National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency: Presentation.

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights Debate

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Chairman: Information on Gerard Murphy Zoom on Gerard Murphy Today the joint committee is discussing the issue of domestic violence. It is aware of the importance of work to eliminate domestic violence in all its forms and has met representatives of Women’s Aid. I welcome everyone present to this important meeting. Ms Martina Boyle is project co-ordinator and Mr. Don Hennessy clinical director of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency. They are both very welcome. I remind visitors that while members of the committee have parliamentary privilege, that privilege does not apply to them in anything they might say. I invite Mr. Hennessy to make the presentation.

Mr. Don Hennessy: I thank members of the joint committee for allowing us the opportunity and the privilege to address them at a time of the year when there are many demands on their time. We appreciate the opportunity to be here.

I will outline how I came to be in the position I hold today. In 1991 the Cork Marriage Counselling Centre identified domestic violence as the underlying issue for about 30% of our clients. It was identified as a pattern of abusive and violent behaviour that allowed the offender to control his intimate partner. As all the offenders were male, we decided we needed to engage with the men concerned in a way that would stop the violence. In this regard, we developed a programme for them. Our non-mandated programme for offenders was built on the belief some offenders who used violence and abuse as a weapon of control wished to give it up. The belief was some men who had abused and terrorised their partners would join our programme because they had decided to become non-abusive. Furthermore, we believed they needed to learn how to be non-violent and that we could teach them to be so.

After many years of working with offenders we find our beliefs are different. We failed to meet one offender who really wanted to become non-violent. We met plenty of men who wanted to avoid the consequences of their actions, who did not want their relationship to break down and who did not want their crime to become known outside the family. We also met a few men who had been exposed to the sanction of a court order and wanted to use our service to avoid further sanction but not one of the offenders in question ever came to us and admitted what they had done. Not one of them explained their behaviour in a way that did not offer an excuse. We then had to challenge the legitimacy of our agency in engaging with abusers who continued to have access to the victim. We found that ultimately the most dangerous of the men and the victims most at risk were not helped by our inability to sanction the crime of domestic violence.

In 1999 we stopped working with non-mandated offenders and began to explore what we might do to shift the responsibility for victim safety from the victim to the wider community. What emerged was a realisation that we had colluded with a system that downplayed the crime of domestic violence and continued to hold the victim responsible for her own safety. This collusion was in the best interests of the offender. We now know any response to the crime must be set within the wider context of the civil and criminal justice system.

When we set out to establish the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, NDVIA, we did so in the hope we could develop an integrated intervention model which would place victim safety at the centre of our response. What we found out in conversation with each agency was that this crucial element was unlikely to be considered when agencies engaged with families where domestic violence occurred. The response is more likely to be informed by attitudes such as “she will do nothing about it” or “he is not normally like that”, that is, we either blame the victim or excuse the offender.

Our agency has begun to develop an integrated response by engaging in conversations with both the statutory and voluntary agencies which encounter domestic violence as part of their work. What we have discovered is that, at every level of engagement, the offender pressures the system into minimising its response. Because each element of the system operates independently, this pressure will expose some weakness in the chain of response and the offender will escape through this weak point. The result of such an escape is to confirm in the mind of the offender the belief he is entitled to do what he does and that he will suffer no great consequence, even when some of his behaviour is exposed. This escape will confirm in the mind of the victim that the system is unable to prioritise her safety. It will also confirm in the minds of other victims the futility of approaching the system in the first place.

This heightened risk is unrecognised in the system. In human terms, each person in an agency will want to believe what he or she does is helpful or neutral. What all the research indicates is that women are most at risk when they make contact with the system or when they begin the process of separation. When we began to re-engage with offenders, we were clear that if we were to contribute to victims’ safety, we needed to place our intervention in the context of a system which even to this day fails to prioritise the safety of victims. We have learnt from judges, call-takers, social workers and refuge workers the extraordinary power of the offender to manipulate the system. A clear understanding has also emerged that we are dealing with serious crime. We now regard our work as homicide prevention.

Ms Boyle and I will detail parts of the system we encountered in the past year and a half.

Ms Martina Boyle: The Garda Síochána is the eyes and ears of the justice system. Both those in top management and at ground level have shown a desire to work with us in establishing an inter-agency approach which enhances Garda response and builds on existing good practice. We work closely with the national unit, the domestic violence and sexual assault investigating unit and with local designated inspectors in pilot districts. We have also met with Garda Commissioner Conroy and Chief Superintendent Roche in Dun Laoghaire.

