Wednesday, 28 January 2004
Services for Victims of Domestic Violence: Statements.
I thank Senators for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to update the House on what is happening on this important issue.
Most Members of the House will be aware that domestic violence is a serious problem and a complex social issue. Most Senators will also be aware that this is not confined to our country, but is a feature of most societies. There are many definitions of domestic violence, but it has been best described as an expression of power and control in a relationship. Anybody who knows anything about it will tell one that it is systematic and aimed at achieving compliance by domination of the other partner in the relationship, mainly through fear and diminished self-esteem.
Senators will be all too well aware that domestic violence is not an isolated or sporadic event. It happens all around the country. It affects people of all ages, all social classes and is present in urban and rural communities. Domestic violence can take many forms. It can involve not only physical abuse but other forms of abuse, including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, isolation from family and friends, control over access to money and threats to others, including children.
We know that a large number of the victims require medical treatment as a result of domestic violence. We also know that some victims of domestic violence die. We can say with some certainty and great regret that most of those affected by domestic violence will suffer from its effects for the rest of their lives. It is important for us to remember that domestic violence is a crime. It must be seen by society as such and be treated by us all as a criminal matter.
International experience tells us that one in five women experience violence in an intimate relationship at some stage of their lives. The position in Ireland is no different. The recently published Garda statistics for 2002 show that 10,248 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the Garda Síochána in that year. In addition to this, I am aware that the various non-governmental organisations working to help victims of domestic violence also receive a large number of calls for help. While I recognise that men can also be victims of domestic violence, Garda statistics show that in 92% of the cases reported in 2002, the victim was female.
It is a sad reflection on our society that some women live in fear of violent attack on a daily basis. The fact that this violence occurs in a family home, a place which should offer security and love, makes the crime even more devastating for the victim. We must recognise this fact and not think that because the perpetrator and the victim live together, this should be considered a mitigating factor. In my view, the opposite should be the case.
It is also a sad fact that many people know of women who are living with this fear, yet they choose to turn a blind eye and treat it as a private matter. However, domestic violence is not a private matter. It is a matter which should be of concern to all members of society and one which everyone can play a role in bringing to an end. The secrecy that surrounds domestic violence only allows it to continue. We all have a responsibility to stop it. Anybody who has had any experience of domestic violence will tell one of the horror and anguish it causes. As a society, we must do all we can to help the victims of domestic violence and to ensure their safety. Awareness raising is one of the keys to achieving this aim.
It is clear that we in Government, public representatives and those working in the public service have a primary responsibility to take action in regard to domestic violence. The Government, for its part, has established a national steering committee on violence against women. Senators will be aware that I act as chairperson of that national steering committee. The aim of the committee is to foster inter-agency co-operation, raise awareness about the issue, conduct research into the various aspects of violence against women and follow up on progress on the recommendations made in the report of the task force on violence against women. All relevant Departments, statutory agencies, voluntary bodies and the Garda are represented on this committee. Eight regional committees on violence against women, one in each health board area, have also been established.
A number of Departments have responsibilities in regard to the issue of domestic violence. The Department of Health and Children is responsible for the provision of care services to victims of violence, including domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, through the health boards. In the main, these services are provided by non-governmental organisations such as Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Centres, women's refuges, etc, who receive funding in this regard from the Department of Health and Children.
It is important that the non-governmental organisations working to provide services to women experiencing violence are adequately funded. I can inform the House that the funding for this purpose has increased dramatically from €3.8 million in 1997 to approximately €12 million in 2004. It is my intention to discuss the issue of funding with the Minister for Health and Children again prior to the finalisation of next year's Estimates campaign.
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government assists in the provision of crisis accommodation. This includes refuge accommodation for people who are forced to leave their homes as a result of domestic violence. The Department of Education and Science is responsible for educating our children in regard to this issue in the schools. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs funds community development programmes and grant aids local groups dealing with this issue.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and its associated agencies have a number of important roles to play in regard to domestic violence. One of these roles is the enactment of legislation. It is well known that we have strong legislation on domestic violence. It is regarded as among the best in Europe, but we must not be complacent.
As the House will be aware, the main area of legislation in this regard is the Domestic Violence Act 1996. This legislation offers a number of civil remedies to victims of domestic violence in terms of safety orders, protection orders and barring orders. Breaches of any orders granted by the courts are defined as criminal offences. An important factor is that the use of violence, for whatever purpose, is also a criminal offence.
The House will also be aware that the lack of reporting of trends in family law cases has led to a lack of public information about these issues. I am pleased to say that legislation to amend the in camera rule will be included in the Civil Liability and Courts Bill which is due to be published in the next week or so. An essential feature of the proposal will be to allow for the preparation and publication of reports and decisions in proceedings in family law cases while protecting the identity of the parties or any child to whom the proceedings relate. Other recommendations, including those made by non-governmental organisations working in the area of domestic violence, will be considered by my Department's civil law division as part of a review of family law.
The Garda Síochána has a written policy on domestic violence intervention. The policy is clear, unambiguous and non-gender specific. It dictates that any incidents of domestic violence reported to the Garda must be fully investigated. In responding to reported incidents of domestic violence, the Garda is in the front line and has an important role to play in deciding whether there is evidence that any crime has been committed.
Access to justice is also an important issue. In civil cases the Legal Aid Board offers legal aid and advice to people who satisfy the requirements of the Act. This includes people seeking protection from domestic violence by way of safety orders and barring orders. The board is conscious of the urgency of certain types of cases and operates a procedure whereby priority is accorded to certain categories of cases over others, including domestic violence. In these cases the application is dealt with immediately and not placed on a waiting list. I understand also that, in recent years, approximately 65% of the legal aid certificates issued involved domestic violence. I am also aware that there was confusion in regard to the operation of this priority system recently, but officials of my Department have received an assurance from the Legal Aid Board that the priority system for domestic violence remedies is still in operation.
Domestic violence offenders are dealt with through the criminal justice system and my Department also supports the establishment of programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence through the probation and welfare service. My Department also sponsors research into domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.
In terms of improving the lives and safety of victims, I believe that, where possible, prevention is always better than cure. This is why I was delighted that last year my Department was able to provide funding for the establishment of a domestic violence intervention project on a one year pilot basis in the Dún Laoghaire-Bray area. The project is based on similar domestic violence intervention projects in other jurisdictions which have proved very successful in reducing incidents of domestic violence and domestic murder. One aim of the intervention project is the increased accountability of perpetrators of domestic violence for the crimes they commit. It is important that any intervention is designed to protect the victim and bring the violence to an end. The project also aims, through the sharing of information between agencies dealing with the offender and the victim, to ensure the continuing safety of the victim and to measure the degree to which the offender is amending their use of violence in the relationship. The project should be a very useful source of information for the Judiciary in this regard. The Dún Laoghaire-Bray pilot project is currently being evaluated and we hope this evaluation will provide us with information about our success in this regard.
The Department is also looking at other programmes being run to deal with perpetrators and is evaluating their effectiveness. It is intended that this evaluation will underline best practice in this area and that improvements will follow this exercise. We can learn from the experience and response of other jurisdictions in their approach to combating domestic violence. For that reason my Department is represented on an intergovernmental group with England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales which shares information and best practice on victim care and combating and preventing domestic violence.
Children have a right to live in safety and without fear. They have the right to a safe place to grow up, develop, learn and understand, which is what we all want for our children. Unfortunately, some children do not experience these basic rights and needs. International research has shown that in over 80% of domestic violence incidents, children are present, either in the same room or the next room. The impact of witnessing these crimes should not be underestimated. Children who witness violence in the home are seeing, hearing and learning about violence. They learn that the people they love most, and the people they should be able to trust, may hurt them. They learn that living in fear is a normal feeling and that violence is an acceptable method of resolving conflicts. It is important that children are taught that violence is not the answer and that living in fear is not normal. We have got to create an ethos where the perpetration of violent acts on women and children is no longer an acceptable practice in our society.
I acknowledge there is still work to be done to improve services for victims of domestic violence and there is also a need to continue raising awareness of the issue. As I said, this is one of the aims of the national steering committee and we will continue our work in that regard. The committee is also working on a number of other issues which should lead to an improvement in the situation for all victims. The committee is currently beginning the process of developing a strategic plan for the next five years which will identify and prioritise areas for action. The committee has also commissioned research and is identifying further areas of research that need to be undertaken.
Senators may be aware that the National Crime Council is also conducting a national study into domestic violence and I understand the findings of its study will be available in the summer. This research should provide us with very important information in relation to the prevalence of domestic violence in Ireland. The issue of violence against women is an important part of the Government's programme during Ireland's Presidency of the EU and my Department will be hosting a conference on violence against women at Dublin Castle in May. This conference will focus on all forms of domestic violence against women and will allow us to share our experiences with other EU member states.
I pay tribute to the many non-governmental organisations which have been providing services and support to victims of domestic violence over the years, mainly Women's Aid, the National Network of Refuges and Support Services and the National Women's Council of Ireland. Their work is greatly appreciated.
I welcome the Minister of State to this important debate, which is long overdue. Domestic violence is a matter that concerns me greatly. Violence in any form against women is a reprehensible act. It is a hidden crime — we do not read about it in the newspapers or hear about it on television that much — but, sadly, we all know it happens far too often. The 2002 statistics reveal an average of 22 incidents of domestic violence every day, which is frightening. Many victims of domestic violence feel helpless and are unable, for their own reasons, to report those crimes. They suffer silently, day in day out. Many voluntary groups such as women's refuges, outreach programmes and Women's Aid work tirelessly in reaching out to the victims of domestic violence and the Minister of State recognised their wonderful work. They need more State support to carry out that work.
