Better Lives for Men, Better Lives for All: Standing up to male violence against women

Caoimhe Cooke

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Men Comforting Hands

Men’s violence towards women – whose problem is it anyway?

“We need this law because we can’t just wait for men not to buy vulnerable women, men and children” announced Alan O’Neill, CEO of The Men’s Development Network (MDN), at the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign’s  (TORL) event last week. The event, which was attended by representatives from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour party, honoured the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, 2017.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, delivered a memorable speech at the event, commenting that the new laws would “send a message” that buyers of sex are responsible for “the exploitation of persons through prostitution”.

“We are targeting those who demand these services because it is their behaviour that supports the exploitation of others and that can no longer be ignored.”                                                   Tánaiste Francis Fitzgerald  at  TORL event 

She added: “I am very pleased that when these provisions are commenced – which will be very shortly – and in line with the growing support for this type of reform, Ireland will be the seventh jurisdiction to introduce laws targeting the purchase while decriminalising those who provide the sexual service….we are targeting those who demand these services because it is their behaviour that supports the exploitation of others and that can no longer be ignored.”

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is the culmination of a long campaign by many groups and activists to fight the abuse and exploitation which is so widely associated with prostitution.

Today, I was delighted to mark the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 2017 with the groups involved in the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. I firmly believe, this legislation will make such a difference in tackling the considerable damage caused, overwhelmingly to women, by prostitution. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is the culmination of a long campaign by those in this room and many, many others to fight the abuse and exploitation which is so widely associated with prostitution. The commitment, drive and fortitude of the many groups involved in the campaign can never be overstated and today is also a day to recognise your resolve. I believe that support for targeting the demand for prostitution and criminalising the purchase of sexual services – in particular as a tool to combat trafficking – is strengthening across the EU and further afield. Regardless of the various approaches which can be taken to prostitution – be it criminalisation, decriminalisation, legalisation and regulation – there will always be those involved in prostitution who live in the shadows. They live under the control and direction of others or of their own personal circumstances. These are incredibly vulnerable people. It is all too easy for those purchasing sex through prostitution to turn a blind eye and to ignore the reality that their behaviour supports the exploitation and misery of other people, including through human trafficking. So we now send a message. If you purchase sexual services through prostitution you are no longer removed from the responsibility for the exploitation of persons through prostitution. You can no longer ignore the consequences of your actions. This law is about defending human rights. It is about recognising and upholding human rights. We must support and defend the rights of all those abused through prostitution, but even more so we must reduce the risk of today’s young girls and boys being drawn into tomorrow’s prostitution. I repeat the message – we are targeting those who demand these services because it is their behaviour that supports the exploitation of others and that can no longer be ignored. #IWD2017

Posted by Frances Fitzgerald on Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Support for criminalising the purchase of sexual services is strengthening across the EUAlan O’Neill spoke to me about the importance of providing support and education to men who experience disadvantage due to the effects of unemployment, marginalisation, poverty and men’s gender conditioning.
“Men struggle in lots of areas: unemployment, awareness, how they’ve been conditioned, how they’ve been brought up and the misinformation that they’ve been given.”                                                                 Alan O’Neill, CEO of MDN

Through its range of community development work and training across Ireland, The Men’s Development Network (MDN) has been actively advocating for the health, development and wellbeing of Irish men since 2002.

The MDN deliver programmes in development, health, training, violence intervention, counselling and gender equality. ‘Men struggle in lots of areas’, says O’Neill, ‘unemployment, awareness, how they’ve been conditioned, how they’ve been brought up and the misinformation that they’ve been given…our programmes try to address all of that.’

In 2012, The Men’s Development Network (MDN), with the support of Rape Crisis Network Ireland and Safe Ireland, took on the responsibility to promote the White Ribbon Campaign nationally. O’Neill stresses the importance of showing ‘that there are men in Ireland today who are prepared to address the issue of violence against women…[the campaign] enlists the help of men in the prevention of violence, based on the assumption that most men are not violent.’
 White Ribbon is the world’s largest male-led movement working to end men’s violence against women. ‘Women have support in the first instance’, explains O’Neill, ‘and the men are then engaged with to change their behaviour’.
“It’s very important not to leave the word ‘men’ out, otherwise the perpetrators become invisible.”                       Alan O’Neill, CEO of MDN
The most recent research from Women’s Aid shows that there were 16,375 reported incidents of domestic violence against women. Of these, 10,876 were incidents of emotional abuse, 3,281 were incidents of physical abuse and 1,602 were incidents of financial abuse (Women’s Aid Impact Report, 2016).
 ‘We must not forget’, warns O’Neill, ‘that this is men’s violence against women. It’s very important not to leave the word ‘men’ out, otherwise the perpetrators become invisible.’
O’Neill stresses the need for the co-existence of male-led campaigns, as well as women’s: ‘We have no interest in taking over the space that the Women’s Movement has created. We want to be in partnership with them with regard to changing these issues – bringing men to a better level of awareness to improve lives for everybody and making life better in Irish society.’
“Young men use misogyny and objectification so that they can avoid a meaningful relationship….feminism is not about females being powerful, it’s about redressing a balance and it’s about equality.”
                                                                                         Blindboy Boatclub, Rubberbandits
O’Neill is just one of the many Irish men attempting to redefine masculinity in modern day Ireland.
Remember Blindboy Boatclub’s appearance on RTE’s The Late Late Show in November? In crisp, candid language the Limerick rapper reminded the nation that it’s time to redress the balance between men and women.
 If you would like to support MDN in their work, or avail of their services, you can do so here .
 

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Caoimhe Cooke