Over the past month the headlines have been particularly harrowing. I don’t know if it is the convulsions over Brexit but we need to pay attention to what is happening to many women living in fear in their own homes.
We were all horrified when Giselle Mariman Herrera and her daughter Allison were strangled to death in the apartment where they lived in Newry. Their murders were followed quickly by that of Alice Morrow in East Belfast. Last week a Belfast man received probation for punching his partner, throwing her down the stairs and pouring the contents of a colostomy bag over her.
These headlines were in quick succession in March. Just March.
Had the victims of those crimes in March been involved in incidents where they had been identified as victims of one religion, or political background would there be a different response? Would we see a lot more agencies and actors a lot more exercised and taking views on how society could ensure that the members of the religion or political grouping might be protected from being systematically abused or killed? Would there be rallies? I think there would. Assembly or no assembly there would be calls for a coordinated response.
But these victims are women, so a different tack is taken. Each of the crimes is treated in isolation, receives media sensationalisation from some quarters and the PSNI are left to investigate in isolation to deal with each isolated case. But the PSNI continue to log statistics that at the end of the year will tell us another horrifying story.
The PSNI produced their statistics on domestic violence for last year. It makes for grim reading. Last year saw the highest incidents of domestic violence since 2004. There were 31,298 incidents. That was up by 5.4% since the previous year. Of those 15,680 were distinguished as domestic violence crimes. That figure was up by 9% since the previous year. The figures do not distinguish the types of crimes – so there is no breakdown in the nature of the crimes which range from assault, to rape, to murder. The worldwide Me Too campaign meant little to the women in these statistics.
The most unsafe place for women is their own home. The people most likely to assault, rape or murder them are people they love. Children are more likely to witness violence in their childhood homes. I am far from the first to write this. There are heaving shelves of books, academic reports and legislative reports that all state this and back it up with evidence.
We are in no way unique. Our domestic violence statistics are fairly much in line with the rest of this island and our neighbouring island. It is good that the statistics are being kept. This is a reasonably recent development. The question is what is going to be done about it.
The absence of a coordinated civic response to a horrifying month of murder is instructive. The diverted focus of the political sphere towards Brexit is no excuse for the lack of political attention. I fully support the calls that were made for the Policing Board to attend to the legacy scandal in emergency session. No such calls have been made regarding systemic attacks on women.
Domestic violence works through isolating the victims. The warriors working in domestic violence units, refuge shelters and providing assistance through Women’s Aid cannot be the lone voices. We must all do more.