Women are the primary victims of domestic violence, although it is not exclusively a women's issue. Domestic violence touches the lives of a small percentage of men also, who were affected by 9% of incidents in 2002, and it is important to be mindful of that aspect. Nevertheless, this is primarily but not exclusively a women's issue.
Sadly, all too many children have been traumatised by and experienced the revulsion of domestic violence. A recent campaign on television highlighted the lasting impact incidents such as this can have on children, capturing that impact very well in the phrase "Every childhood lasts a lifetime". It is clear that domestic violence is an issue that can touch the lives of women, men and children in a lasting and damaging way.
The most recent Garda annual report reveals that fewer than one in ten incidents of domestic violence resulted in a conviction in 2002. There were 651 convictions for domestic violence in 2002 compared to 1,286 in 2001. That is a drop of 49%, with the level of convictions being halved despite a rise in the number of reported incidents, up from 9,983 in 2001 to 10,248 in 2002. Is the incidence of domestic violence in terminal decline or is it more likely that it is as prevalent as before but is not being reported? Irish crime statistics make up only half the picture, with a high level of unreported crime appearing to have become the norm. A conviction rate of one in ten will do nothing to encourage vulnerable women to report these crimes. If women do not see it as being worth their while to take cases to court, why should they put themselves through the trauma of a court case?
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has told us that he wants gardaí to be equipped with video cameras to film people coming out of pubs drunk. He would be doing society a much greater service if he were to equip the gardaí with cameras to take to the scene of domestic violence crimes, as is the case in England. This would enable them to record injuries and gather evidence at that early stage. Very often women who report domestic violence crimes subsequently withdraw their statements under pressure from the offenders. Some studies have put the level of retraction as high as 46%. The use of cameras would mean that even where the complainant retracts a statement, the prosecution would have substantial evidence with which to proceed.
Domestic violence is a sensitive and difficult issue that needs to be treated in a very particular way and, by and large, the handling of domestic violence cases by the Judiciary is excellent. The Judicial Studies Institute was established by the Chief Justice as a body to train the Judiciary. However, it is only a starting point. What is needed is formal structured training on specific issues, such as domestic violence, and the Judicial Studies Institute does not appear to be fulfilling this need in its current form. If judges were given specialised training in domestic violence and the issues associated with it, they would have a greater understanding of the context, victim's fears and of the necessary penalty or rehabilitation suitable for the offender. All professionals in the area would benefit from the provision of specialised training and I hope the Minister will take this point on board.
The legal aid system has done a great service for many people. Its staff deserve credit for their commitment. However, to a great extent, their hands are tied by the Department of Finance which holds the purse strings. Within the legal aid system, domestic violence cases are given a certain level of priority. The allocation of priority is an effective remedy where few require it — but there are so many domestic violence cases that the allocation of priority has become meaningless. Legal aid sources admit off the record that the system is in chaos. The present state of the legal aid system epitomises the attitude of the Government to the vulnerable in society. The Progressive Democrats drive behind the Government does not care about the needy and vulnerable and makes no apologies for that.
We must do all we can to ensure that the needs of women, who are already in a vulnerable position because of poverty, disability, immigration status and ethnicity, can have confidence in the system that will help them escape situations of domestic violence. We must do all we can to ensure that women do not suffer at the hands of offenders and that crimes are reported at the first opportunity.
The private practitioners scheme, established by the Legal Aid Board in 1993, was a model of efficiency and provided a great deal of help to victims of domestic violence. It comprised a panel of 30 private solicitors who were available to the victims of domestic violence. However, as with all matters beneficial to the public, the Government terminated the service in November 2003.
The growing waiting lists for legal aid are a cause for concern. In Dublin, for example, the waiting time in the North Brunswick Street branch is eight months, it is seven months in Finglas and almost 12 months in Gardiner Street. This is in stark contrast to the position in regard to criminal legal aid, where no such delays exist; in such cases legal aid is available immediately.
The delays victims of domestic violence experience in procuring legal aid is far more serious than simply a matter of inconvenience. The unavailability of legal aid puts the safety of women at risk. When cases come before the courts, women are often forced to ask judges to adjourn cases until a solicitor becomes available or, in more desperate situations, the victim may have no option but to represent herself.
Access to justice is a fundamental right and, as such, is enshrined in Article 40 of the Constitution. It is also a central feature of the European Convention on Human Rights that was incorporated into Irish law last December. It is clear that citizens are being denied fundamental rights and that it will take a court challenge before the Government will discharge its obligations in this regard. This gives rise to serious concerns and leads one to question the Government's commitment to dealing with the issue. I call on the Government to reinstate the private practitioners scheme as a matter of urgency.
The contribution of voluntary organisations, which are on the front line in reaching out to victims of domestic violence, cannot be overstated. However, if they are to be in a position to continue to fulfil this vital role, the least they need is adequate funding. Funding for Women's Aid remains at the 2002 level, despite a 12% increase in calls received. Taking inflationary factors into account, this marks an actual decrease in funding, year on year. The picture is a bleak one to which the Government needs to wake up.
Custody and access rights to children are inextricably linked to domestic violence. Women's Aid published a detailed and comprehensive report on this matter last December and the Minister's time would be well spent in reading it. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, acknowledged receipt of the report and said he would take it into account in bringing forward legislation on the matter. I hope the Minister brings forward such a Bill as quickly as possible. Actions speak louder than words.
The report found that women and children are victimised by abusive men who use their court-conferred access rights to inflict more hurt and pain. We need to look at the issue of domestic violence in the context of access and custody rights. Evidence also suggests that men who are violent in the home are rarely denied access to their children, even where barring orders have been issued against them.
Among other issues, the report highlighted areas where the system is deficient. For example, no link exists between the criminal and civil system in determining custody and access in the context of domestic violence. The probation and welfare system is not consulted. A basic exchange of information is lacking. A multi-dimensional approach is required on domestic violence in order that associated issues can also be taken into account.
The report calls on the Minister to establish a legal working group to examine the issue of child custody and access, specifically in the context of domestic violence. I support this call and urge the Minister to give a commitment to the House that he will implement this recommendation.
If we are to tackle the incidence of domestic violence, it is imperative that we have the full picture. It is not good enough to merely be concerned about reported cases. We must delve deeper and examine the reasons cases go unreported. One reason is the inadequate remedies and protections available to women and the courts have a role to play in this regard. Only one in ten cases results in a conviction. What kind of signal does this send to the victims of domestic violence? The abuser has a 90% chance of getting off scot free.
A leading expert in family law matters, Michael Freeman, once described the remedies available for domestic violence as being "of little more value than sticking plaster is to a broken leg". That adage is equally applicable in Ireland today. The Government has not developed any reasoned plan for stemming the incidence of domestic violence, nor does it have a coherent plan for dealing effectively with its consequences. No attempt has been made to tackle the causes of domestic violence. The Government's approach to dealing with this issue has been purely reactionary. Tackling the symptoms is just a sticking plaster approach. We need to delve deeper and deal with the roots of the problem.
In highlighting the need to tackle the causes of domestic violence, I acknowledge the heavy reliance we, as a society, place on our legal system. The enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 1996 went a long way towards improving the protections available for victims of domestic violence. However, the Minister has two recent reports available to him which highlight the need for the law to be improved. Under present legislation, remedies are only available to particular parties. A couple with a child who do not reside together are not eligible for protection. This is just one example of the flaws in the existing system. In December 2002, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, gave a commitment to the Dáil that he would bring forward a family law reform Bill within a year. I ask the Minister of State to live by this promise and not break it again.
I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate the Leader for adding this important issue to the clár. While I do not recall this issue being discussed in the House in the past, it is an issue that will occupy significant debate time in the future.
I compliment the voluntary organisations working at the coalface in this area. The helping hand they give to the unfortunate people who suffer from domestic violence is unquantifiable in terms of benefit and assistance. Unfortunately, the work is done in a vacuum and is carried out on a basic needs level rather than a co-ordinated effort, for which there are probably a number of reasons. Those of us who have not experienced domestic violence or do not know anyone who has, can only begin to imagine how difficult and lonely a place it must be. Since 1996, 81 women have been murdered in this State, of whom 53 were murdered in their own homes. Research in this area has found that one in five Irish women has reported experiencing mental, physical or sexual abuse from either current or previous partners.
One can only begin to understand how difficult it is for women to leave a violent relationship. Research tells us that on leaving a relationship, a woman is in more danger than if she had stayed in it. It is imperative that we ensure all the necessary support, help and assistance is available in the event of taking the onerous decision — even though it should not be — of leaving a violent relationship. Victims often leave their family homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their children, if there are children involved. This must be a devastating physical and emotional process. As well as leaving the home, they also have the apprehension of reprisal from the partner they are leaving, the emotional distress as to what they are going to do with the rest of their lives and worries about the future for any children involved. We know that mothers will always protect their children, even putting a child's safety ahead of their own.
There is no question that refuge centres do a great job. While such centres provide some assistance, this is a short-term rather than long-term solution. We are told that 22% of homeless households cite domestic violence as the reason for the homelessness. Of those households, 97% were headed by a female. These are outlandish statistics and must command our attention. It must be disconcerting for people not to be able to move home and to have to stay longer in a refuge centre than they would otherwise want to owing to a lack of alternative accommodation. This must be particularly disconcerting for school going children. Children's playgrounds can be cruel places and children can be unintentionally cruel. Comments can be passed about the absence of fathers. This must be devastating for the self-esteem and self worth of children and may have an everlasting effect on a child unless he or she receives early counselling or other necessary benefits.
