F ree Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin TD, spoke this morning on the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2014.
Yesterday, I stood with party colleagues and other members of the Oireachtas at the Dáil gates for a minute’s silence in memory of the men and women and children who have died at the hands of their partner or ex-partner since 1996. This was a very poignant event coming on the International Day Opposing Violence Against Women. A shocking 78 women and 10 children have been murdered in these 18 years. The event was organised by Women’s Aid who had laid out shoes along a blank sheet to mark a timeline of these needless and tragic deaths. Shoes, flat heels and sandals standing in silent memoriam of the lives stolen. These lives as the vigil so movingly stated are stolen lives. They are stolen from their families, their friends, their communities. Snuffed out by an abuser who should’ve been stopped.
One in five women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. This ranges from physical, emotional, sexual to financial abuse. From abuse, threats to kill and abuse behaviour, to stalking and harassment. By their very nature these are mostly crimes which go on behind closed doors when the curtains are drawn when the world around stops looking. But it also happens right out in the open.
We must strive to improve public awareness of the risk factors of domestic violence and to encourage everyone to make their homes, their community, their circle of friends, a place where this kind of abuse will never be accepted. Because unfortunately we have a culture today where subtly every day teaches young men to do many of the things that can lead to domestic violence. This trend in our society is called the ‘rape culture’. Its name is shocking and some dismiss this as over over the top but the symptoms are undeniable and its effects illustrated by those 78 empty womens’ shoes are too horrific to ignore. Rape culture is the tendency in modern culture to dehumanise, devalue and commodify women. It has always been there but has become much more obvious in the modern era with the partial successes of the early feminist movement and the 24-hour consumer capitalist culture which has sprung up alongside the internet.
Technology is not to blame but it is often the medium through which this culture finds its most vile expression. This tendency creates a culture which normalises the idea that women’s bodies are not wholly their own. It encourages blaming rape victims instead of rapists. It jokes about men who beat their partners and it belittles, demonises and threatens all those who challenge it. This is the culture our young men are growing up in.
It seems like every week there is a new case of a woman who has been a victim of sexual assault who has watched her abuser go free because a judge felt sympathetic to the criminal. These judges have handed down fines for which must be the vile and reprehensible crimes a person can commit. This is a slap in the face to those who sought to have their attacker prosecuted but it also says to women and girls who are victims of sexual violence: Don’t bother, the state will not punish your attacker but you will be put through the mill anyway.
As with many of our worst social issues, there are why many whose voices are not heard. This is why we have brought the bill. It’s to try to make it easier for people to flee this kind of abuse. It is crucial that we promote opposition to this kind of behaviour.
But it is also essential, that people who seek to leave, to get out can do so, can be supported, validated and protected. That is what we seek to do.
Full text of speech via Oireachtas.ie here.
Earlier: Staying In Tomorrow Night?
Previously: Falls Memory Syndrome