A CORK-based feminist collective entitled R.A.G.E. has responded to the crisis of domestic violence, particularly in the pandemic, with a project entitled ‘This Will Not be Pretty’.
In April and May last year, at the beginning of Ireland’s first lockdown, gardaí reported a 25% increase in domestic violence calls, reflecting an international trend.
Sarah Jayne Booth, a multi-media installation artist whose work centres on domesticity, gender inequality and bodily autonomy, heads up R.A.G.E. (realising absolute gender equality).
The Sample Studios-based artist wanted the collective to have a specific purpose. Her friend, lawyer Fiona Ní Léime, introduced her to Honor Tuohy whose interests are in international law. Also on board is feminist ethnographer, Dr Eve Olney who was mentoring Sarah Jayne.
The women started meeting every week. At the end of 2020, Sarah Jayne was awarded a bursary from Cork City Council arts office to complete the women’s multi-faceted art project, in association with OSS Cork Domestic Violence Resource Centre and Cuanlee Refuge.
“This project focuses particularly on domestic violence because women in the home is a central component to my work,” says Sarah Jayne.
“I felt that domestic violence issues which are usually swept under the carpet, downplayed or often disregarded as a personal issue between couples, needed highlighting due to the surge during the pandemic. It should not be relegated a lesser crime as it has been in the past.”
Sarah Jayne says domestic violence is a “systemic societal issue that is allowed to be perpetuated by the law and by the people making these laws. We need to keep bringing it to the fore so that real, lasting change can be made.”
While Sarah Jayne doesn’t have statistics for domestic violence in Cork, she says that national figures from Women’s Aid state one in four women in Ireland have been or are being abused by former or current partners.
“The WHO (World Health Organisation) says one in three women are subjected to physical or sexual violence worldwide. But there is no doubt that there has been a worrying increase during the pandemic.
“The scandal on cancelled domestic violence 999 calls was another issue we learned of back in June, just adding fuel to the debate of why it isn’t taken more seriously.
“These women are your mothers, your sisters, your friends. Why wouldn’t you want the system to change to protect them?”
Many believe that breaking barring orders is not taken seriously enough by the law.
Fiona Ní Léime says: “It is an offence to break a barring order and an Garda Síochana are obliged to investigate. The response, however, can vary from excellent to none. We don’t know why this is. It could be an issue of resources or domestic abuse not being treated as a serious crime.
“Since the pandemic, Garda Operation Faoisimh was introduced that put extra police resources into the rising cases of domestic abuse. Gardaí have also introduced a ‘pro-arrest intervention’ policy which again indicates that may not have been the general approach in the past.”
There is also the issue of “going through the criminal justice system when a barring order has been broken. The accused could be free to keep breaking the barring order until the court date, when a prison sentence may be imposed — but it could result in a fine.”
In 2018, of 3,343 barring orders applied for in Ireland, only 28% were granted. Safety orders, which do not force a person to leave the home but prevent them from being violent or threatening, were granted for just 32% of applications.
Sarah Jayne says that the constant adjournments at court hearings and legal costs put an inordinate strain on the victims.
“They have to remain in their homes with the abuser until they can get these orders in place and that keeps them in high risk situations. The fact they are working and have to arrange childcare is totally disregarded by the system that is meant to be helping them. They may also face judgement from their own families and they fear losing their homes by making complaints.”
Should feminism be taught at school? Dr Eve Olney says it should be, as part of a broader look at inequalities in societies and precarious situations such as global warming “caused by feeding the insatiability of the global markets and colonialism.”
She says that by not teaching feminism in schools and not framing it “in a significant historic sense perpetuates the normalisation of the oppressive treatment and sexualised project on girls and women today, as if it is a normal and natural product of gender difference.”
Eve adds that her teenage daughter “is appalled” that feminism is not taught and that there is a general ignorance among the young towards the massive global violence specifically aimed at women.
It is personified “in the lack of duty or helplessness that communities feel towards women being abused by their domestic partners,” she said.
The feminist movement “is about equality, not about women versus men,” says Sarah Jayne.
“It has been spun around to make it sound like a sinister cult or as a movement of man haters. Nobody has said it better than Cheris Kramare (an American scholar of women’s studies) who stated: ‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.’”
‘This Will Not be Pretty’ includes a choreographed performance featuring Katrina Foley with an accompanying soundscape by Dr Honor Tuohy, videoed alongside an installation of new work by Sarah Jayne. The performance and video installation is now online at https://weragetogether.com/projects/.
The exhibition at Kopper Hair Salon, 3, Half Moon Street, Cork, will be displayed in the window and can be seen by the public now until September 27.
OSS Cork Domestic Violence Resource Centre offers advice and support to victims of domestic abuse. Freephone helpline: 1800 497 497. Cuanlee Refuge provides safe and secure crisis accommodation for women and children. Tel: 021 4277698.