These households end up in overpriced accommodation in many cases. I worked and served in Dublin Corporation for more than 16 years. I recall the difficulty we had in trying to house people who found themselves in these unfortunate circumstances and the waiting time ranged from six months to two years. A report showed that 88% of women interviewed stated the reason for staying in a bad relationship was that they had nowhere else to go. Two out of three women who sought refuge wererefused. Only 609 of 1,800 applicants were accommodated. This is a staggering statistic and we must pay serious attention to it. I can only imagine the mindset of women, particularly those with children, who find themselves in those circumstances.
Domestic violence, rape and sexual assault are heinous crimes; this can never be said loudly enough or often enough. The crimes can happen to people of any age or gender and can impact on any family. Not alone do they impact on the individual against whom the crime is perpetrated, they also impact on their families. Children view the family home as a place of love and security and when the violence occurs therein, the impact is more dreadful. In 80% of the recorded domestic violence incidents, the child is either in the room or next door. Making an Impact is a book that discusses the impact of domestic violence on children. It states that children have difficulty in adjusting to particular circumstances; they become withdrawn, secretive and silent, are bitter and have self-blame in some instances. They also run away, have difficulties in school and are emotionally confused about their parents. Such children also suffer from sleep disturbances, have trouble eating, inflict self-harm and are affected by sadness and depression. There is a litany of problems. When one looks at the problems domestic violence causes, one realises that it must be urgently addressed.
I am certain everyone in this Chamber knows someone who has suffered at the hands of a violent partner. There is a horrible silence associated with this. I imagine most women are too terrified, and in some instances too ashamed, to report this. We are told that, on average, a woman will be assaulted 35 times before she tells anybody. Strong protections are now in place for women who suffer abuse; perhaps there are not enough protections. Current laws and Government policy recognise that women are entitled to the full protection of the law in this regard. The Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002 amended the 1996 Act that had been found unconstitutional, owing to the interim barring order ex parte element. The Government, with assistance from the Opposition, moved swiftly to deal with this. This is an indication of how the Government, and politicians in general, feel about this issue; we try to deal with it swiftly and with as many resources as possible.
When he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue posed a question that struck a chord with me. He wondered what the response would be if the media carried a story that a new risk had been discovered that would affect 10% of the population, a large number of those affected would be hospitalised, some of those affected would die while others would suffer for the rest of their lives and children would be seriously affected in many cases. He also asked what would be the response a year later if nothing was done about it. It amazes me that this issue has not been debated much more. There would and should be a public outcry about it. Statistics relate that between 10% and 20% of families are affected by domestic violence. The risk to which Deputy O'Donoghue referred is already with us, yet when one watches "Questions and Answers" or listens to any debate, one will seldom hear domestic violence being discussed but will hear other less important issues being raised. As someone who grew up in the country, I wonder how much unreported domestic violence crime occurred. I cannot imagine in a million years that my mother would go out and tell the public at large that my father was beating her up. Family pride and the shame that would bring on the family would be such that it could not happen. I wonder how many wives took such pain to the grave. Each member of the family would be equally shamed. One would probably hear the old-fashioned statement that was the order of the day in times past, that she must have done something to deserve it. The situation has changed and people are now not prepared to put up with the nonsense they put up with years ago.
We need to create an environment that makes it easier for people affected by this crime to come out and state it loudly and clearly, with the knowledge that protections are there for them. They need to know that if they report such a crime that they will be looked after effectively. We need to ensure that education and awareness programmes highlight the many forms that this horrible crime may take. It may be sexual, psychological or physical, or even a combination of all three. Sometimes I think the name "domestic violence" given to this crime is inadequate because it should be seen for what it is, a cowardly vicious attack on people.
Research shows that it is based on the abuse of power and those who perpetrate it generally carry out the depravity on someone who is weaker because basically he is a coward. We in the public arena should no longer be prepared to tolerate it. We must speak out and act. A survey carried out in Ireland indicates that 97% of people know about the issue of violence and 80% of those interviewed actually believed it was commonplace. With such numbers, one wonders why the public at large is not creating hell about what is being done about it.
This violence must stop. It is a fundamental violation of a person's human rights and dignity. It is also a violation of the right to liberty, security and personal mental and physical integrity. As the Minister stated, a number of initiatives have been put in place by the Government and resources have been increased from €3.8 million to more than €12 million. Last year Ms Emily Rogan was appointed as Ombudsman for Children and information officers were appointed to the various health boards. We must act as a community and stand up and say that domestic violence is no longer acceptable or tolerated in this country. When people come forward to explain the case, we must believe her and do all in our power to assist her to live a free and fearless life. Domestic violence is not just a family matter; it is a matter for all of us and we in this House have a responsibility to do all in our power to deal with it.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, and I am glad that he recognises the work being done by Women's Aid, the National Network of Refuges and the National Women's Council for women who experience domestic violence. I welcome the presence of members of some of these organisations in the Visitors Gallery. I thank Women's Aid for the excellent briefing document for this debate.
I am particularly pleased that the Minister will introduce the Civil Liability and Courts Bill within the week. I ask the Minister to present it in this House and the same Members will deal with it in no time. This is a most important Bill. For far too long, the public, and indeed all of us, have not understood the seriousness of the cases that come before the family law courts. Such cases are held in camera and the previous Attorney General interpreted the in camera rule very strictly. The barrister who had been appointed to report on the family law courts was unable to do so. It is essential that this legislation is debated in the House as rapidly as possible so that, with the permission of the family and on an anonymous basis, we can get some idea of the seriousness of the cases that come before the family courts. I look forward to that legislation being published next week. Senator Terry referred to the Minister's statement in the Dáil in December 2002 that a Domestic Violence Bill would be published within a year. It is a little more than a year so perhaps that very important Bill could be introduced in the Seanad.
There is a better understanding among the Judiciary of family disputes and the serious effects of violence, physically, mentally and emotionally on women and on children, as Senator Kett pointed out so effectively. The days are gone when a judge advised a man who had been beating his wife to go out with her to dinner and, after a couple of good steaks, a bottle of wine and a few roses, it would all be settled. What an innocent sort of life the man was leading. The courts have a much better idea of life as it is lived. On the other hand, the District Court badly needs resources for back-up staff for the Judiciary. What has happened since the members of the probationary and welfare service withdrew from the family law courts due to the fact they had so much work in other areas? Judges do not have the benefit of reports from them and we are also aware of the shortage of clinical psychologists as matters stand.
Judges have to operate in a most appalling vacuum without a proper idea of the problems in these cases, aside from concern about the solutions. For example, refuges are packed all the time, so we desperately need more temporary accommodation around the country. County councils and corporations do not seem to have a policy on what they should do with people who have to leave their homes. Once a person is homeless, she is supposed to be rehoused. This appears to be a particularly serious problem for women from rural areas. When women who have been seriously injured are asked why they did not leave their homes, the answer in the majority of cases is that they had nowhere to go. They are frequently financially dependent on the person beating or abusing them.
At present there is a campaign that violence is gender neutral and that violence against men by women is as prevalent as violence against women by men. I think that is not true and this is borne out in international surveys. The larger person is in a better position and usually the man is bigger than the woman. We must take account of the fact that not only male-female violence exists but that the elderly and people who are vulnerable because of mental or physical weakness experience considerable violence. These people should not be forgotten. My colleague, Dr. Margo Wrigley, wrote about violence against the elderly, particularly if they had a psychiatric illness such as Alzheimer's disease. It can be very difficult dealing with such people and carers may become abusive.
It is extraordinary to read reports in British newspapers about the suggestion that Professor Stephen Hawking's wife has been abusing him for many years. As Members will know, the distinguished physicist has suffered from motor neurone disease for approximately 40 years. He has been admitted repeatedly to hospital with injuries as serious as a broken wrist, yet he persists in saying that he is not being injured by anyone, despite the fact that his nurses and other carers have stated that he is. It is a very difficult situation when a person who is frequently being abused denies it because of his or her dependence on the abuser.
The involvement of the Garda Síochána in dealing with such cases has already been mentioned and it is a difficult situation for its members. As Senator Terry pointed out, the gardaí frequently take statements arising from a dramatic incident in a house. I like the Senator's suggestion that the Garda should have cameras for such work but such evidence might not be admissible in court. The Danish equivalent of our health boards can act in cases where they believe a serious issue has arisen. Perhaps we should consider doing that in the same way as when we consider that children are being sexually abused.
In 1996, when the House debated the Domestic Violence Bill, I suggested the creation of a Garda surveillance team to supervise people who had engaged in domestic violence, if the woman involved was not going to press charges. It would have operated somewhat like the juvenile liaison scheme but I gather that the Garda Síochána was not too enthusiastic about the idea and felt it should be done by the probation and welfare service. We have an extraordinarily limited number of people working in the probation service who could become involved in such a scheme. However, there should be some method of surveillance. The juvenile liaison scheme has worked very well and I wish something similar could happen with regard to domestic violence, even if it has to be done through the probation service, which should be expanded.
The Minister did not mention the role of the medical profession, as well as nurses and social workers, which is important in these situations. Surveys have been carried out in accident and emergency units and in general practice, which show that a considerable number of women report with injuries but do not admit they were due to domestic violence. Some years ago, for example, Dr. Cheasty did a survey in the accident and emergency unit in James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown. The survey found that women who presented with injuries the hospital staff felt might be due to domestic violence, were more likely to admit who had inflicted their injuries if they could discuss the matter privately with a female doctor or nurse. It was worrying that some women who had serious injuries had waited as long as a week before coming to the accident and emergency department. Those responsible for inflicting the injuries were not always husbands or partners, but sons also. Age, class and pregnancy did not seem to be deterrents.
