoing harassment. "No contact" orders, which are called "non-harassment orders" in Scotland, would under this Bill allow applicants to have to cite only two occasions or episodes where they have felt such harassment, alarm or distress. In other words, it would not be open to a judge to rely on his or her subjective impression. There would be a baseline in place, which is very important as we have seen sometimes a lack of education on the part of some judges. The legislation is clear and simple. It is in place in Scotland which is a similar jurisdiction and culture to ours. Such orders were introduced there some years ago and they are now used by people in relationships. We ask that the Minister adopts this proposal and agrees to amend the Domestic Violence Act himself. It would mean not having to wait for Private Members' time but would be taken on board quickly.
This is a pernicious form of control. Don Hennessy, who has studied this area, discusses how someone in a relationship can be manipulated by phone or social media messages as well as through physical contact. This Bill is by no means going to solve the problem. We need massive resources to be provided in this area. We need to stop the cuts to the Rape Crisis Network and Women's Aid and to introduce an RSE programme in schools in which the issues of coercive control and violence, including gender-based violence, are central and taught in all schools. We need this throughout society, including in workplaces and colleges.