Saturday 1 October 2016

Brave Emma brings 'victim blamers' out of woodwork

The Dublin mum's video on the alleged abuse she suffered has exposed some ugly attitudes still held about domestic violence

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Emma Murphy, a young Dublin mother of two, posted a short video on her Facebook page
Emma Murphy, a young Dublin mother of two, posted a short video on her Facebook page
Emma Murphy posted a video about domestic violence on facebook which went viral. Pic: Facebook

Sometimes, all it takes is one story to strike at the core of our human experience, when something so deeply intimate to one person speaks to us in a universal way.

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And so it was last week when Emma Murphy, a young Dublin mother of two, posted a short video on her Facebook page.

The heartbreaking post detailed her experience of domestic violence allegedly inflicted on her by the man she thought was the love of her life, the father of their two children who denies he is a violent person.

The five-minute video went viral and has been watched by millions around the world who have praised the fitness blogger, whose vulnerability was placed on display for all to see, for her bravery.

At home, Emma's appeal to women experiencing domestic violence to have the courage to walk away and shield their children from observing intimate partner violence has led to a surge in calls to Women's Aid and other services that support victims - male and female - of domestic violence.

It's amazing, in one sense, that Emma's story has made such an impact.

Whilst in no way seeking to minimise her harrowing, personal experience, her allegations are - in some respects - a classic example of domestic violence at what might be regarded as at the lower end of the scale.

Let me explain.

Last year Women's Aid reported that they received more than 45 disclosures of domestic violence a day - at the same time the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre was receiving reports of some 25 rapes a day, increasingly from male victims of sexual violence.

According to Women's Aid's annual report, women had been kept prisoner in their homes, cut with knives, stabbed, spat on, punched, slapped, kicked, held down and choked and beaten.

Many women (they typically experience abuse on more than 30 occasions before they seek help) had disclosed that they were beaten during pregnancy, a time when women are most vulnerable if they are in an abusive relationship.

Women also reported that they had been raped or sexually assaulted. The agency also fielded almost 6,000 reports of child abuse.

And, as is often the case in respect of domestic violence, whether the perp etrator be male or female, it is the emotional abuse - the taunts, belittling, financial control and verbal battering - that can inflict more trauma than any physical scars.

These reports are published each year with a depressing familiarity and consistency.

It's not just the near misses: we also know that of resolved homicide cases where women have been killed in Ireland, the perpetrator has been a current or former intimate partner.

Indeed, in all cases where women are killed in Ireland, 90pc are killed by someone known to them and 99pc of the perpetrators are male. There's no getting away from that statistical reality.

And yet, for the most part, we turn a blind eye as gender-based violence, despite its alarming prevalence and devastating impact on families and children, is still regarded as something taboo.

Domestic violence is still regarded as some class of an internal family matter rather than what it is - a crime, one noted for its egregious levels of recidivism by perpetrators.

It is still spoken about in hushed tones despite the fact that intimate partner violence is a major societal issue - the estimated economic cost of domestic violence in Ireland is some €2.2bn a year.

When she posted her video, Emma Murphy won huge support from many women and men who went on to social media platforms to condemn violence against women.

But part of me was afraid for her and other women who find the courage to speak out.

Because it wasn't long after the video went viral that the keyboard warrior 'victim blamers' were aroused from their righteous slumber.

Lurking, as they tend to do, in the deep threads of comments that accompany much of our online media, the comments of some posters reveal levels of sexism and misogyny latent in our culture that act as a licence - if not a breeding ground - for some men to justify acts of violence against women.

The target of the keyboard warriors' ire?

Their target is women (and the groups that support them) for having the temerity to highlight that gender-based violence - violence directed against a woman because she is a woman - is connected to gender after all.

We witness something of a similar backlash anytime Ireland's imminent ratification of the Istanbul Convention raises its head. The Istanbul Convention is a Council of Europe instrument aimed at preventing and combating violence against women and young girls and domestic violence - on which the convention is gender neutral. The convention, which aims to harmonise legal protections, is the gold standard in efforts to combat violence against women worldwide.

It recognises that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men - something that angers the warriors.

Men, let there be no doubt about it, are victims of domestic violence and require our full support in naming and shaming it.

However, statistically, women are affected more disproportionately, hence dedicated laws to combat the phenomenon are needed .

Ireland has been slow to ratify Istanbul, in part because of previous concerns that Article 52 of the convention - relating to emergency barring orders - presents a particular difficulty in relation to property rights under the Irish Constitution.

But we are shortly to introduce a raft of measures as ratification of Istanbul and the implementation of the EU Victims directive beckons.

Legislation matters, but the real challenge in tackling all forms of violence is education and awareness to end impunity for offenders and eradicate the underlying societal attitudes that tacitly support it.

Sunday Independent

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