The late Dr. Fiona Bradley, together with her colleagues Mary Smith, Jean Long, and Tom O'Dowd, professor of general medical practice in Trinity College, carried out a survey on the frequency of domestic violence in women attending general practice. They interviewed a total of 1,871 women. Of 1,692 of these women who had ever had a sexual relationship, 39% had experienced violent behaviour by a partner. Some 46% of the women had been injured, of whom 12% reported that their doctor had asked about domestic violence. Some 77% were in favour of routine inquiry into domestic violence by their usual general practitioner. Some 69% reported controlling behaviour by their partner, while 28% reported feeling afraid of their previous or current partners. The average age of the women was 36.6 years. Their injuries were sometimes quite serious: 22% had cuts or bruises to the face; 10% had cuts on the body; 30% had bruises on the body; 2% had burns on the body; 2% had a broken arm, leg or ribs; 3.6% had experienced a miscarriage; black eye 15%; lost or broken tooth 8%; sickness or vomiting 15%; bleeding on face, body or limbs 10%; broken jaw, nose or cheekbone 3%; and burst eardrums 2.5%. These are really serious injuries and they were the ones coming to general practice.
It is interesting that a high percentage of people felt doctors should ask how people had sustained their injuries. I am sure that if the Minister asked the Irish College of General Practitioners to make the treatment of victims of domestic violence a priority in its training programmes it would do so. The college already undertakes such training but its importance should be stressed by the Minister. He could also write to accident and emergency departments asking them to take note of our concerns about women not reporting the true reasons for their injuries.
The perpetrators of domestic violence must be considered, as well. The organisation, Men Overcoming Violence, is apparently doing very good work in trying to change people's attitude towards women, which is one of the main reasons some people feel they can beat up another human being. I was speaking on this issue at a meeting where there were some people in the audience from other countries, including refugees. A doctor who had lived in Afghanistan was sharing the platform with me. When a girl aged about 12 in the audience asked why men beat women, the Afghan doctor, who had just escaped from the Taliban, replied it was due to religion. It was a very depressing answer.
While there are different cultural attitudes, we should explain that no domestic violence can be tolerated here. This is the case even if women are considered by other members of their family not to be following, as strictly as they should, the religious and cultural practices of the country from which they have come. Extra protection may be needed in such cases.
I support all those who said that legal aid must be restored for cases involving domestic violence. Coming from Cork myself, I am delighted to see that a Cork woman has taken the initiative in this respect because she had been denied legal aid for so long in seeking financial assistance from her husband. She has now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
I congratulate Women's Aid on its work and I hope the promised legislation will come before the House as rapidly as possible. I also hope extra finance will be given so that women's refuges will have the necessary resources.
I would like to welcome our guests in the Gallery. In any discussion concerning domestic abuse, one of the first issues to be mindful of is that domestic violence knows no class. It is not confined to any one socio-economic group and is as likely to happen in Dublin as in any other part of the country. Educated, literate, wealthy women are just as likely to be victims of domestic abuse as the most socially deprived and economically vulnerable in our society.
Any discussion on domestic violence or possible courses of action must always be guided by the knowledge that domestic violence is a classless crime perpetrated on females. I use the word "females" deliberately because domestic violence is predominantly suffered by women. It happens in working class homes, middle class suburbia and among the rich.
Another important point is that domestic violence is widespread in Ireland. Associations working on the ground, such as Women's Aid, estimate that one in five Irish women will experience abusive behaviour from a partner at some stage in her life. I came across this incredible statistic while preparing for this debate and I had to read it again and again because it is so difficult to believe that one fifth or 20% of the female population will experience abuse. On a personal level, this means that every person in this Chamber knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. They may not have told us about it, we may not be aware of it and would be very shocked to hear of it, but it is a fact.
This leads to another important element of the problem — the silence that surrounds domestic abuse. Much domestic violence stays underground. Many victims keep quiet, suffer the abuse and do not take action. Many women who suffer abuse are afraid to seek help for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they are afraid of encouraging another bout of violence. Many of them believe that the violence is their own fault or that they did something to encourage it. It is almost as if they deserved it. They feel that to report it to the Garda would only result in another beating.
The stigma associated with domestic abuse encourages this shroud of silence. Some victims are afraid to seek help for fear that they will be ridiculed by society, pitied or scorned. This is the reason awareness is so important and the reason we must engage in public debate on the matter. We must constantly reinforce the message that it is the abuser and not the victim who is to blame. We must ensure that when victims seek help, they are treated with respect and sympathy, given adequate and appropriate protection, their case is dealt with quickly and efficiently and any children involved are given all the support and help necessary to rebuild their lives. Some victims are reluctant to come forward because they lack faith in the help on offer, whether from the Garda, the courts or social services. We must ensure that all the necessary support is available and that victims know that help is available.
Leaving an abusive relationship is even more difficult for women who have children. They have fears regarding financial security or the status of the family home. In some cases, despite the abuse, the children have a good bond with their father and the mothers are reluctant to disrupt this, even if it means they must continue to suffer abuse.
The reluctance of many victims to seek help or go public and the completely misguided notion that domestic abuse only happens to a certain class of woman mean domestic violence does not feature as regularly in the media as it should. It is not always in the headlines. One is more likely to read about outbreaks of flu or bad weather than about a woman suffering abuse in her home. Aside from a few high profile cases or when the abuse goes as far as murder, much domestic violence goes unreported in the press. In a sort of vicious cycle, this lack of publicity encourages the sense of stigma and shame which makes victims reluctant to report abuse.
It is essential that we continue to make domestic violence an issue. We must continue to create awareness of it and to remind society of its terrible existence. It must remain in the headlines. Abuse and violence must not be mistakenly termed "domestic incidents" by the media and abusers must not be allowed to explain away their behaviour by pointing to stress, drink or moments of madness.
The current "Unmask the Abuser" advertisement campaign which features on bus shelters, in newspapers and on billboards is important. It reminds people of the horror of domestic violence and keeps the issue to the fore. It also reminds people of the classless nature of the abuse and that abusers come from all walks of life.
There is a tendency to see domestic violence as a lesser crime. Abusers often express regret immediately after the abuse, show remorse and seek forgiveness. However, regret does not lessen the crime. Domestic violence is a crime and must always be regarded and treated as such. Some 92 women were murdered in Ireland over an eight year period and all of these murders were committed by men. Of the 92 women killed, 62 were murdered in their homes. Of the 55 cases that went to court, 40% of those convicted of the murder were the woman's partner, spouse or ex partner. The best way to deal with domestic violence in Ireland is through prevention. We must stop it happening rather than try to deal with the consequences. Cases will always occur, but efforts and resources must be focused on treating the root causes through early intervention.
Young people in our schools must be educated about domestic violence. Does every school going child know the all important one in five figure? Do they know that violence is always wrong or that abuse is not necessarily physical, but can also be verbal, emotional or sexual? Parents and teachers must take responsibility for getting this message across. Any sign of bullying behaviour by a child must be immediately tackled.
Early intervention is essential. Women must be encouraged to report, seek help and take action. They must be made to feel that they will be listened to, that there is help and support available and that they will be dealt with sympathetically and fairly by the courts. It is essential that gardaí are given specific training to deal with domestic violence cases and that health care workers are ready to spot the signs. Women who make the first step, be it a telephone call to a helpline, a call to the Garda or telling a family member or friend, should be given every possible support and advice. They must be made aware that there is a better option than staying with an abusive partner. Fears about financial difficulties, alternative accommodation, custody of children or the family home must be allayed. The criminal justice system must be made to appear fair.
We must do away completely with the "brushing under the carpet" syndrome. While Irish society has come a long way from our shameful treatment of abuse victims in the past, there is still a degree of looking away when it comes to domestic violence. This brings us back to the issue of awareness. The more we keep the issue to the fore, the less chance there is of cases of abuse being swept under the carpet by society.
I welcome the Government's launch of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency on a pilot basis. It aims at preventing domestic violence by integrating the work of the criminal justice system with that of victim support agencies. Based in Dún Laoghaire and Bray District Court areas, the agency will oversee a pilot programme aimed at increasing the safety of victims of domestic violence, making perpetrators more accountable and reducing the rate ofrepeat violence. The programme includes an intervention programme for the perpetrators of domestic violence which is modelled on the Cork domestic violence project. Two thirds of those who completed this programme changed their abusive ways. Perpetrators of domestic violence are referred to this programme by the District Courts in Dún Laoghaire and Bray, following a prosecution by gardaí. Their progress is monitored by the probation and welfare service and overseen by the courts. Failure to comply with a court order to participate in such a programme results in other sanctions, including prison.
The new agency will focus on both the victim and the perpetrator and will co-ordinate the work of the support services. It will, therefore, reduce the necessity for the victim to approach a number of different agencies. Ms Denise Charleton, director of Women's Aid, has said that women often withdraw complaints from fear but that studies have shown that if women are supported through the legal process they stay with it.
The approach of the NDVIA is based on a US model which has been extensively used elsewhere. Where it has been introduced, the model has been found to reduce the number of domestic violence murders by at least half and sometimes more. The programme brings the perpetrator into the judicial system and offers a graded level of sanctions including the perpetrator intervention programme which reports to the court regularly. I would like to see this programme, which was launched last year, extended and continued when the pilot stage is completed in May.
I welcome the opportunity to address this important issue in the Chamber. Any opportunity to highlight the issue of domestic abuse is important as we can only hope to tackle the problem by increasing awareness.
