Research by Ulster University has found men are much less likely to use paramilitary influence or weapons to threaten their domestic partners since the Belfast Agreement.
About 120 females who have faced domestic violence were interviewed for the study – 56 in 1992 and 63 in 2016.
The study, ‘Intimate Partner Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies’, was carried out by Women’s Aid and Ulster University – the first study of its kind, comparing findings from 1992 with the 2016 ones.
Some of the key findings were that:
• The threat of firearms that previously existed in domestic violence situations has been greatly reduced as a result of the decommissioning of weapons and the demobilisation of paramilitary groups
• Perpetrators of domestic violence still drew on paramilitary connections to threaten their partner in 2016 but this has less impact than it did in the 1992 study.
• Paramilitary-style attacks are much less likely to be used to punish perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence in 2016 compared to 1992
• Post-conflict, police officers have become more responsive to domestic violence. The increase in training, quicker response times and greater accessibility for police to nationalist/republican and loyalist working class areas are significant factors here.
The study concluded that the benefits of “police reform”, the removal of illegal firearms and the regulation of legal firearms should be applied to other societies emerging from conflict, given their positive impact on domestic violence.
One participant said in March 2016: “He used to say that he was in the UDA.
“Whether he was or wasn’t I don’t actually know but he would sit you down and say.
“I was too frightened [then], maybe even more cautious of saying anything (to the police) in case... you know…”
The authenticity of a connection to paramilitary organisations was frequently questioned by participants.
Speaking in June 2016, another participant said that he would “pretend he was involved in things and he was the Mr Big guy, but I knew he wasn’t because he was never out the door”.
Researchers also found that paramilitary groups offered “protection” to women – typically in the form of a warning to stop abusing a victim – although this issue was much less prevalent in the 2016 findings, declining from four to two cases.
However in 1992 and 2016 women gave the same reason for reluctance to report their partners to paramilitaries; they were afraid of being held responsible if excessive force was used on their partners.
Ulster University Emeritus Professor Monica McWilliams, said: “The peace process has made a huge difference but there is still much work to do.”
She said that the research shows that while much progress has been made over the last 25 years, “a more consistent approach is needed” when it comes to preventing domestic violence and supporting those affected.
Noelle Collins, from Women’s Aid, described the report as “an invaluable piece of research which highlights how far we have progressed”.
EFFECT FOR REPUBLICAN AREAS:
Participants from Catholic, nationalist or republican communities in the 1992 study spoke about how paramilitary groups had an advantage over the police, since officers had to wait for clearance and/or a military escort to enter nationalist areas, and participants from these communities were often reluctant to contact law enforcement.
However, no such situation existed in the 2016 study and some participants noted how this had left them less reliant on paramilitary “protection” and more likely to pursue police support for domestic violence.
One participant said in March 2016: “I see the police [in this area] now. During that period though [the conflict] if you were in trouble you did nothing – you didn’t go to the police…’.
Asked if women went to paramilitaries instead at that time, she said: “Probably, yes”.