There is growing concern amongst those who are extremely vulnerable to police violence that Ireland’s Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV), expected to be published within weeks, will fail to address the problem of garda violence against women.
This incredibly important Strategy will guide a cross government response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence from 2022 – 2026 under the four pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination.
Work began on the Strategy in April 2021, led by an Executive Group made up of the Department of Justice and two NGOs, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Safe Ireland. The development of the Strategy was then overseen by a Monitoring Committee of 31 representatives. This Monitoring Committee was made up of 16 persons (52%) who are representatives of NGOs, 12 persons (39%) who are representatives of Government bodies and 3 persons (5%) who are representatives of professional associations.
A summary draft strategy recently published says these NGO members will hold the Government to account. But will they? Drilling down on the finances of the NGOs in question they are on average 75% Government funded.
Lucy Smyth, Director of UglyMugs.ie, the Irish sex worker safety scheme says Garda violence against women, especially sexual violence, is a major problem in the community she works with of sex workers and victims of sex trafficking, many of whom are also migrants and trans people. “Every week, we are having deeply troubling conversations within our community about the Garda violence so many of us have experienced and continue to face. It is very concerning to us that the serious and urgent issue of police violence against women could be simply swept under the carpet in Ireland’s Third DSGBV strategy.”
An additional concern is that the draft summary draft Third DSGBV strategy specifically identifies one of the pillars of prosecution as being increasing law enforcement actions in regard to reducing demand for prostitution. A wealth of evidence has shown such police action has the impact of increasing violence against people in sex work. Ugly Mugs stats show that violent crime increased by 92% following the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which has drastically changed the policing of sex work. Most recently an Amnesty International Ireland report has shown how the 2017 Act has facilitated the targeting and abuse of sex workers, the state is failing to protect them from violence and they now have a profound lack of trust in the Gardaí.
The Department of Justice has recently launched a public consultation survey on the Third National Strategy on DSGBV, but as this survey asks no questions about Garda violence against women and doesn’t even include a free text area where participants could write in themselves that this is a concern to them, it is clearly not going to highlight Garda violence against women as a problem.
Police violence against women has become a high profile public issue in the UK in recent years, following a series of incidents such as the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer in 2021.
Lucy Smyth says “Ireland really needs up its game in terms of dealing with Garda violence against women. The lives of people in sex work and victims of trafficking matter. The Government and NGOs heavily funded by the government cannot continue to not take Garda violence against women seriously because it doesn’t fit comfortably within their agendas. We know Garda violence against women in sex work is a problem. We have brought to public attention cases showing this. If the new DSGBV does not address the problem of Garda violence against women, more women will surely suffer. It is not too late for the DSGBV Strategy to include garda violence and this needs to happen.”