I welcome this very important debate. I acknowledge the co-operation of the Leader of the House and the Minister who has come to the House for this debate at my request. I also acknowledge the support of all Members. I have been asked to have this debate to ensure that legislators in the Seanad continue to be aware of and speak about this important and urgent matter. If we do not hear about domestic violence, it does not mean it has gone away. As other speakers have pointed out, the opposite appears to be the case. Domestic violence against women is a serious issue in our community. While assaults on individuals on the streets are reported and written about in newspapers, we do not hear as much about the equally serious assaults on women which take place behind their front doors. Until we, as a community, take full responsibility for this particular behaviour by a number of our members, we cannot hope to advance a solution.
We should not speak about domestic violence as somebody else's problem or as just the problem of the women affected. It is everyone's problem because it comes out of the community. It does not just happen. It is indicative of particular kinds of attitude, culture and tolerance. Somehow our thinking is that it is up to the women themselves to get their acts together and to get out. We ask why someone would put up with a situation in which a man was beating her up, particularly where she had children. Of course, that attitude fails to recognise the reality of the life of a woman faced with domestic violence who lives in an atmosphere of fear and abuse. Fear grips a person and prevents him or her from acting. It runs a person's life. Fear of violence, abuse or the potential involvement of children can, unsurprisingly, prevent a person from acting. For that reason, we must send out the very strong message to women in such circumstances that they are not alone.
If they have the courage to move out and take action, the necessary resources and services must be in place. There must be people there for these women to help them get on their feet and to protect them. Those resources must include a legal framework and the Garda as well as safe, secure refuges and advice centres for women. They must be provided, if necessary, with the resources to obtain barring orders. We must ask ourselves if we are supplying these resources.
Are we sending the message loudly and clearly to women that what is happening to them is not acceptable in our society? I am not sure we are. We must ask ourselves if we take the attitude that there is somehow a distinction to be made between a domestic and a non-domestic assault. Certainly, that seems to be the case in the media. There have been a few incidents in which women have come to me in circumstances of severe abuse in their homes. The vast majority of gardaí one meets in this regard are totally supportive and wish to do everything they can, but on occasion one hears from them complaints that while a woman might make a statement now, she will change her mind tomorrow and go back to the man in question the following week. They ask if one is sure the woman will go forward with the case. The attitude is that somehow a domestic assault is not the same as a criminal assault. Assault is assault and violence is always unacceptable and intolerable. We must declare zero tolerance of domestic violence once and for all. As a society, we must stop saying this is someone else's problem and acknowledge that it is everybody's responsibility.
In particular, we must insist that the supports women and families need to break the cycle of violence are put in place where and when they are required, and not next month or in ten years but now. As other speakers have pointed out, the cuts in the civil legal aid scheme are very disappointing and are having a very serious and deleterious effect. We must ensure that the legal resources are available to women in these circumstances. The schemes which have worked in the past, including the private practitioner scheme, must not be allowed to disappear. The funding which was made available through the Legal Aid Board to locate a family law solicitor in the Family Court building in Dublin meant that women could access legal aid on the spot. They could make an appointment for a legal aid application on the same day as their application for a barring order in the same building. That hugely beneficial facility unfortunately no longer exists due to funding cuts.
I recall attending court with a woman who wished to obtain a barring order. She needed moral support but she was afraid to ask anybody in her family to come with her as she did not feel there was anybody she could particularly rely on or trust. It is a harrowing and difficult experience. The atmosphere is not very supportive and I found it quite difficult myself to negotiate the system. For somebody who lives in fear and for whom it has taken all her courage to attend the court on the day, the atmosphere is not particularly supportive. Clearly, we are not doing enough.
We are not doing enough about our attitudes either. The media reflects the attitudes of society at large and I was quite disturbed at a number of articles I read in recent weeks and months. They concerned what was described as the "letting off" of women for the manslaughter of their partners in circumstances of domestic violence. The explicit message of these articles was that women were somehow being treated leniently and receiving an easier day in court than men would in similar circumstances. I hope that would never be the case. However, I was very disturbed by the message that women were receiving special treatment. I do not for one minute advocate returning violence in a violent situation, but we cannot imagine what it is like to be abused and assaulted and to have one's children put in danger. I am concerned that the messages coming from the media do not create an atmosphere in which the wider community will take full responsibility for this problem.
Many good projects are in place around the country. The issues which lead to violence in the home, violent relationships and a violent family should be examined. One would have huge concerns for children in those homes. When children see their mother being abused, unfortunately a learning situation is caused which undoubtedly leads to difficulties. It is not a normal situation and it must cause children to be angry, fearful and have issues they need to resolve in the future. Supports should be put in place for children in those situations.
There are projects in my health board area aimed at helping men to overcome violence. Violence cannot be seen as a normal way of expressing one's feelings or emotions. The question of why violence occurs must be raised rather than a purely legal response which is obviously very important in terms of how society views the crime. It is important that resources are put into examining ways of helping men to come to terms with their anger so that they can deal with their violent tendencies.
Wider society must question the reason men believe it is acceptable to beat a woman. We all live in communities where we know that some women are in difficulty. What would men say to a man whom they know is violent towards women? Would they say violence is unacceptable and intolerable or would they say nothing, ignore it and hope it goes away and never arrives on their doorstep where they would have to deal with it? Do we tolerate violence and do nothing about it? These are the questions that must be asked.
Very important points have been raised in the debate. I hope the Minister will take notice that there is a significant need for more resources such as refuges to deal with the immediate effects on and needs of women in situations of domestic violence. In some cases women may have to travel more than 50 or 60 miles to reach a refuge. This raises the issue of children being taken out of their own community and school environment. Resources should be available to ensure that refuge places are relatively easily accessible so that if women have the courage to leave home the message from society is that their situation is not normal or acceptable and that resources are available in refuges to help them deal with a major issue. They must be helped to deal with a major problem in their lives to ensure their children can grow up in a peaceful, normal family environment. The crime of violence against them should not be tolerated and should be addressed to the fullest extent.
I join with others in welcoming the Minister of State and I welcome representatives of Women's Aid and the national network of women's refuges. I commend them on their excellent work, which is achieved with very limited resources. I welcome the opportunity to speak about the need for continuing awareness and action to improve services for victims of domestic violence. Violence perpetrated against any person in a domestic environment is an urgent criminal and public health problem with devastating consequences for women, children and families. Domestic violence is the intentional and persistent physical, emotional and psychological abuse of anyone in the home in a way that causes pain, distress or injury. It is imperative that Members work together in a constructive and proactive manner to seek remedies to this pressing matter.
Although there are no typical victims of domestic abuse, abusive relationships share similar characteristics. In all cases, the abuser aims to have power and control over his victim. Domestic violence is not about anger but is more about trying to instil fear and a desire to exercise power and control over the relationship. This fear festers into inhibition about looking for help and advice from support services designed for victims of domestic abuse. We must therefore devise a system which is accessible to and protective of those who need it. This responsibility rests on all our shoulders; as citizens and as legislators, we must protect the most vulnerable members of our society.
The effects of abuse stretch past the abused. Young people are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse but also living in an environment where someone — usually the main caregiver — is being repeatedly victimised. Young people in a home where someone is being abused are at a greater risk of being abused themselves or being used to control either of their parents. Abusers who use children as pawns will accuse their target of being a bad parent and threaten to take their children away, use children to relay messages and threaten to report the abused to children's protective services. Due to their own lack of self-worth, the abusive partner feels the need to control those to whom they consider themselves to be superior. Unfortunately, in a family this includes children.
Domestic abuse is part of a repetitive pattern which is very difficult to break and we must endeavour to make breaking this pattern easier. The pattern includes striking the injured party using words or actions, begging forgiveness, offering gifts or promising to change, becoming tense, angry or depressed and repeating their abusive behaviour following an undertaking to stop.
The abuse worsens each time it occurs and the cycle shortens. Breaking this pattern of violence alone and without help, is difficult. People living in an environment of chaos, stress and fear, doubts themselves and their ability to take care of themselves. Abuse can unravel their sense of reality and self-esteem. We must raise awareness that the abused may not be in a position to resolve the situation on their own and that it is permissible for them to seek outside help. As legislators, we must adopt a proactive approach to show that without help and appropriate support structures, the abuse will most likely continue. Leaving the abusive relationship may be the only way to break the cycle.
In seeking to address the plight of those who are subjected to this repetitive abuse, we must be aware of the large numbers of women affected by domestic violence. National research indicates that almost one in five women has borne the brunt of violent outbursts. Women's Aid received more than 11,000 calls in 2002 and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre received approximately the same volume. Worrying trends demonstrate that there is an annual increase of 12.5% in calls recorded by the help lines. This signifies that domestic violence is out of control in Ireland. We must address this problem at its root. We must combat the social and personality problems which cause a person to inflict domestic abuse but it is imperative that we address the issues of awareness and actions required to improve services for victims of domestic violence.
We must examine ways to deal legislatively with the issue and look at this problem from a different perspective. Domestic violence comes in different forms and we must ensure that all of them are seen as completely unacceptable. Domestic violence is not just violence committed by a man against a women; it can be inflicted by a woman against a man, by children against their parents or by parents against a child. We must ensure that the first point of contact to which the abused turns, normally their GP, recognises the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse, no matter what form it takes. I suggest that clear policies be established for health practitioners to deal with the victims of domestic violence. Very few health agencies have written protocols on domestic violence, although people experiencing violence tend to be over-represented in GPs' surgeries, accident and emergency departments and mental health services. It is vital to ensure that hospitals, nurses and family doctors are taking advantage of their unique position to identify those who are experiencing abuse, and that they intervene to support and protect them. I propose that hospitals establish working parties to enable staff to be trained and informed about the issues surrounding domestic violence. We should encourage hospitals to keep records of accidental injuries if necessary so that they may be used in subsequent court cases.
