Friday 24 May 2019

Domestic abuse survivor calls on Government to back new Bill

Jessica Bowes was attacked by her partner, who broke nearly every bone in her face.

(left to right) student advocate Damien McClean, MEP candidate Rita Harold, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppiner and domestic abuse survivor Jessica Bowes during the launch of the new No Contact Order Bill to protect victims of abuse (Aoife Moore/PA)
(left to right) student advocate Damien McClean, MEP candidate Rita Harold, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppiner and domestic abuse survivor Jessica Bowes during the launch of the new No Contact Order Bill to protect victims of abuse (Aoife Moore/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

A domestic abuse survivor has called on the Minister for Justice to do more for victims and back a new Bill on no contact orders.

Jessica Bowes was attacked by her partner, former soldier Jonathan McSherry, 36, who broke nearly every bone in her face and kicked her a number of times in December 2015.

Ms Bowes – along with Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who introduced the Bill to the Dail on Tuesday – said she had contacted a number of politicians about introducing such a law, but her calls were ignored.

“In 2015, I was very seriously assaulted and since then I’ve become an accidental advocate,” she said.

“Since my attack, women contact me all the time, telling me their stories, and there’s a common feature that they cannot escape the abuse because of constant contact.

“We need to back awareness up with legislation that supports us, with early intervention from the courts. If someone has to be assaulted or threatened before they can be supported then we’re not doing enough.

“We have no legislation to stop our abusers contacting us without a barring order, we have no legal rights to stop the contact that controls our life through fear.

“I have a message for the Minister for Justice today, if you love the women of Ireland and you want to help make us safe, start with early intervention. We need a no contact order to break the cycle of abuse when we identify what’s happening to us.”

The legislation being tabled is an amendment to the No Contact Order Bill, which is restricted to those in intimate relationships or family members. Changing the scope to anyone known to the applicant would provide protection for victims of stalking and other harassment, Ms Coppinger says.

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Ruth Coppinger (Niall Carson/PA)

The amendment would mean victims only having to provide two examples of harassment, which could be verbal statements or evidence of text messages, to have the order implemented, a model based on the law in Scotland.

The changes would allow victims to have an order implemented on the grounds of feeling fear despite not being attacked or threatened.

Ms Bowes added: “In the days leading to my assault, I wasn’t being threatened, I was being sent flowers and being told I was loved.

“I couldn’t call the guards and say, ‘This fella is sending me flowers’, but I didn’t really feel comfortable with it, and then the emotional abuse starts.

“I felt like I was holding back the tide, I fell into the same pattern, and it’s hard to break the pattern when they can contact you.”

Ms Coppinger said male dominance in the Dail means issues like domestic violence are pushed to the back burner.

“This is ongoing, it’s not a priority for this Government, and it only becomes a priority when there’s a huge case and a protest takes place. It’s not a consistent issue and we have to make it one,” she said.

“The Bill follows discussions I had with Jessica Bowes, and she approached me believing this is very necessary to help people escape abuse.

“We would like this to be enacted very quickly. We’ve had snail’s pace change in Dail Eireann on this issue.

“There’s an epidemic of gender-based violence, nationally and internationally, what we’ve actually got in terms of change is very little.”

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Justice minister Charlie Flanagan (Liam McBurney/PA)

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan later said that although his department could be more proactive, he had taken a number of steps to tackle domestic abuse, including ratifying the Istanbul Convention, and has commissioned a second major national study on sexual violence in Ireland.

“I’ve just seen Deputy Coppinger’s Bill, I’d be very happy to engage with her on that,” he said. “One of a range of measures that are on my desk.”

Press Association

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