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#MeToo - Our legal system must work for women affected by men’s violence

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017

All forms of violence against women must be criminalised and appropriately punished to ensure women have access to justice. This is the message from a half-day conference being held by the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women in Dublin today.

Experts from a wide range of sectors and agencies will examine how Ireland can establish a ‘gold standard’ prosecution process which supports victims of violence against women and which holds perpetrators to account, while respecting the rights of the accused.

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Chair of the Observatory on Violence against Women said,

“Under the hashtag #MeToo we have recently witnessed a sea change in women coming forward and reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault. We must now ensure that our legal system is delivering for women affected by men’s violence. For this we must put women’s experiences and needs at the centre of the legal process and support women all the way through. We must ensure that all forms of violence against women are being criminalised and that we punish perpetrators appropriately. Crucial legislation, such as the Domestic Violence Bill, is currently passing through the Oireachtas. The Observatory calls on the Minister of Justice, Charlie Flanagan, to complement legislation with a range of key actions that will ensure a speedy ratification of the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women in early 2018.”

Margaret Martin, CEO of Women’s Aid said,

"At the starkest end of the spectrum of violence against women, Women’s Aid has been recording the killing of women and their children for over 20 years.Our recent Femicide Watch 2017 showed that women are at highest risk from intimate partners in their own homes.  Our study also showed a noticeable difference between the sentences given to intimate partners and other men convicted of the manslaughter of women.  Intimate partners, on average, are given around 3 years less prison time. This is unacceptable and we believe that women should be safe in their homes and relationships and sentences should fit the crimes.  We welcome the recent commitment by Government to include a provision that states that an intimate relationship is an aggravating factor in domestic violence cases in the Domestic Violence Bill."

Maria McDonald, Barrister-at-law, Co-founder Victim’s Rights Alliance said,

“The enactment of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 places victims at the heart of the Irish criminal justice system. For the first time, they are legally entitled to the right to information, support and protection. All criminal justice agencies engaging with victims of crime must ensure that victims get access to their rights or they risk being brought to court.

There is a lot more work still to do. In June 2017, the Istanbul Convention was signed by the EU. Ireland must now fully implement this Convention including the obligation that State parties should make compensation available for victims of gender based violence, who have bodily injuries or a health impairment. If implemented, it will mean that victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse would be able to apply to the State for compensation if they are not able to obtain compensation from another source.”

Deidre Clune, Fine Gael, Member of the European Parliament for Ireland South, said,

 “Gender based violence in all its forms cannot and must not be tolerated. The European Union's accession to the Istanbul Convention is designed to provide a coherent legal framework to prevent and to tackle gender based violence. The European Parliament has urged the European Commission to ensure all European countries ratify and importantly implement the provisions of the Convention. This will require adequate financial and human resources to support victims. It will require programmes to promote a change in attitudes and behaviour that will ensure victims are supported and perpetrators are prosecuted.

I am pleased that the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 is almost completed in the Oireachtas and its passing will be a major step forward in Ireland's ratification of the Istanbul Convention ensuring a safer society for all”

Lynn Boylan, Sinn Fein, Member of the European Parliament for Dublin said

"The signing of the Istanbul Treaty by Ireland was a very welcome step. That said in order to make significant progress on addressing violence against women we must ensure that not only is it fully ratified without delay but that its implementation is influenced by best practise.  Other European countries take a zero tolerance approach to domestic violence and Ireland should learn from them. Modernising the legal system in Ireland to take into account the different forms of control and abuse that domestic violence takes, is essential but so is ensuring that the different governmental departments and support services are fully integrated."

Speakers at the event also include:

Rebecca Coen, Barrister-at-law. Office of the DPP
Emma Murphy, public speaker and advocate for victims of domestic violence
Tom O’Malley Barrister-at-law, Senior Lecturer in Law at NUIG and member of the Irish Law Reform Commission

The event is being organised in partnership with the European Parliament Liaison Office in Ireland.