Proper resources should be in place for the victims of domestic abuse if we are to support and protect them. Initiatives such as emergency safe accommodation, support and outreach services and supported transitional housing are crucial. Research shows that the biggest reason women do not leave their violent partners is that they have nowhere to go. This is due to a number of factors including astronomic rent and house prices. Such costs inhibit people from moving away from abusers. If victims decide to move to one of the 15 refuges in this country, they will find that there is no room as they are constantly full. What does this tell the abused? It may send the message that it would be better for them and their families to stay where they are rather than face the unknown, possibly including life on the streets. We must provide an effective support structure, in the form of safe housing, for those who have the courage to leave an abusive home.
The message being sent out is that we do not provide adequate facilities for victims of domestic abuse. We must become more proactive. We should remedy the shortfall of transitional housing, which simply does not meet the demand of the domestically abused. I cannot endorse a system in which two out of three women who sought refuge accommodation in the eastern region in 1999 were refused this facility as a consequence of overcrowding. We should increase the number of refuges across Ireland. We must help those who have the courage to choose to leave an abusive environment.
The profile of those who frequently resort to violence in the home should be examined. Perpetrators of domestic abuse often demonstrate alcoholic tendencies. Figures show that in cases of intimate partner violence, 45% of men had been drinking. Women had been drinking in about 20% of cases. We must make public the possible behavioural changes linked with alcohol abuse which may manifest themselves in the form of violence towards an intimate partner. A study shows that the unemployment, drug use or alcohol use of a male partner are associated with an increased risk of physical, sexual and-or emotional abuse.
We heard earlier that abuse relates to all socio-economic groups. Some people associate it with poorer groups only, but that is because adequately resourced support and backup services are not available to them. Richer or professional people are more likely to change jobs or to get help from their families. Regardless of the background of perpetrators, we must endeavour to ensure that the appropriate support structures are in place. Perpetrators of domestic violence may lack social skills, such as communication ability, particularly in the context of problematic situations with intimate partners. Many of those who inflict violence in the home report higher levels of depression, lower self-esteem and more aggression than non-violent people. Evidence indicates that personality disorders such as schizoid borderline personality, anti-social or narcissistic behaviours, dependency and attachment problems are features of an abusive partner. By illustrating the personality profile of a person who may engage in domestic abuse, we can make potential victims more aware of the type of person that is likely to inflict violence in a domestic environment.
We must try to flush out the perpetrators of domestic violence. We must show that abusers have a problem and that there are alternatives to staying in a violent environment. Silence and embarrassment, which are common features of domestic injury cases, must be replaced by vocalising and advertising that victims are not alone. One in five Irish women has experienced domestic violence. We need to have a uniform no tolerance policy, rather than ignoring this real problem. The fact that it takes place behind closed doors does not mean that it is not happening. As legislators and citizens of Ireland, we should introduce proper and adequately resourced support structures to increase awareness and, eventually, to remove the attitude which has led to the shocking statistics that have been reported. By highlighting this problem, I hope we can encourage the initiatives which have been suggested by many Senators today. Our efforts can help to ensure that domestic abuse becomes a much less frequent feature of Irish society.
I am delighted to contribute to this debate. I appreciate the Government's decision to give time for a discussion on this issue. Previous speakers have referred in great detail to the proposals and views outlined in the Women's Aid report. I fully and thoroughly support what Women's Aid has to say. I will not go through the issues again, but I will deal with some of the matters arising from them. I would like to reiterate that I am very supportive of the case made by Women's Aid.
We should recognise that we have created a very macho society since we started to develop from cave men and women. Many problems arise from the fact that this is a very macho world in terms of how we organise our society. There is a lack of understanding of how we should organise society and interact with each other. It is appalling, in this day and age, that sophisticated people who are part of a civilised society should take court cases on the matter of whether women should be allowed to join golf clubs. That is where it starts. The time of the courts is being wasted on this nonsense. Some of the male leaders of our society feel that it is important to take a stand to prevent women from joining golf clubs. This tells one all one needs to know about Irish society at that level. Many men feel embarrassed by such behaviour.
There are similar problems in restaurants. If I walk into a restaurant at lunch time I can tell immediately by counting the suits whether it is a male restaurant or a real restaurant. One can feel utterly claustrophobic when one walks into many restaurants around this area, only to see many large men in large suits without any women in sight. This is what is coming from our society.
I notice that an alarm bell has started to ring in the Chamber.
That is fine.
The existence of a male-dominated society creates an unfortunate image. It was worrying last weekend to watch the news reports of two rape cases, both involving 14 year olds. It should be pointed out that one of the cases involved the rape of a man, but that is not the point. Are we teaching society anything? Are we learning anything from our previous experience? Where are we going? In terms of the victims of society——
We have managed to create a very macho world, in which value is placed on being macho. I mentioned some examples that we see in everyday life. I find it appalling and embarrassing at this stage of sophistication in our society that there are still men who are prepared to spend large amounts of money on legal fees in order to prevent women from becoming members of a golf club. This reflects an unacceptable attitude in society. Obviously people must have access to the courts in a democracy, but it seems an extraordinary waste of the courts' time that we should be trivialising their business in this way. It gives credence to the idea of inequality. I thought the equality debate was long over and the issue we were talking about today was to do with violence, on the basis that everybody is equal. However, there is still much inequality and discrimination towards women in Irish society. It must reflect in men who hold those attitudes a lack of personal self-confidence as well as of education. It is certainly indicative of a lack of sophistication and civilisation in society.
I mentioned earlier that the kind of violence being perpetrated in our society is becoming worse. That two 14 year olds in different parts of the country were involved in brutal rape cases over the last week leads us to wonder where we are going as a society and what is happening to us. A change in attitudes is required. Normally this follows legal change, but in this case we have changed the law without changing people's attitudes. That is one of the difficulties faced by our society today.
The points outlined by previous speakers as to the levels of support that should be available to victims of domestic violence go without saying. We should certainly be supportive of such provision. It is interesting how victims of violence respond in a particular way to violence which I do not believe is rooted in gender. At the weekend, I read how Stephen Hawking was clearly the victim of domestic violence. However, he has reacted in a way that we associate with other victims, mainly women. People do not want to share their particular problem. The reason for this is dealt with in the Women's Aid literature. People, although they are the victims, feel in some way that society holds them responsible. This is due to society's attitudes which create a vicious circle because we are back to the age of the cave man at that point. No words appropriately reflect the disdain and contempt we should have towards the perpetrators of domestic violence.
Much of the debate has centred around the victims of domestic violence, as it should. However, we should focus on the perpetrators too. If we do not deal with the perpetrators we will never solve the problem. Dealing with the perpetrators requires us to make changes to the laws, such as making counselling and related activities compulsory for those found guilty of domestic violence. They should be forced to confront the consequences of their actions and be submitted to proper areas of rehabilitation. This should be part of the outcome in any of these cases. It is not good enough for them to only pay the price to society and continue on with such attitudes. The perpetrators must recognise what they are doing is wrong and be prepared not just to be contrite but to change their attitudes. There should also be a follow-up in such cases.
The question of child custody also arises in this debate. Everyone agrees that it should be focused on the child and, in this case, the victim. In child custody cases in the courts we have failed to address the issue that the child's home should always be the fulcrum of the decision. The idea of shared parenting, guardianship or access to a child is fine in theory. However, I have always maintained that it should not be the children who are moved out for the weekend to meet their father or mother, but the parent who should leave to allow the other parent in and the child to stay. This idea of playing musical chairs with children because of parents splitting up is unacceptable. The courts should take a stronger view on those issues. I know how difficult such a scheme may be for parents but that is the way it should be done.
I am not for one moment suggesting that perpetrators of domestic violence should be allowed free access to the family home. I wanted to introduce the general question of child custody. However, somebody who has committed violence against his or her partner should not have genuine or open access to the family home.
There are two issues with barring orders. First, they are not implemented half the time. Time and again we see cases of people being in breach of a barring order 100 times, yet they are still freely walking around. This brings the entire process into disrepute. I have heard it said that the way people can gain barring orders is not properly investigated either. Barring orders are there in law but are not being implemented in the way we want them to be. They should be available to people under threat. The minute they are put in place, people who are supposed to be protected by them should be so protected. Anyone who breaches a barring order should go straight to jail, no two ways about it.
It is appropriate that we are discussing these issues in the House. I appreciate the opportunity to have participated despite my breakdown under all the noise from the fire alarms.
I thank Senator O'Meara for bringing this matter and the report to my attention and allowing me to bring it to the floor of the House. I also thank her for providing the briefing paper on domestic violence from Women's Aid which is most helpful to all Members who wish to speak on this topic. I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate.
Many years ago, the issue of domestic violence first came into the public arena, although it has always existed. As I mentioned to my party's spokesperson on these issues, Senator Kett, we only learn of some cases but there are many others which are not brought forward. Senator O'Toole touched on this point of an in-built worry, lack of confidence and fear in a woman who is the victim of domestic violence. Women ask whether they should tell people, go to the Garda, to a refuge or to somebody for advice. Very often they fear they will be got at again or someone will follow them. Being in one's own home provides a nest of security. It provides that feeling to a woman that she is mistress of all she surveys, until the violence begins again.
When I was a local authority member, many women came to see me about domestic violence. I would tell them to go to the local Garda station, to somebody for advice or to a refuge centre. There was a good centre in Athlone, Esker House, which has been mentioned in the report. My main advice was for them to tear themselves away from the situation.