From the report provided, members can read about some of our work with the Garda, such as the training of call-takers in dispatches in the Garda communications centre with a particular focus on risk at that initial point of contact with the civil and criminal justice system. We are piloting a revised domestic violence record form in pilot districts, in addition to ongoing collation of non-personal information. With regard to training at the communications centre, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from personnel as well as local inspectors who have found an enhanced response since the training at the end of September.

Mr. Hennessy: Through the office of the president of the District Court, we have met with judges on a one to one basis and in small discussion groups. We were also invited to address a national conference, or training weekend, of judges in July this year. Many judges expressed an anxiety about the risk for victims of decisions handed down by the courts. They also acknowledged the inadequecy of information on which these decisions are based. We are pleased the judges are fully supportive of our plans to develop a set of risk indicators to better inform their decisions.

Ms Boyle: As with the Garda Síochána, we work at national and local levels with the Courts Service and the probation and welfare service. The National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, NDVIA, takes referrals of domestic violence offenders from the courts, therby ensuring all work with offenders is placed within the context of the justice system. The justice system has the responsibility and power to protect victims and prevent revictimisation through the sanctioning of offenders. We have developed a referral process, in conjunction with the courts and probation and welfare service, which is currently being piloted. We are also collating all non-personal information regarding court order applications in the pilot areas.

Our inter-agency approach recognises no one agency or individual has all the answers. This assertion includes ourselves. One of the key areas of our work is that it is reviewed and we are open to suggestions from other agencies and services. No one on their own can both protect victims and sanction offenders. Our advisory committee comprises all agencies, practitioners and services responsible for intervening in domestic violence crime at both local and national levels and in Northern Ireland. These agencies and services on the committee are the Garda Síochána, the probation and welfare service, the Courts Service, the health boards, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Legal Aid Board, legal practitioners, the national network of women’s refuges and support services, Women’s Aid, Bray Women’s Refuge, the Probation Board of Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation. We are currently awaiting a response from the Police Service of Northern Ireland which has expressed an interest in sitting on the committee.

I see Mr. Noel Synott from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is here today. He is on the advisory committee. The individuals on the committee are greatly experienced and are committed and generous in sharing their expertise and experience. This committee is facilitated by the NDVIA to inform and develop our work. It also ensures collective learning and sharing of information at inter-agency and individual agency levels.

We have recently drawn up a document that outlines the key principles that all policy and practice must meet if victims are to be safer as a result of an intervention. This document has been discussed at advisory committee level and, more recently, at the eastern regional planning committee. All experts present agreed the document contains nothing to which an agency or service seeking to provide for the safety of domestic violence victims would object. Following a request from our advisory committee, we are hosting a seminar in February to progress the use of this document in practice.

Mr. Hennessy: Hopefully the process of changing the system has begun. Every player has invited us to examine their practices and procedures, and all agencies, both statutory and voluntary, have accepted that changes are required. Every individual we have met wants to develop the highest standards of response. Following our presentation to the presidency conference this year, our approach is used as a template for intervention in many European countries. This has all been achieved with limited resources. The pilot project has only one staff member, and two part-time staff carry out the broader agency work.

The development of an accurate model of intervention will save the State an enormous amount of financial and human resources. We have an opportunity to monitor and evaluate our model in the initial pilot area. We would also propose that the pilot project should be rolled out over the following year to a number of other court areas. Eventually we intend to produce a model of effective intervention that will fit elegantly within the Irish civil and criminal justice system.

Ms Boyle: Our work and that of all individuals, agencies and services intervening in domestic violence crime must be held accountable for the safety of victims. In terms of our inter-agency approach, it is crucial that our work should be useful and support all agencies and services in increasing victim safety. Unlike other violent crime, domestic violence is a repeated, systematic and dangerous crime against the same victim. Good intentions are not enough if we want to eliminate this crime. All work must be informed by the experience of victims and critically analysed at all stages of its development and implementation to ensure that the risks and dangers to victims are not increased as a result of any interventions we would make.

The only way to ensure this is ongoing review and evaluation of all aspects of our work, from client work to agency work. We regularly review our work internally and actively seek to include the voice of victims and other experts in all our work. As an example, part of the recent training at the Garda communications centre was an evaluation of the training programme and its usefulness for them. The feedback included an assessment of how the training had supported them in doing their job and also how we could support them further in the future. We have been following that up in a number of documents in relation to risk indication at the initial contact that they are piloting. We will go back in the early spring next year.

