Domestic Violence A Recurring Problem In Modern Society Criminology Essay

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Discuss its causes, effects and the legal and other remedies available to deal with the problem. Analyse whether these remedies are sufficient or not and set out how you feel the issue is best dealt with.

Domestic violence is undoubtedly a serious problem in modern society. Crime statistics in Ireland indicate that the Gardai record an average of twenty three incidents of domestic violence every day (Watson and Parsons 2005). However, domestic violence is certainly not a modern phenomenon. It has existed throughout the centuries but remained largely hidden and unrecorded. Traditionally, domestic violence has been considered a private matter rather than a criminal offence. Until the 19th century it was legal and socially acceptable for men to beat their wives (Dobash and Dobash 1979).

Domestic violence is often associated with physical abuse only. However, research indicates that it can take different forms: physical, sexual and psychological/emotional.

In the course of this essay the causes and effects of domestic violence will be explored, drawing on research carried out in Ireland and internationally. The legal and other remedies will also be outlined and evaluated.


Many theories have been put forward as to the causes of domestic violence. One theory is idea of circular causality (Pressman 1989). This view implies that a woman is as responsible for her own victimization as the man who assaults her. The violence is seen as something they have both created and are both responsible for modifying. Another view explains violence by reference to the man's personal history. Research shows that men who witness their parents domestic violence are three times more likely to become wife beaters and women who witness violence as children seek out abusive men because they saw their mothers being abused (Pressman 1989). Pressman (1989) suggests witnessing violence against a Mother may make sons more prone to violence themselves as adults, they may be quick to perceive conflict and slow to see non-violent alternatives for dealing with it. However, there are no firm conclusions about childhood experiences of domestic or other abuse as a cause of adult abuse or victimization. Pressman (1989) points out that it is not simply a matter of modelling whereby a child witnesses a set of behaviours and proceeds to replicate them: there are powerful mediating factors that can shape a variety of outcomes. She concludes that not all

violent families and not all children are the same and the replication of violence from generation to generation is not inevitable (Pressman 1989).

Domestic violence is often associated with alcohol consumption, but it is unclear as to whether alcohol is the root cause of this problem. Reporting


on a study of married couples, Leonard finds support for a causal relationship between a husband's drinking and physical abuse of wives. However, he cautions that:

…despite the support that the current research program has provided for a causal role of alcohol on marital aggression, it

would be a mistake to overstate this role. Alcohol is neither

a necessary nor a sufficient cause of marital aggression. The

majority of aggressive episodes occur without alcohol, and

men who have behaved aggressively with alcohol have often

behaved aggressively without alcohol as well. The role of

alcohol…appears to be one of a facilitative nature, a contributing


(Leonard cited in Watson and Parsons 2005 p.67).

In their study of domestic violence in Ireland, Watson and Parsons identify a number of triggers of abusive behaviour. A trigger is 'an immediate precursor to the behaviour and not necessary the ultimate cause of violence' (p. 174). They found that in about two out of five cases the abusive behaviour had no specific trigger or was triggered by minor incidents. In about one third of cases abuse was associated with the consumption of alcohol. The authors conclude that the results are not strongly suggestive of a primary causal link between consumption of alcohol and incidents of domestic violence. In only one quarter of cases was alcohol consumption always involved. Similarly, Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid, points out that while there is a strong link

between alcohol abuse and domestic violence, treating or dealing with the alcoholism does not necessarily stop the violence (Martin 2009).


However, she does acknowledge that alcohol greatly increases the risk to a woman and has clear links to increased severity in relation to physical and sexual abuse. Other contributing factors to domestic violence include social exclusion, gender inequality, poverty and having a criminal background.

A number of theorists work from the understanding that domestic abuse is caused by social structures, cultural norms and other factors that endorse or do not challenge the use of control and abuse by men against their female partners (Debonnaire et al. 2004). Pressman (1989) suggests that violence against women has persisted in our society precisely because it does not contradict cultural norms in any fundamental way. She suggests that to some degree we have all been acculturated to perceive violence as an acceptable means of exercising control. Wife abuse also reflects power differentials in our society, played out in the family. Pressman (1989) points out that the groups against whom violence is accepted are groups that are socially and economically disadvantaged including women, children, racial minorities, the poor, the mentally ill. In particular she looks at the economic inequalities that affect women and their continuing exclusion from positions of power in very many sectors of society. According to Pressman (1989) there is an obvious link between this systematic disempowering of women and their continued victimization. Domestic violence simultaneously expresses and reinforces their


disempowered state. The basic problem as she sees it, is not just to end violence as a behaviour (although it is obviously important) but more importantly to alter the social arrangements that violence expresses and reinforces. Women cannot be safe when at the same time they are defined as inferior and subordinate to men.