Late one night 25 years ago, when my late husband, Enda, and I were in bed, a woman called to our door who was very bruised and upset. It was around the time when condoms began to be more readily available. It was a time when we were being brave and out-front. Thankfully, this issue is now a matter of acceptance in everyone's life. The Church can go off and do its own thing, but we know what we want to do. The woman and her husband had six children and the particular beating arose because she did not wish to become pregnant again. It was difficult to obtain condoms and her husband refused to abstain. I advised her that the political magazine Hibernia contained advertisements where one could apply for condoms which were sent under special post. I gave her the advertisement and she was able to get them. The couple were able to come to a satisfactory arrangement and have remained happily married. The sequel to this piquant story was that two weeks later at the voluntary secondary school where I taught I received a visit from a priest who informed me that I had been advising people to use condoms. I explained that I had and asked what was wrong with this. He informed me that the Church did not agree with the use of condoms. I asked him what he would say to that woman who wants to have sex but cannot because she does not want a seventh child. He responded by saying she must abstain. That story is very telling. It happened years ago but it lit in me an interest in such issues, which I never lost. Many women, out of a mistaken sense of shame, do not tell their tale to people who could help them.
Some people would point out there are cases where women are violent to men, but I note the statistics in this excellent briefing document indicate that in the US it is estimated that between 90% and 95% of violence by intimates is perpetrated by men on women. Also, a major study of police reports on crime surveys in UK, USA and Canada found that between 90% and 97% of perpetrators of violence in intimate relationships are men. While I am genuinely sorry for the men who have been violently attacked by women, in more than 95% of such cases women are the victims of male violence.
We should encourage confidence in women to speak up. I know of many men on whom barring orders have been served and they have had to leave the home. In many cases the couple come back together and the barring order acted as a good, sharp shock to them and they decide, in the main, to behave themselves. Barring orders should be properly enforced. The catcalling of women by the people on whom barring orders have been served, as well as the enforcement of the barring orders, should be monitored.
I note also in the briefing document that 76 families were accommodated in the Esker House women's refuge in Athlone, a place I know well and in which I was involved at the start in 2002. On leaving the refuge only eight families moved to safe accommodation, free from abuse, and three returned to the family home, in respect of which a barring order had already been served.
The Minister of State present is a worthy member of the ministerial team in the Department with responsibility for local government. There is an uneven provision of housing in such situations across local authorities based on how they view women who have fled from violence and brought their children with them. Some local authorities are good at providing housing in such circumstances and give those concerned priority, but some do not rank such cases high on their list. They would be of the view that the tenancy was given jointly to a husband and wife or partners and, therefore, are not interested. I stress to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that it should seek to have an even and just system of allocation of priority housing in such situations.
Members who spoke in this debate might come together to try to persuade the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which indicated it would implement changes to the Domestic Violence Act 1996, that changes should be made to the legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, promised to work through an amendment to that legislation, but we would like to have sight of such legislation. Much has happened since 1996, which is now almost eight years ago, but what has not changed are some of the matters about which Senator O'Toole spoke. I refer to the attitude of society towards women, which in many cases is at the root of what we see exemplified in domestic violence cases. I am incensed sometimes at the portrayal of women in advertising. Members may say that has nothing to do with this report, which it has not, but down the line such portrayal can lead to a degree of violence. One example is the portrayal of women as sexual sirens to sell goods. We are all used to seeing page three women draped across cars. Have members heard and viewed advertisements which tell listeners and viewers about what a wonderful homebody a woman is, all virtues I extol and think are good? However, it is always women who are portrayed cleaning the oven, recommending how to clean the oven or using a product they are told will ensure their pies will rise higher than those of the woman up the street. All these messages put women in their so-called proper place.
I could talk forever on this issue. I am not accusing the Leas-Chathaoirleach of anything — he is a most humane person.
Such advertisements show little regard for women. It is serious that such an attitude towards women prevails in society. I can talk freely now but 20 years ago I would not have made the comments I have in this or the other Chamber, or in a chamber of the county council. I would not have dreamed of it but I say it now because of what I see around me and with years of wisdom and knowledge behind me. I wish women would be stroppy and confident, that they would talk to people and not be afraid.
I remember going to my first county council meeting in 1974 or thereabouts and the chairman of our group who was a lovely man — I was the only woman among the 24 — told me that my best option was not to speak for about six months, and then I would be all right. Imagine not speaking for six months.
That was wishful thinking. At any rate, I decided I would speak that day and I spoke about housing or some such issue. Sometimes the old-fashioned ideas are very good, but keeping women quiet and making one female member in a group of 24 councillors an object of admiration because she does not speak for six months is a breeding ground for many other problems.
We are only skirting this issue but if we can get agreement on an amendment to the legislation, that will be worthwhile. On the matter of the lack of funding, I read the part of the report relating to private practitioners. That was of great help to women and they were able to act fairly immediately. This area will have to be reviewed.
The women and men who spoke in this debate should come to a loose alliance on these matters and seek to bring about as many changes as we can through the legislative process. That is our remit. The briefing paper and this debate will be of benefit in that regard.
I join other Senators who expressed happiness that we can discuss this issue in the House today. I thank the Leader for arranging the debate and compliment her on the remarks she has just made about the situation in which she found herself. We have had a fairly free discussion on this important issue today. Senator O'Rourke said that when she went to her first council meeting she was told not to speak for six months. When I went to my first council meeting as a 20 year old I was told not to speak for the first year because I needed to learn my way before——
I did. I did some research on this issue before I came into the House and I note that in recent weeks a fair deal of print media space has been devoted to violence against women in particular. I read a statistic from a 1997 report entitled, The Analysis of Cohort, to the effect that on average a woman who is assaulted by her partner or ex-partner has to be assaulted 35 times before a report is made to the police about such an assault. That is an astonishing statistic and there are more statistics that other people read into the record today.
I am glad to have the opportunity to express my support for those bodies and agencies helping women who are victims of violence. I was contacted by a number of agencies, including the Rape Crisis Centre in Kilkenny, Women's Aid in Carlow and other agencies in my area which expressed great interest in this debate and were adamant about putting their views forward. Most of them were concerned that in recent years funding for the area of violence against women appears to have remained fairly stagnant. We all know that problems with inflation mean a significant decrease in real terms in funding for these areas. This is one sector which could do with considerably more funding.
One reason cases are not reported is the lack of avenues available to women in a vulnerable position, a point the Leader raised. Where can women go after making a complaint? Research from 1995 found that the single biggest reason women did not leave violent partners was that they had nowhere to go. This is a matter of fear. While people are in a violent situation they may feel that at least they know that situation and are masters of all they survey. People are afraid that if they leave those circumstances there will be no supports in place for them and, frankly, the supports are inadequate. There are 15 refuges in the State which are constantly full, so clearly they cannot cater for all the women presenting for their facilities. This sector is in dire need of a financial injection rather than cutting back or keeping funding at current levels.
On average, 22 cases of domestic violence occur every day. That means 22 women will be abused in some way by their partners today, which is a startling statistic. I urge the Minister of State, the Department and the Government to do their utmost to ensure funding for this area is increased in the future.
I have not heard education mentioned yet but part of the secondary school curriculum could deal specifically with domestic violence, whether it is violence perpetrated by men against women or by women against men. That should also be examined in the future.
I welcome the Minister of State and strongly support the weight given by speakers to this important debate. The physical infrastructure to deal with this problem is a necessity and other speakers have highlighted the importance of directing funds towards this. The statistic that one in five Irish women is subject to domestic violence should not be taken lightly and the physical infrastructure to deal with it should be provided as a matter of importance.
I will allude to my personal experience in dealing with the social or human resource infrastructure necessary to deal with this area. I have seen neighbourhood workers going into houses in certain communities, not to seek out women who suffered domestic violence but to help with parental advice or budgeting, as some households have many needs. I have seen such intervention work successfully and we should put whatever resources we can into that area. Many women's groups lobby constantly to get their projects mainstreamed and to get extra funding but having a refuge centre in every village is not practical. However, networking, going into homes and building up the confidence of women who are subject to domestic violence must be options. Confidence is the key to reporting violence. If the gardaí are intervening in a particular house every Saturday night but the case is not going to the courts, that is an example of a woman lacking the confidence to share her story.
This area is dealt with by several Departments but we need to look at neighbourhood workers and at how we can support families. Domestic violence is a specific issue but we are coming back to the family unit, and there are so many problems affecting families that we must offer them whatever support or intervention we can. There is an onus on us as representatives and on the State to provide that support.
I reiterate my support for infrastructural aid. I also concur with other speakers who have read statistics into the record, although I will not go over that ground again.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank the Leader for facilitating the debate, which is welcome and necessary. I thank the various organisations which made such valuable briefing documents available to us. Those documents contain some frightening statistics and I particularly endorse the views of Women's Aid in its 2003 report. The debate highlights one of the great tragedies in society, a tragedy that is reinforced when one sees the statistics.
The Leader referred to the many silent cases which remain behind those statistics — people who are unwilling to come forward because of various fears and concerns. It is even more tragic that such people do not have the confidence to seek help, take corrective action or get out of the situation.
I fully accept the statistics on domestic violence but it would be remiss of us to focus on any one group. We must face the realities in both the debate and in any actions taken as a result of it. One reality is that all sections of society are the victims of domestic violence. It is not restricted or confined to any particular demographic or social grouping. Violence against women has been highlighted and takes many forms, physical, sexual and psychological. Equally, there is domestic violence against men which is both physical and, in many cases, psychological. Children deal with the direct consequences of domestic violence, either as direct victims or as ancillary victims who witness what happens between their parents.