We are currently seeking funding for an independent evaluation of the NDVIA that will examine our work to date and the completion of the pilot project in 2005, the third year of the pilot project. It is also envisaged that this evaluation will consider appropriate strategies for mainstreaming of NDVIA work. There has much interest among judges and services, as well as agencies at national level, in the rolling out of this project to other District Court areas.

Chairman: Information on Gerard Murphy Zoom on Gerard Murphy Mr. Synott and his colleague, Ms Mary Dardis, may like to join in responding to questions.

Deputy J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe I thank the delegation for coming. Like most good things in this country, this organisation developed from seeds sown in Cork. How big is the problem of domestic violence in Ireland? I noted a reference to 10,000 Garda call-outs per year and 5,000 applications to the courts. Is this the hidden wedge of crime that does not show up in the crime statistics? Of those 10,000 call-outs per annum, how many are reflected in the Minister’s headline crime figures at the end of the year? Is there much unreported crime which does not go beyond the initial call-out? Do the figures for court applications relate to barring and protection orders? Is there any record available of the number of indictments or summonses before the Criminal Court or the District Court to do with domestic violence? Do we have a handle on the problem? To what extent does it show up in statistics?

I gather from Mr. Hennessy that the seed begins with male violence. I am aware that there is an organisation which speaks about female domestic violence. For what percentage of domestic violence do males account? Is it 90% or 95%?

I note the efforts made by the Cork group to try to deal with offenders and the realisation that they did not want to be dealt with other than escape the consequences of their actions. Has any approach akin to that of the AA been tried either here or internationally? I am sure any person trying to give up drink does not really want to do this but has to do so for a variety of reasons. They do so in solidarity and with support from others who have gone down this route. Are there reformed individuals who might be able to do something in the area of domestic violence?

Rather than reinventing the wheel I presume the delegation is following best practice in other countries. Is there anything we should do that has been tried successfully in other countries? Is that the road map? Are there any aspects that we could use that would help?

There was a reference to resources. I notice the delegation has been diplomatically reticent in regard to the figures involved and is not assaulting the committee with demands at this stage. It would probably be helpful to have an idea of the budget required and, if the delegation was to make progress in this area, what human resources in terms of staffing would be required.

Deputy Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello I thank the delegation for coming before the joint committee and making a presentation on the work of the agency. This appears to be the great hidden crime in Ireland. Perhaps the delegation can elaborate further on its extent. It stated there were 10,000 domestic violence call-outs each year in Ireland and 5,000 applications for court orders. Women’s Aid has other figures. For example, 18,500 people availed of its helpline in regard to domestic violence issues, approximately 5,000 sought assistance in its refuges and it was short over 1,000 places for women who had sought assistance. It also stated 90% of offenders were men — partners or spouses. I presume there would be other family member offenders, for example, fathers, brothers, sisters or sons.

Is there a coherent picture of the extent of the domestic violence problem? What are the main perpetrator categories within the family home? The delegation divided victims and perpetrators into two categories. What services are provided for victims? Last week I read a newspaper article in which it was stated a partner, a young woman, had withdrawn charges before the court at the last moment and, more or less, had said the offence had never happened, even though the case had progressed a considerable distance. Is the service provided by the Courts Service adequate in terms of the level of support offered to victims in taking cases? Are Garda services prior to the taking of a case adequate? Are the services offered to those who allege they have been sexually assaulted or raped adequate? It appears it is impossible to get a doctor in many counties to examine an alleged rape victim. If that is the case, it is a serious matter.

Is it true there is a shortage of places where people have to leave home at short notice? Is the delegation satisfied that social welfare policy on providing landlord accommodation at short notice for a person who suddenly becomes homeless has been sufficiently modified in order that people do not find themselves without a roof over their heads in such circumstances?

It appears no research has been done on the victim or the perpetrator. Who engages in violence in the home? Are we talking about partners who are dysfunctional prior to marriage? What preventive measures have been explored as distinct from dealing with the problem when a serious offence has been committed? Deputy O’Keeffe mentioned a forum similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Is there any possibility a similar forum could be established where people could come together and discuss matters because it is obvious something terrible boils up within a family? Does the delegation intend to provide a helpline in order that people would be able to contact the agency? Does it intend to operate on a nationwide basis?