The impact of domestic violence is far reaching and complex. Domestic violence is a major cause of injury, disability and death for women worldwide. Between January 1996 and June 2005, one hundred and nine women were murdered in Ireland, seventy two of these in their own homes. In those cases which have been resolved, all were perpetrated by a man and almost half were perpetrated by the woman's partner or ex-partner (Debonnaire et al. 2004). Ireland is not alone, domestic violence is one of the greatest causes of death and injury amongst women worldwide (Amnesty International, 2004). The World Health Organisation has estimated that 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. Their recently released 'World Report on Violence and Health' notes that whereas 'men are much more likely to be attacked by a stranger or an acquaintance than by someone within their close circle of relationships….one of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or male partner' (World Health Organisation 2001). The Council of Europe has stated that violence in the family is the major cause of death and disability for women between the


ages of 16 and 44 years. Domestic violence results in more death and ill-

health in women than cancer or road traffic accidents (Kerr 2004).

Similarly child homicide is often linked to domestic violence, where the male abuser is abusing the women and the child(ren). Children who are not being abused may be physically harmed when they try to protect parents or are caught in the crossfire (Debonnaire et al. 2004).

Apart from physical injury, domestic violence is also linked to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems. Both women and men who have been abused report negative emotional consequences (Watson and Parsons 2005). However, women are more likely than men to have been 'very frightened or distressed' by this abuse and to report that the experience had 'a major impact' on their lives (ibid. p25). Watson and Parsons also found that more women than men reported a loss of confidence. In some instances emotional abuse was found to be even more traumatic than physical attacks. Almost half of the severely abused respondents - including those who had suffered severe physical or sexual abuse - listed 'an emotional incident' as being the worst thing that had happened to them (ibid. p.25). The research also found a clear link between abuse and marital breakdown.

Domestic abuse can have an impact on other aspects of the victim's life, including work and accommodation. Watson and Parsons found that two


in five of those severely abused had to take time off work, while nearly one in eight had to leave a job. In some cases it can lead to homelessness (O'Halloran 2009). It is also a major cost to the exchequer in health care for the victims (Debonnaire et al. 2004).

Ireland now has a network of women's support services and men's programmes, a civil and criminal justice framework, a specialist policy for the police and other elements of domestic abuse intervention. There has been public debate about effective ways of responding to and preventing domestic abuse (Task Force Report, 1997). The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the government of Ireland coordinates a Steering Committee on Violence against Women. Various sub-committees of the steering committee include one focused on work with perpetrators (Debonnaire 2004)..

Traditionally attempts to intervene in domestic violence focused on

abused women and their children. In recent years, however, there has been a shift to include a focus on the man who has perpetrated the abuse. on the perpetrator of the abuse. New policies have been adopted which focus on pro-active forms of intervention and prosecution. As part of these interventions 'treatment' programmes for men have been introduced. The Dulaith Abuse Intervention Project (Dulaith DAIP) was the world's first project to place intervention programmes as part of a co-ordinated


community response that aimed to hold men to account for their behaviour, enhance women's safety, sanction abusers appropriately and teach men not to abuse (Debonnaire 2004).

There are currently fifteen intervention programmes working with domestic abusers in Ireland. Through working with perpetrators, these organisations are trying to increase the safety, and reduce the risks to their partners and children (Debonnaire et al. 2004). Numerous evaluations of intervention programmes have been carried out. Some results appear to show that programmes had limited or no effect on men's behaviour or women's safety. Others show that some programmes can have a positive effect on women's safety and on reducing men's abuse, particularly as part of a co-ordinated community response involving the criminal justice system and women's support services (Dobash et al, 2002; O'Connor,

1998 cited in Debonnaire 2004).

The legal protection for victims of domestic violence in Ireland includes

elements from both the criminal and civil systems.