I have also received reports of violence towards elderly people who may be abused by young people or adults at home. We should not lose sight of that. There are also concerns as a result of recent court statistics which show a huge increase in demand for barring orders, not just between spouses but also by married couples against adult children living at home. Such couples are subjected to violence, sometimes because that child is abusing alcohol or drugs, and they feel it necessary to get a barring order against their own child. Domestic violence encompasses different aspects of society. Statistics may point in certain directions, but if we really want to address the matter, we must deal with different aspects of the problem.
The difficulties with psychological violence are proving that torment and having the confidence to go through the system in place to make one's case. Unfortunately, while physical violence leaves visible marks and scars, the psychological pressure one party can inflict on another is the really evil form of violence.
Our societal problem with alcohol abuse is a contributory factor, as are financial matters and the social pressures in the changing society in which we live. These factors contribute to a greater vulnerability to domestic violence.
As legislators we have to ask where we go from here and what we need to do to meet these challenges. We have a responsibility to legislate, but society also has a responsibility to face up to the problem. We must acknowledge the support of voluntary groups to the victims of domestic violence. In acknowledging that support, we have to learn from it and to work on the basis of the information they make available. The way forward is to draw up a proper policy based on the experiences of these groups as well as the State agencies involved in this area.
I accept the points made on the need for legal reform. I also accept the call for more refuge centres. However, a huge contribution can be made through the education of society. In doing this, we may be able to succeed in giving confidence to the victims of domestic violence to seek help at an early stage. Equally, society has a responsibility to support victims and not say it is a matter for the couple involved or the family. We need to educate people to have the confidence to support victims of domestic violence so that they will take the necessary action to seek help and assistance themselves. Following this debate, I hope we can move forward with the necessary legislative changes outlined by previous speakers. More important, I hope we can create awareness among the broader community of everyone's responsibility, at all levels.
I wish to digress in response to comments made earlier in the debate by Senator Terry which struck a raw nerve in me. If she were here I would reply to her. I was taken aback at her reference to my party, the Progressive Democrats, to the effect that we are an uncaring party. She said that the Progressive Democrats do not care about the needy or the vulnerable in society. I refute this remark categorically. I object to it personally and on behalf of my party. I do not accept that I fall into that category, as should be clear from my record since I first became involved in public life. My party brought forward——
The statistics are there in regard to carers and the old age pension. Senator McHugh should read them and remind his party of the facts. Unfortunately, the Fine Gael Party has become so preoccupied with soundbites that it has become detached from reality.
I asked for permission to digress and I will now return to the subject in hand. I thank those who provided us with briefing documents for the debate. I hope that the matter will not end here, but that we will see positive and constructive action. We must continue to educate the public. We must also continue to seek the necessary supports that are required by the victims of domestic violence.
A great deal of sense has been talked in the course of the debate and I hope it will be translated into action. Not a great deal is left for me to say as I yielded earlier to my colleague, Senator O'Toole, who had an urgent requirement to go elsewhere and run the country.
I regret that little bit of sharpness entering the debate at the end. In the earlier part of the debate, this issue was marked by a genuine consensus and that is the way we should proceed because it is far too serious a matter to be turned into a political football by any side.
While I did not hear it, I accept that an unfortunate remark may have been made, which is a pity. The issue of domestic violence, principally against women, although not exclusively, is a highly important one and I welcome the consensus that has been evident. I also welcome the indications from the Minister that the civil liability Bill will be introduced, that there will be other legislative changes and that funding will be provided. I am confident the House will live up to its duty to monitor these promises and ensure they are carried out.
A societal change has taken place during my lifetime. I remember when domestic violence was something in which the State would not get involved. When police were called to scenes of considerable domestic violence, they would go away saying it was a family matter, as if the fact that it took place within the family permitted this kind of gross abuse and violence. I welcome the fact that society has changed and that we do not regard it as permissible to violate family members simply because they are within the family. The statistics are perfectly clear. The vast majority of this kind of offence takes place within the family and are perpetrated by close family members. I welcome the fact that the Garda is prepared to intervene and that, in certain circumstances, legal aid is available.
We also need to look at the psychological impact of such events on victims. I looked at media reporting of the re-opened case of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. I do not think I am trespassing on any dangerous legal ground by saying he admitted battering his partner on a number of occasions, yet she went back to him and defended him in court.
This is an interesting phenomenon which I have come across in the area of social work where young people were battered to a considerable extent by older people in relationships. There is almost an addiction to the violence by the victim. This is an extraordinary issue which I have come across time and again. Why do victims go back? One of my colleagues referred to the fact that, on average, it takes 35 attacks before somebody will report an offence. I have never quite understood that. Very often the victims are people of low personal self-esteem and, pathetically, at least they are getting attention — they are in a strong emotional focus. At least the person who is battering them cares enough about them to batter them. The emotional excitement involved in this almost becomes a drug. It is a dreadful thing to say but I am afraid it is true. This is something that needs to be examined.
Children are often victims in a number of ways. As has been said, they are witnesses to the violence. It is a dreadful thing for a cowering child to watch his or her parents, who should provide that arch of security, instead attack each other and sometimes turn on their children. An extraordinary degree of cross-over exists between adults who abuse their spouses and also abuse their children and this needs to be addressed.
Senator Minihan's point, that the violence is not exclusively against women, is valid. Undoubtedly, there are cases of violence against men. I do not think the incidence is at the same level, but this hardly matters that much. If a human is battered, humiliated, degraded, frightened or injured, he or she has a right to be protected. It does not matter a damn to me whether the victim is a man or a woman.
We ought to examine this. There have been some worrying judgments on both sides. I think of a recent case where a woman who stabbed her husband was given the benefit of the Probation Act; both parties were drunk and had a row in a pub. I do not think this is acceptable and it raises questions.
There is also the recent case of a rape committed upon a male. I am preparing a domestic partnership Bill because the gay community is not currently protected. It is not possible for a partner in a gay relationship to get a barring order. That is not right; they have a right to be protected by the State. This is worrying and I ask the Minister of State to relay this to the Minister. The absence of proper recognition of these relationships is one of the things that militates against the existence of barring orders. If anyone thinks such orders are not necessary, or that this is just my view, he or she should read the report by a non-gay person, Finbar Murphy, in a book entitled Coming Out. Mr. Murphy is the excellent Garda liaison officer with the gay community. He does not simply deal with queer bashing; he also deals with serious incidents of violence inside relationships.
It is appropriate that we should have the debate at this time as I have been saving the material from the "16 facts for 16 days" campaign by Women's Aid which arrived on our desks on a daily basis, the affect of which was cumulative. It is interesting to put the short, brief facts together as one gets a composite picture. Of the 83 women murdered in Ireland since the end of 1995, 54 were murdered in their own homes. That tells a story about Irish family life. Of these 83 murders, 45 cases have been resolved and of these, 37 were killed by men they knew — 12 were murdered by their husbands or partners and six by ex-partners. This indicates the possessiveness of the average male. Women are in particular difficulty and danger at the moment of separation as the "property" is seen to be sliding away. Men want to grab and smash them as they feel that no one will have "it" if they cannot have "it". Regrettably, women are seen as "it" in these circumstances.
Many Members have spoken about the excellent briefing paper distributed byWomen's Aid, which contains a number of recommendations for action. The organisation suggests that "civil legal aid should be properly resourced and the private practitioner's scheme re-instated to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to legal advice and representation". I think there would be all-party support for this. Further recommendations include "proper resources must be allocated to service provision for victims of domestic violence, including emergency safe accommodation; support and outreach services; and supported transitional housing." Behind this lies the human aspect where battered women who approach agencies have nowhere to go and must go back to the place where they were battered, perhaps to suffer further violence. This is a significant failure of the State which must be addressed.
The third recommendation seeks to "ensure that all victims of domestic violence can access protection through the courts, the Government must honour its commitment to amend the Domestic Violence Act 1996." I think this commitment has been given. Couples with children that do not live together are not covered by this legislation and this gap must be addressed.
The recommendations continue:
4. The family law system should be adequately resourced to allow the timely processing of cases involving domestic violence.
5. The national steering committee on violence against women and the RPCs should be resourced to implement the recommendations of the task force on violence against women and to further its strategic plan.
6. Initiatives such as the national domestic violence intervention agency, NDVIA, which are attempting to link the various elements of the legal system in order to increase victim safety, should be resourced and evaluated.
7. A legal working group to examine the issue of child custody and access in relation to domestic violence should be established to ensure that the safety of women and children is central to all responses and decisions.
All these recommendations should be considered and implemented. The briefing paper alsostates:
It is essential that the additional needs of women who face further structural barriers and discrimination because of poverty, disability, immigration status, ethnicity, sexual orientation [I think I am the first Member of the House to have raised this issue] educational disadvantage or behaviour that is viewed as non-conforming, are incorporated in all responses to women experiencing male violence.
I thank Senators for their contributions. It is important that the issue of domestic violence was raised in this House. Statistics have shown that because they are afraid, abused children will run to the abuser when a social worker approaches him or her.
I regard myself as a supporter of the ideas propounded by John Waters. I accept all the statistics that have been raised today. However, the points Mr. Waters is currently making will come more to the surface in years to come. Men, as well as women, are abused in relationships and this must be remembered.
We are talking to ourselves unless this debate is reported in the media. We are talking to the converted as I believe the people in this Chamber are not abusers and do not have connections with domestic violence. I ask the media to report the content and general consensus of this debate. This will inform people that Members are aware of what is going on. If, as a result of this debate, the incidence of domestic violence can be reduced, even by only 1% or 2%, then people will be better off.
I thank the House and will bring the points raised to the Minister.
Sitting suspended at 4.40 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.