Last week I tabled a priority question on the subject of domestic violence to which I received a five or six page response from the Minister. On most of the issues raised, the Minister said they were not his responsibility but that of the Departments of Social and Family Affairs and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as they were related to housing allocation. I presume the delegation will be drawing all the strands together. Do the Departments have an integrated structure in place in dealing with the problem?

Deputy F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Some of my questions will be related to some of those raised. I welcome Ms Boyle and Mr. Hennessy and commend and thank them for their work on this issue.

Mr. Hennessy referred to marriage counselling and said he was dealing with 30% of his clients. From the figures available to him, approximately what number of people does that involve?

The figure of 10,000 domestic violence calls made to the agency each year seems to be extremely high for a small country. Other members touched this question. Is the cause of such violence alcohol related, dysfunctional issues or low self-worth issues? What are the main issues relating to that level of violence against partners?

On the 5,000 applications for court orders annually, I am concerned that they represent only the court orders in respect of which application was made. From my experience as a backbench Deputy, I would say there may be another few thousand cases in respect of which court order applications have not been made. Such cases are often resolved within the family without intervention. That is an issue that concerns me.

What is the percentage breakdown of gender in domestic violence cases? Does Mr. Hennessy have statistics on the number of male compared to female perpetrators?

Another important issue we have not touched on is the effect of domestic violence on children. A child in that situation will have low self-esteem and a low school attendance record. I speak about this from my experience in a previous job in the primary education sector. Such children drop out of school early and get involved in drugs because of what is happening in the home. That nightmare is a reality for thousands of children every night and the effects of it spill over into the classrooms every morning. It is a problem to which we must face up. The issue requires a justice response, a voluntary organisation response and an education response because principals and teachers will have to be on guard in respect of such children. These are issues I have come across.

The problem of young boys between the age of 13 and 14 perpetrating violence against their mothers is not often discussed. I am talking about pupils in sixth class or first or second year who can be as young as 12, 13 or 14 and involved in domestic violence against their mothers in the home. Has Mr. Hennessy come across that in his experience and is it a major problem? I have come across it but I wonder if it is a broader issue.

Senator Terry: Information on Sheila Terry Zoom on Sheila Terry I thank Ms Boyle and Mr. Hennessy for coming in this afternoon and making a very interesting presentation. This area is of particular concern to me because I have seen the problem become widespread over the past few years, not in terms of numbers but in the way it has come to our attention. I expect it was always a problem but it was hidden more in times past.

None of us can deny that we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of domestic violence, rape and murder cases reported in the newspapers. I have to accept that the level of domestic violence has increased. When I was a child a murder was a very rare event but one can pick up a newspaper any day now and read about a murder that has occurred and, in many cases, the murder was committed by somebody known to the person, usually somebody related to the victim. I speak in particular about domestic violence cases that end in murder. That is unacceptable and we must try to address that problem. I appreciate the work the representatives are doing in very difficult circumstances, but this is a growing problem which must be tackled quickly. The way we do that is the difficult question.

Will Ms Boyle and Mr. Hennessy give the committee figures for domestic violence committed by men against women and the number of cases where the woman is the perpetrator? I accept domestic violence is perpetrated by both men and women. We must accept, however, that most of the violence is perpetrated by men against woman, while it happens the other way around in a small percentage of cases. We have all been given figures by Women’s Aid on these crimes. Those figures are disturbing but we appreciate them because they keep us informed of the extent of the problem.

An area I would like Ms Boyle and Mr. Hennessy to address is the Legal Aid Board. If somebody in need of legal aid goes to court, what supports are in place for them? Are there fewer supports now than was the case some years ago? My understanding is that the supports are not as good in that the Legal Aid Board is unable to offer the type of services it provided some years ago and it can take some time to provide the necessary legal aid. For example, if a woman goes to court on the appointed day seeking a barring order, maintenance or whatever and the case is deferred because her legal representation is not available, that can have serious consequences for the woman. Assuming the woman’s family circumstances are difficult, she has taken the step to go to court seeking either a barring order or maintenance order, but if the case is deferred, her relationship with her partner will immediately deteriorate because she took that step. It is essential that legal aid is provided at the initial stages. I would like to hear the representatives’ experiences in that regard.

With regard to the way we deal with this problem, for every victim of domestic violence there is a perpetrator but I have to accept that the perpetrator is probably a victim as well. The victim must be protected but every perpetrator is probably a victim of his or her upbringing. Trying to curb the increasing number of incidents of domestic violence is about education and ensuring that today’s young people do not become perpetrators in the future and that they do not repeat what they have seen in the home.

