Although violence against women has been prevalent in Ireland for centuries, since the COVID-19 pandemic began around two years ago, there has been a monumental rise in reports of violence and abuse, especially domestic violence, mostly against women. According to Women’s Aid Ireland, there were 43,500 calls to respond to domestic abuse incidents in 2020, as well as 24,686 incidents of domestic abuse reported to An Garda Síochána in 2021. There has also been an astounding amount of cases of violence against women, such as the tragic murder of Ashling Murphy.
Countless people, especially women, have been victims of violence and abuse, and the threat of it is constantly on the minds of women. Women are taught how to act in order to ensure their own safety, even though these measures are not always effective and do nothing to stop perpetrators of violence.
Women are constantly told to always lock your car door immediately after entering it, be aware of your surroundings when walking or jogging alone, carry a weapon or alarm on your person whenever you leave your home. Keep your earphones out, pay attention to your surroundings — is that man following you? Is he just walking home? Don’t leave your drink with anyone, always keep it covered, watch out — you might be followed home if you walk. Don’t walk, take a taxi instead — but remember to take a picture of the license plate, pretend to call someone and tell them your location and where you will “meet them”. If they catcall you, don’t respond — they could be dangerous, maybe they have a weapon. Keep walking and ignore it. On the other hand, they may get mad, but you never know. It’s all a risk.
“Yet many countries are still backwards in terms of what type of legal protections are in place, as well as in how the criminal justice system treats women.”
This is just an inkling of what women are told, what they feel they need to do just to protect themselves, and these measures may be effective in certain cases, while in others they are not. The list of protective measures goes on and on, extending to all scenarios in which a woman could be threatened, yet the conversation never focuses on who needs to be given instruction and controlled — those who commit the acts of violence and assault that women “must work so hard to defend themselves against.” Anyone can give unwanted advice on how a woman should act, but these are just defensive measures that cause hardship for women and contribute to the fear they constantly feel. In reality, the perpetrators are often not talked about enough, and ways to stop them are not focused on. There is no talk of “how to not assault a woman” and “how to stop yourself from committing violence against women,” as well as what preventative measures should be put in place against the criminals. And this is where the conversation needs to go if there is to be any improvement in women’s rights.
When considering what kinds of legal protections women have in different countries throughout the world, there is clearly an astonishing level of variance. Some countries, such as Iceland and Norway, have clever laws on women’s rights and protections, providing more security, yet many countries are still backwards in terms of what type of legal protections are in place, as well as in how the criminal justice system treats women in cases of violence and abuse of any kind against their person. Looking at women’s rights, factoring in their treatment in the legal system and looking at legal protections for them that are enforceable, Ireland is not the easiest country for women to feel safe in. Although there have been laws put in place for women’s protection in recent years, acts of violence against women are very common and in many cases there has been a lack of proper support legally against abusers and those committing violent acts against women. An example of support for women’s rights in recent years was The Domestic Violence Act of 2018, which was passed to define domestic violence fully and to offer protections such as safety and barring orders. The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence has also been involved in the legal processes by developing the second national strategy, a plan meant to improve support and protective services for women and girls as well as hold perpetrators accountable. This plan has included consultation with the government and law-makers on the topic.
Although clearly some steps have been taken, a cursory glance at the current legal protections can tell anyone that not enough is being done to protect women and to prosecute those who committed the crime against them.
It is shocking that, in this day and age, women in Ireland cannot have sufficient access to proper tools of self-defence. Many women have fears that they are being followed, that they could be attacked, and the ability to protect themselves can create a sense of security that is irreplaceable. In the United States, for example, many women carry around pepper spray as a form of self-defence, or even a taser, small objects that can be used to save them the few moments that they need to run away or call for help. In Ireland, the legal ramifications of using an object that is meant for the purpose of protection or self-defence, and that is defined as a weapon in most cases, could be very serious even if it is used only for defensive purposes. It seems that there are no plans in the near future to legalise these products, meaning that the safest form of protection could be a sharp key or hairspray instead.
“Cases coming to the Gardaí in Ireland are not always treated correctly, and from looking at how multiple public cases of assault and violence against women have been treated it is clear that the system needs to be updated if Ireland truly wants to protect its population.”
Moving on from the topic of self-defence, it is appalling to look at how cases of assault, violence and domestic abuse are treated in Ireland. The criminal justice system is clearly very outdated. Cases coming to the Gardaí in Ireland are not always treated correctly, and from looking at how multiple public cases of assault and violence against women have been treated it is clear that the system needs to be updated if Ireland truly wants to protect its population. There are also unclear terms of how long the sentences should be for those who have committed acts of violence against women, and this can sometimes result in a shorter sentence than could be warranted by the criminal act. A clear example of this is in the case of Louise Karadag, who was in her home in 2019 when her former partner Keith Malone entered the home, threatened and stabbed her multiple times. This traumatic attack only resulted in 3 years in prison, with 3 months taken off due to him pleading guilty. Karadag has publicly stated her surprise at this sentence, specifically because she expected him to be sentenced to a much more serious crime and put into prison for much longer. Another case of domestic assault was the case of Liz Dunphy, in which Marius Rucinskas brutally attacked his wife in her home and received an 18-month sentence which was mostly suspended due to his admission of guilt. Both of these cases were considered under the maximum 5 year jail term for assault causing harm in Irish law, and clearly the women in both cases were not fully supported. If they had been, it can be assumed that the men would have been put away for longer, and not been given the leniency that they were provided with.
The next time anyone thinks about what a woman could have done to protect herself, that maybe she should have gone on that walk with a friend, or maybe she should not have gone down that dark street where danger could lurk at any point, they should stop themselves and remember who they should be accusing of not having done enough. Look at those who commit these heinous acts, and at those who refuse to use their power to protect women who have been affected by violence and abuse. Women should not have to protest and fight for their right to safety and security against violence, and the fact that this is something they need to do shows the gravity of this human rights issue. In light of the killing of Ashling Murphy, the Irish government is looking into a new national strategy on domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence, which is meant to be published in March, yet it is heartbreaking that in 2022 there is still no clear immediate plan of legal protection in place for women.