Despite increased public outrage of violence against women following the murder of 23yr old Ashling Murphy in January last year, the death toll of women killed in violent circumstances in 2022 is the highest in 10 years. There were 12 deaths in the State, a further 2 in the North and 1 Irish woman living in London, bringing to 15 the total number of women who have died violently this past year. Five children also died in horrific incidents of siblicide and domestic homicide revealing the manifold elements of domestic abuse.
According to Garda statistics published in Sept 2022 during the previous two years 52% of murders had a domestic violence motivation. The deaths of Irish women follow an upward global trajectory, where over the past 10 years 850,000 women (roughly the population of Amsterdam) have been victims of femicide. According to the most recent EU statistics, 1 in 3 women aged 15 or over has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.
Prompted by the murder of Ashling Murphy, both the public and political response to domestic, sex, sexuality and gender-based violence has been profound. At political level there has been bi-partisan consensus and support to prioritise a strategic response. In June the Government published Zero Tolerance, its 3rd National Strategy on DSGBV, which is more ambitious than its predecessors. There has been some welcome progression of key pieces of legislation through the Oireachtas and Budget 2023 created lines for DSGBV with increased funding to existing services and for the development of new initiatives.
These measures however, barely scratch the surface of what is a wide-scale social problem. Given the extent of the problem and decades of non-investment, regrettably the upward trend of violence is likely to continue before the benefit or impact of these recent initiatives takes effect. Whilst acknowledging and welcoming these efforts, Safe Ireland stresses the importance of developing measures which bring about significant cultural transformation in the attitudes and behaviours underpinning violence; and that promote a culture that positively promotes an esteem for women in all aspects of private and public life.
There is a need to shift from conventional public awareness campaigns towards more meaningful measures that address the root causes of violence against women and bring about a radical transformation in attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Responsibility must extend beyond role of the State to also include the judiciary, the private sector and the media, as well as geographic and interest-based communities. Government must create the conditions for such initiatives and provide resources to support their development. Until there is a whole-of-society approach to prevention and mitigation of violence and coercion, we will be forever focused on unsustainable prosecutory and protectionist interventions.
2023 will see a move towards the establishment of a new State agency with responsibility for DSGBV. It is critically important that this agent is fully commissioned with the adequate powers, reach and responsibility to undertake a strategic four-pillar response for the prevention of DSGBV, the protection of victims, the prosecution of perpetrators and the bilateral co-ordination of government policy.