It is about education also. In that regard there must be a two-pronged approach. We have to deal with what is happening on the ground, but we must also work on prevention. I would like to see a wider media programme on the topic and I wonder how Ms Boyle and Mr. Hennessy would approach that. I remember an advertisement on the radio some years ago to the effect “Remember, it is a crime to hit a woman.” That was a very strong statement. That advertisement may have had an impact on the individual perpetrating the crime. It also helped to empower the victims to deal with the situation because it informed them that it was not right that they should be living with violence.

I occasionally watch a soap on television which currently has an interesting storyline about control in a relationship. This really good story illustrates that violence is not just confined to physical abuse but also encompasses mental and emotional abuse. More than 50% of the population will watch this programme, which should have a significant impact. I will certainly be watching with interest to see how the storyline develops and concludes.

Chairman: Information on Gerard Murphy Zoom on Gerard Murphy The Senator must tell us the name of the programme.

Senator Terry: Information on Sheila Terry Zoom on Sheila Terry The programme is screened a few times a week. I usually get to see it on a Monday night. The point I am making is the power of the media to put a message across. It should be used more. People may be oblivious to the wrong they are doing and they may need somebody to point out that this is not right. The victim must be empowered to address the abuse and do something about it.

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor I join in welcoming the departmental officials as well as Mr. Hennessy and Ms Boyle, and thank them for their very interesting presentation. Many of the questions I wished to raise have been touched on.

I would like to hear the delegates elaborate on the definition of violence. People think of domestic violence in terms of physical violence. Would they classify as violence verbal attacks that do not involve physical assault?

Most would agree that we live in an increasingly aggressive world. This is portrayed on television and then almost becomes the acceptable norm. What percentage of cases are drug and alcohol related? While the vast majority of offenders are male, what is the percentage of female offenders that the NDVIA deals with?

I am interested to learn about the work of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency. I would know a certain amount from dealing with Ascend, a group in Roscrea in my constituency and Nenagh and I am aware that NDVIA prepares victims to face the ordeal of the courts. If the perpetrators of domestic violence are prepared to work with NDVIA, do they become involved in mediation and family conferencing? What is the extent of that type of work in NDVIA?

Domestic violence thrives on secrecy. We need more advertising through the media of radio and television. Very powerful messages on the crime of domestic violence can be targeted at all family members, both young and old. Does the NDVIA have a programme that it promotes in schools, particularly in all male secondary schools? I would be interested to hear the response to the question posed by Deputy Finian McGrath because the cycle continues unless it is broken. I commend the NDVIA for its work in breaking the cycle of violence. We need to create awareness so that women, in particular, know they are not alone.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency. The statistics on domestic violence are harrowing. I believe that, with more publicity, the numbers will rise because domestic violence will come out into the open. That is good. The incidence of domestic violence is hidden because many people are not willing to report it. Like other crime statistics, it will reach a plateau and then perhaps the numbers will drop as a result of the work of NDVIA and other agencies.

The issue of support for victims of crime in taking a case to court has been discussed already. The Minister has put in place plans for a new court building in Dublin. Has NDVIA suggestions on ways to improve the use of the courts to enhance the safety of victims? I accept that some material changes must be made in court buildings but what else can be done to help victims go to court? A problem I have come across in dealing with this issue is that victims fear a backlash if they take a case to court. How can we encourage people to use the court system and protect them if they initiate proceedings?

A related issue is the need for training and protocols for local authority housing officers to deal sympathetically with people in violent relationships who are seeking transfers to other locations. In the document Key Outcomes, the NDVIA recommends procedures for the Garda Síochána on how to handle calls and dispatches under a specific form. Is that available? A version of that form might be useful for politicians to ensure that when we meet victims of domestic violence we record as much detail as is required.

What systems are in place in prisons to prevent recidivism? The Minister provided statistics on sexual offenders last week that show the lower rate of recidivism when the perpetrators go through the various courses and counselling that are offered. Does that apply to cases of domestic violence?

Reference was made to a document on victim safety. Could a copy of it could be provided to members? When I tabled questions on budgetary matters last week, I received evasive replies. What is the status of the NDVIA’s budget negotiations with the Department? Does a shortfall in the funding of other related services affect the volume of work coming to the NDVIA? Are figures available on how many of the 5,000 or so who took a case to the courts reached the end of the process?

