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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Violence Against Women

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I think this is the first time I have addressed him in his new role as Minister for Justice. I think he has done a great job since he started in that role. I wish him good luck for the next few months while he is there.

Today's topic relates to the zero tolerance of violence against women. I wish to discuss some of these data. The World Health Organization and its partners have shown that one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner, and this number has remained largely unchanged since 2011. I was at a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs about two weeks ago. Among children, one in five experience physical or sexual violence.

In Ireland, 244 women have been murdered since 1996. In resolved cases, 87% of women were killed by men known to them and 13% were killed by a stranger. Current or former male intimate partners were responsible for 57% of these resolved cases.

Ireland's third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence was published on 20 June 2022. Almost one quarter, 23.6%, of perpetrators of sexual violence against women as adults were intimate partners or ex-partners. Research on the sex trade and its harms shows that prostitution is seriously detrimental to women’s sexual, reproductive and mental health and well-being.

I believe the normalised consumption of pornography by teenagers, and indeed pre-teens, is contributing to sexual violence against women. At the same time, the ubiquitous nature of pornography and the rise of porn-based online content subscription services has led to young women and girls engaging in it themselves, often to make money quickly and easily. This can be a pipeline to prostitution, which heightens the risk of experiencing sexual violence.

I also want to highlight minority groups. Traveller women are proportionately 30 times more likely than settled women to suffer domestic violence. Migrant women are more than twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as Irish women. Traveller women only make up 0.5% of the Irish population but represent 15% of all gender-based violence services.

Other forms of gender-based violence include forced marriage, trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, conflict-based rape and female genital mutilation, FGM. Regarding forced marriage, I know that in some minority groups marriages take place in this country or across the Border of children aged 13. That is wrong and must stop. I would like the Minister to look at that.

The first couple from an African nation were jailed for FGM in Ireland in early 2020, on their one-year-old girl in Dublin. The man was facing a deportation order at the time. FGM became illegal in Ireland in 2012 when the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act was passed. However, the law alone is not enough to stop this practice. In fact, there is a danger that the law will drive it further underground, meaning survivors fail to receive urgent medical or social care. We need a preventative approach with interventions aimed at challenging social norms in communities where FGM has a cultural foothold. We need a national action plan on FGM which supports the training of all.

According to a recent opinion piece in The Journal, "Violence against women is not inherent in minority ethnic cultures, nor is there any evidence that it is more prevalent". This is false. Political correctness is all very well and good when it is a harmless veneer of politeness, but when it says that we cannot acknowledge facts, when acknowledging those facts would allow us to better help vulnerable women, then it has gone too far. Maybe I am the odd one out, but I put vulnerable women’s safety above anyone’s sensitivities any day of the week. Protecting women's single-sex spaces is part of that, including women's refuges and women's prisons.

Each country that signs up to the Istanbul Convention agrees to provide adequate refuge spaces for women fleeing abuse. The convention stipulates that governments need to provide one refuge space for every 10,000 people living in their country or they can provide one refuge space for every 10,000 women living in their country, providing that other services are in place to assist women in need of help.

Ireland is the only country in Europe to opt for the latter and, as the Minister outlined, there are currently only 140 available refuge spaces in the country, as opposed to the 498 spaces that are required. The situation has improved but the number of places is nothing like it should be. In 2022, Tusla noted that while 73.6% of the population are within a 30-minute drive to a refuge, there are vast regional variations and nine counties still have no refuges.

I want to give a shout out to Women's Aid, Safe Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Men's Aid Ireland.

The Minister talked about recruiting gardaí. I know we are not getting enough recruits, but the elephant in the room is integration. We are getting a lot of refugees. Many communities are angry about the number of single male refugees who may end up in their area. There is a piece of education and policing that might need to be done on the cultural differences that may be causing fear in families, girls and women in these communities. That is a piece on which the Garda can work closely with the Department of Justice and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Having the Garda doing an educational piece on the rule of law within the land might ease the concerns in communities around the country currently.

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