The Domestic Violence Act 1996 enables spouses, cohabitees and parents to apply for orders, with certain property and residency restrictions. It enacted provisions of the Family Law Act 1981, making breach of domestic violence order an arrestable offence and allowing Gardai to arrest an offender for suspected actual bodily harm or grievous bodily


harm without witnessing the violence. The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997 addresses criminal aspects of domestic violence, making most forms of physical violence used by domestic abusers a crime.

Victims of domestic violence can apply for three type of civil orders: protection orders (an interim order, which the court can make while a full hearing is pending for one of the other orders), safety orders (which prohibits violence or threats of violence, molesting or watching the place where the applicant or dependant person resides) and barring orders which prohibits the person from entering the place where the applicant resides also prohibits violence, threats of violence, molesting or watching the place where the applicant or dependant person resides). According to Nester (2007) it is clear from a High Court decision in the case of McA -v- McA (1981) that it is not necessary to prove actual or threatened violence in order to avail of a barring order. The wife in the above mentioned case claimed that her health had been adversely effected by her husbands continued lack of communication. Judge Costello granted a barring order on the grounds that the husband's conduct had seriously affected the welfare of the wife. In cases where the Court believes there is an immediate risk of significant harm to the applicant or dependant child, or that a protection order may not be sufficient to protect the applicant, an interim barring order may be granted. This order has the same effect as a


barring order, and lasts until the Court determines the application for the barring order. Safety orders can last up to five years and barring orders for up to three years and can be renewed after that (Nester 2007).

According to Margaret Martin (2006) Director of Women's Aid, the 1996 Domestic Violence Act falls short in a number of significant areas, leaving many victims of domestic violence unable to access protection in the civil courts. She states the Act specifies where a cohabitee wishes to apply for a barring order, two key conditions must be satisfied: the applicant must have lived with the respondent for six of the previous nine months in aggregate. They must be able to prove an equal or greater interest in the property. To apply for a safety order, the applicant must have lived with the respondent for six of the previous 12 months in aggregate.

Ms Martin (2009) argues that these restrictions have prevented many women from accessing protection. Some may have been living with their partners for too short a period or many may be separated from him too long. Others may not have lived with their abuser at all. Separation she says is often the most dangerous time for a woman with the abuse becoming more frequent, severe and dangerous. Ten per cent of callers to the Women's Aid helpline in 2008 were being abused by former partners who were not married. Ms Martin (2009) also points out that there are no legal provisions for women in dating relationships. She states that the law is powerless to protect women who were never married or have never


lived with the abuser. This also applies to women who have children but do not live with the father of the child, they cannot apply for domestic violence orders because they do not fit the cohabitation requirements. This falls short of UN guidelines for domestic violence legislation, which state that legislation should apply at a minimum to individuals who are or who have been in an intimate relationship, including marital, non-marital, same-sex and non-cohabiting relationships (Martin 2009).

A number of groups including Women's Aid, the Law Society, the Law Reform Commission, the Government Task Force on Violence against Women and Amnesty Ireland, have called for the 1996 Domestic Violence Act to be amended in order to address these issues. Holland (2009) states that unacceptable delays in the family courts are causing women, intimidated by violent spouses and partners, to drop applications for barring orders. She points out that the first port of call for a woman seeking a barring or protection order against a violent or abusive man is the District Court. Currently women face an eleven week wait between applying for an order and a court hearing. Within that period she says many women come under enormous pressure to withdraw their applications. She argues that the abuser has a lot of time to work on the victim. She said once an application is withdrawn it is unlikely the woman, who would be further demoralised, would re-enter it. A report published by Amnesty International points out that of 8,452 incidents of


domestic violence reported to the Garda in 2003, less than half resulted in barring orders from the courts. It looked at convictions of perpetrators in the courts, figures indicate that successful prosecutions occurred in only 7.7 per cent of these cases. The report also states that there has not been a single conviction for marital rape in this country, despite specific legislation making it a crime since 1990 and its frequent occurrence as reported by victims to organisations such as Women's Aid (Raferty 2005).

Women's refuges provide secure crisis accommodation for women and their children who are escaping from physical, sexual and mental abuse in their homes. They provide support and relevant information for women regardless of whether they are a resident in a refuge or not.