To back up what Deputy Hoctor stated about drug and drink related abuse, has there been an increase in the level of violence on the part of those engaged in drug abuse? In particular, I refer to cocaine abuse because the international norm is that people who are addicted to cocaine or use it frequently become more violent. Has this trend started to filter through to the agency’s services?

Chairman: Information on Gerard Murphy Zoom on Gerard Murphy That is a comprehensive list of questions. I am sure there are many which Mr. Hennessy can answer and others to which he might like to reply in writing. If there are answers on certain matters which he wishes to put in writing to the committee secretariat because he may not have full information to hand, we would be delighted to receive them in that way. I ask him to respond to those questions within his remit. If Ms Dardis and Mr. Synott have any comments to make in clarification, I will ask them to make them.

Mr. Hennessy: Deputy Hoctor raised the issue of a definition. It would be good if we all knew that we were talking about the same matter. I will define it as we do in working with the issue. Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour that includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic violence and abuse. It is always intentional but the critical aspect is that it is a pattern of behaviour. This definition is very close to the one used in the courts and by the Garda to define what they would see as domestic violence. It, therefore, includes a wide range of behaviours.

I will run through some of Deputy O’Keeffe’s questions because somewhat similar questions were raised subsequently. Even though he has probably gone back to Cork before me, I will still give him the courtesy of a reply.

On the extent of the problem, the committee will be aware of the figure of 10,000 calls. In my agency where I first began to encounter the issue we discovered domestic violence was an issue for 30% of the 800 or 900 clients we saw per year, that is, well over 200 couples, only 20% of whom had ever gone near what we call “the system”, that is, either the Garda or solicitors, etc. Even though we are talking about 10,000 calls and 5,000 applications for barring orders, I reckon that this represents approximately 20% of the actual figure in terms of what is happening in the community.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked how many cases were processed. I do not have the exact figures and I am not sure it would be fair to expect Mr. Synott to have the exact figures either, even though they are the figures of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, I do know that of the 5,000 applications made for barring orders, approximately 3,000 were granted. The latter figure has been reasonably consistent in the past two or three years.

Deputy O’Keeffe described it as the hidden wedge and suggested we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, he is correct. Because I work in an agency in Cork which identifies itself not as a domestic violence agency but as a marriage counselling centre, the issues which arise emerge from all strata of society. We find there is a growing increase in the percentage related to domestic violence, rising from 30% to close to 50% this year. Perhaps we are getting better at identifying it and it is not growing. Perhaps it is just becoming more evident; I am not sure but in our 15 years’ experience the intensity and severity of the violence have increased. This may be due to the drug and alcohol problems the country is experiencing. Certainly, we are encountering a much more severe form of violence and abuse.

There was a question about the extent of male and female violence. When defined as a pattern of behaviour, we discovered that over 90% of the offenders were male. During the years we have discovered that 5% to 8% are female. The pattern is different; the effects may also be different.

The difficulties with the idea of partly using the self-help model adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other similar groups dealing with offenders are twofold. First, in a self-help model the victim and the perpetrator are usually one and the same person. Therefore, the victim of abuse is the person in the room. If somebody is drinking too much, he is also there as the victim, or if he is gambling to much, he is also there as the victim. There are people who suffer the knock-on effects but the principal victim is in the room. When one is dealing with domestic violence, the victim is not in the room. In other words, it is a room full of perpetrators. To that extent, the model does not fix very well.

The other issue about the self-help model is that men I have met — I claim to have met more than 1,500 but have certainly worked closely with over 1,000 during the years — did not need to learn it was wrong to beat their wives. They did not need to figure this out. They knew it already. They would feel strongly about somebody beating somebody else’s wife. What they could not see was they had a battery of excuses which allowed them to beat their own wives when it suited them. The idea that they needed treatment may have even been a misnomer. They know what they are doing is wrong from the day we meet them.

That leads me to the question: are there reformed men? There are two levels of reform. The first is to change people’s behaviour. This is possible. Men can be given strong reasons for saying one cannot do this ever again. This may change their behaviour. However, to change their beliefs or attitudes, on the other level, may take 1,000 years or so of hard work. Certainly, I will not see it in my lifetime in the sense that it is a long-term problem.

We were asked what was being done internationally. Since 1991 we have researched best practice in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. We are trying to devise a model which takes best practice in all these jurisdictions and fit it within the Irish civil and criminal justice system. We do not want to reinvent anything. We want something that will fit within the system.

A number of members asked about budgets. I will leave that matter to Mr. Synott who is more familiar with it. My difficulty is I do not have a head for figures.

Deputy Costello asked whether services were adequate. I do not know if we will ever have adequate services but it is crucial everybody does the job they stated they would do. That would lead to an enormous improvement in existing services. It would be great if people provided, managed or worked with others rather than put obstacles in the way of those trying to provide services. I do not want to move into the area of policy as such but every change should be proofed against how it might affect the safety of women and children in the wider community. There is an onus on all of us to ensure any change of policy being introduced or considered is proofed against such a knock-on effect.

Deputy Costello asked who were the offenders. As I do not know how many men are in the room, I had better be very cautious but mainly they are men, no different from me and the Deputy. They have a tendency to feel they are entitled to behave in a certain way within their intimate relationships. One would not recognise these people in any forum. It is only in the sanctity of their own home that they will behave in a certain way. I have worked with a huge number of them and they are no different from the Deputy and me. They are the same kind of men in every other forum. Unfortunately they give themselves permission to behave in another way with their adult partners. That is all I can say about who they are.

We were asked what prevents it. The best research shows that what works best is a combination of sanction and tracking. If offenders are brought into the system and given a clear message that their behaviour will be severely sanctioned, and if their further behaviour is monitored closely, the experience in some jurisdictions is that the violence and abuse almost disappear. The psychological and other forms of abuse may continue but the experience is that if the sexual intimidation and the violence that goes with it is stopped, then the effect on the victim is profound. Although the psychological abuse may continue, the victim is no longer afraid. It is that physical, combined with sexual, violence that binds the whole lot together. If that is taken away and if there is a sanction to prevent a person doing that anymore, then the effects of the other violence are diminished. At the end of the day, it is a combination of sanction and tracking.

We were asked about a help line. We certainly are not resourced even to consider that sort of approach. We were asked if our service was available nationwide. This is also a question of resources and of the long-term aims of the Department. We want to promote a system which will work well nationally. It may take another couple of years to iron out the little kinks in the system, but eventually it can be done without significant extra resources if everybody within the system is held to account for doing his or her job well. That is possible if we devise a system of keeping records.

It is strange to hear of people at the committee’s level not knowing what is happening. We certainly do not know what is happening. There are no figures or records available. That all needs to be followed up so that we know what we are talking about. Then we can intervene in a way which would be useful throughout the country. The simple answer is that we do not know.

Deputy Finian McGrath wanted to know about the number of people we see where domestic violence is the issue. We would have seen over 200 such couples at that time.

We were asked what issues bring it on or why violence happens in certain families. It is to do with the men having a sense that they are entitled to live their lives as they see fit and that the rest of the family are part of a system which contributes to that. While the family contributes to that system, the man will remain reasonably benign. If any person in the system rejects that or tries to care for themselves in some other way, the man will immediately want to draw that person back into place to maintain control of the family so that it works for his benefit. One aspect of all these men is that they are really self-centred and their little world revolves always around themselves. In many ways, they cannot see beyond themselves.

The effect on children terrifies me. I have been doing this work for 15 years and I have not been able to get anybody to do anything about it. Over the years I have knocked on several doors to see if there are any kind of resources to intervene in the case of children who are growing up in these houses and living in terror every evening. I would question somewhat the almost automatic assumption that all these people will grow up as either offenders or perpetrators. I have worked with significant numbers of young men who have come through from these families, for whom it has had an effect which is absolutely opposite. They grew up feeling so ashamed of not being able to protect their own mothers that they swore that if they ever got into a relationship themselves, it is the one thing they would not do. As many of the boys grow up completely honourable as grow up to become offenders and I am not sure whether there is a correlation between one type of behaviour and the other. I agree that there should be early intervention.

Senator Terry asked about the extent that we in the Cork project were involved with Exploring Masculinity. We had some input into that originally. I am not sure where that died along the way but it would be worth reviving that sort of approach with all-male schools and ensuring that somebody would talk to young men and explain that this is not acceptable.

There was another question about young boys and mothers, older boys and mothers, and young men who have been out in the world for a while coming back into their mother’s home having not been able to establish their own lives. There is an extraordinary level of it. It is much more difficult for mothers to deal with this than to deal with their partners, solely because they have a considerable sense of guilt if one of their sons turns out that way and attacks them. It is much more difficult, much more hidden. I expect it is the underlying cause of many disturbed young men emerging on to the streets at 17 or 18 with no control over themselves and nobody able to manage them, and mothers already having withdrawn from trying to manage them. I expect that is the knock-on effect of it.