They also assist women understand their legal rights and entitlements and provide court accompaniment where necessary. Studies show that it is mainly working class and traveller women who use refuges as these women have no access to money or other places to go. This does not mean that domestic violence is confined to working class or traveller families. The Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline deals with thousands of phone calls and advice visits from middle class and affluent women every year. Holland (2009) reports that more than 1,700 women fleeing spouses or partners were turned away from refugees in 2008 due to lack of space. Figures show that there was a 21 per cent increase in demand for domestic violence services in 2008, as compared with 2007.


Safe Ireland, which represents 40 domestic violence services throughout Ireland, said over 5,000 women accessed domestic violence services annually. This figure is rising according to Sharon O'Hallaran Safe Ireland Director, the reasons for the rise are difficult to pinpoint, she said. Raised awareness about the availability of help could mean more women are coming forward. She also said the economic downturn was exacerbating the situation of many women, financial stresses will always make things worse. She attacked the Governments proposed cuts in funding, up to 30 per cent to some services, at a time when demand is up.

An evaluation of refuges surveying the views of women who have used the services found that 38 per cent said they would have no other option if refuge was not available. The study also found that 98 per cent of women received all or some of the help they needed to stay safe and 95 per cent felt better equipped to get what they needed for themselves and their children. What this tells us according to Ms O'Halloran is that the services are working.

While the remedies considered so far have focused on various interventions and legal prohibitions, this does not necessarily tackle some of the social conditions which make domestic violence possible. As noted earlier, some theorists believe that it is society's tolerance of domestic violence which allows it to continue. It is therefore important to address public perception of violence in the home. The Report on the National


Study of Domestic Abuse (Watson and Parsons 2005) makes a series of recommendations. While many of their recommendations relate to the legal system and state services, the authors also emphasise the need for education and greater public awareness to ensure that the damaging effects of domestic abuse are understood. This would include, for example, a compulsory module on domestic violence to be included in the SPHE programme for secondary schools. It would also involve a public awareness media campaign focused on violence against women and children.

In conclusion, Ireland has improved considerably over the past decade in the range and quality of services available to victims of domestic violence. However, it cannot be said that significant progress has been made in eradicating domestic violence. Figures show that domestic violence is on the increase, at the same time the Government are making cuts all the time to the services, with talks of future cuts of up to thirty per cent to some services (Holland 2009). More cuts are inevitable in times of recession which unfortunately is when most of these services are most needed. As is evidenced in this essay the services are stretched to the limit at present, with refuges turning women away due to lack of space, in many cases these women return home to the abuser. Similarly with regard to services for rape victims, the lack of funding is evidenced by the fact that there are only 5 centres in Ireland which have forensic facilities for victims of rape.


Many women and indeed men and children have to travel up to four hours (without washing) to reach a facility where they can be examined. This shows how low a priority the issue of rape is for this Government. Women's Aid helpline reports calls going unanswered due to lack of funding. It is crucial therefore, that the government address the inadequacies that exist with regard to funding of these essential services. The welfare and safety of women and children and indeed men needs to be prioritised, there is growing evidence that many thousands of men are victims of domestic abuse, and very little support is provided for them.

Another issue that needs to be addressed urgently by politicians and policy-makers is the 'over-burdening' of the judges. Reports suggest that the District Court is groaning under the weight of the demands on it. Which, as already mentioned, leads to delays of up to eleven weeks between applying for an order and a court hearing. This heavy burden on the courts not only effects the victims of abuse but it also means that Judges are under tremendous pressure, one judge is shown regularly to have seventy cases on his daily list (Irish Times 2007). With such a heavy caseload it seems impossible to give everyone the full attention they deserve. Another issue with regard to the courts that needs to be addressed are the rights of children. Holland (2009) states that children suffer terribly as a result of witnessing and hearing the abuse of their mothers, and again because the courts have no mechanism to have


children's views heard when, for instance, applications for access are made by the abusive parent. She believes that the probation service should be called upon to interview children in an unbiased manner and then report back to the courts. Children should be entitled to have a say with regard to issues that directly effect them. Another service that needs continued funding is perpetrator programmes, an increase in the number of individuals completing treatment programmes coupled with support services for victims, a greater awareness of the effects of domestic violence and an improvement generally in conditions for women and the marginalised in our society may lead in time to the reduction of domestic violence in Ireland.