I will answer one or two more questions together. Senator Terry raised the issue of control. Ultimately it is an issue of control within the families. For these people, it is about running the show. That is what the men want to maintain and they will use whatever levels of abuse or violence can maintain that control. It is a purposeful behaviour.

Senator Terry: Information on Sheila Terry Zoom on Sheila Terry I asked Mr. Hennessy about the legal aid boards.

Chairman: Information on Gerard Murphy Zoom on Gerard Murphy If Mr. Noel Synott or Ms Mary Dardis wish to respond, I ask them to take into account the legal aid boards.

Mr. Noel Synott: I welcome the fact that this committee is giving time to this issue. It is important and we should treat it properly.

Deputy Costello tabled a parliamentary question last week and we provided a great deal of information to him. There are five Departments with responsibility in the area of domestic violence. The Department Justice, Equality and Law Reform is one of these. The Department of Health and Children has a responsibility for care for victims and for funding agencies dealing with victims such as Women’s Aid and the national network of rape crisis centres. The Department of Education and Science obviously has a key role to play in the education of children. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has a role to play in community development and the Family Support Agency. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has a role to play in refuge provision.

We in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform accept that we have a key role to play. We are responsible for legislation, which is obviously enacted through the Oireachtas. It is fair to say that our corpus of legislation on all aspects of violence against women is one of the best in Europe. That is acknowledged in other countries. I will not say ours is the best, but no doubt it is among the best. The Department also has responsibility for the police service, the probation and welfare service and the courts. We look after raising awareness of the issue and perpetrator programmes.

The Department’s Minister of State is chairman of the National Steering Committee on Violence Against Women, which comprises the five Departments I mentioned, the Garda, the courts, the probation and welfare service, all the non-governmental organisations working in the area, including the National Women’s Council, and the medical and legal professions.

The national steering committee has a number of working sub-committees. I will make reference to one of them because Deputy Costello raised a question on forensic medical examination of rape victims. As he stated correctly, getting doctors to perform such examinations is becoming a problem. One of the sub-committees of the national steering committee is looking at that issue as well as the training of nurses. Internationally, nurses are being trained to perform a forensic medical examination. We have a sub-committee looking at that issue as we speak.

Senator Terry referred to the Legal Aid Board. The budget allocation of the Legal Aid Board has been increased by almost €3 million, bringing its total allocation up to €21.362 million. Domestic violence is a priority listing for the Legal Aid Board. All places where domestic violence is indicated as a problem get an immediate appointment and there is no waiting periiod. I would be disappointed to hear there are representatives of the Legal Aid Board not turning up to court cases. If there is information to that effect I would certainly take it up with the Legal Aid Board. That should not happen.

Mention was made of awareness raising. In mid-February we are about to run a joint awareness raising campaign with the North of Ireland on UTV, RTE and local radio. It is an advertisement developed by Scotland which we have got free of charge relating to the effects of domestic violence on children. We have to dub the voices. We are hoping it will raise awareness.

On the issue of resources, we fund an organisation called Move which runs 11 programmes for perpetrators nationally. We also fund the south-east domestic violence intervention project which runs four programmes in the south-east region and the national domestic violence intervention project. Negotiations on next year’s budget are ongoing. I cannot say any more at this stage. Obviously I have to get permission from the Department of Finance on whatever amount of funding we will give to any of the projects.

There was a reference to international best practice. To a certain extent the national domestic violence intervention agency is international best practice in that it is modelled on a programme in Duluth, Minnesota and has been adapted for Irish use. We are interested in how it is developing and the effect it will have.

In recent months we have had an evaluation carried out of all our perpetrator programmes by a person from outside of the jurisdiction. We are seeking to develop these for best practice. I do not know if there is any more information I can give to the committee but if so, the committee has only to ask.

Chairman: Information on Gerard Murphy Zoom on Gerard Murphy I thank Ms Martina Boyle and Mr. Don Hennessy of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency who have elucidated on the subject. Certainly we know more about the matter now than we did before the meeting. I thank also Mr. Noel Synott and Ms Mary Dardis for coming along at short notice. Their contribution was very helpful.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.05 p.m. and adjourned at 4.12 p.m. sine die.


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