Last week, a convicted murderer who tried to suffocate his wife in her west Cork home avoided further jail time despite the horrifying brutality of the attack.
Marius Rucinskas received a suspended 18-month sentence and essentially walked free from court.
He had been remanded in custody on the charge for almost one year already and Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin suspended the remainder of his sentence.
The violence and cruelty of the attack was chilling.
Rucinskas assaulted his wife over two to three hours, first punching and kicking her in the kitchen. When she tried to hide in an upstairs bedroom, he hunted her down, pushing her face into a bed and almost suffocating her.
He smashed her head off a table, tore clumps of hair from her head, and tried to rip out her eyelash extensions, Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard.
He also smashed telephones, laptops, and a television during the violent rampage at their home after a New Year’s Eve party on January 1, 2020.
Rucinskas, who works at a fish factory, pleaded guilty to the charge of assault causing harm.
The 42-year-old has multiple previous convictions in Lithuania, including a 15-year sentence from 2000 for pre-meditated murder and a false imprisonment charge.
Violence erupted that night because he ‘felt he was not appreciated’ for presents he had bought at Christmas.
A society which breeds men so violent, controlling, and entitled that they believe they can maim and kill their partners over perceived levels of appreciation demands serious scrutiny.
And a justice system so lenient on these crimes that it emboldens perpetrators demands serious reform.
The maximum jail term for assault causing harm in Ireland is five years. Rucinskas was given 18 months with much of it suspended.
Deficit of domestic violence data recording
But because of unacceptably poor data collection in domestic violence and sentencing of these crimes, it is impossible to really know how representative this sentence is for this type of crime.
Organisations like Women’s Aid and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre have been calling on the gardaí, the Courts Service, and the Central Statistics Office to reform data collection and recording practices in this area but it remains a black mark on our record as a nation.
In the absence of official data, Women’s Aid has created a media watch project which examines domestic violence cases reported by the media.
These cases presumably represent only a fraction of all the domestic violence cases that go to court but it gives some indication of the problem and it is bolstered by qualitative interviews with survivors about their experiences of the criminal justice system.
From their research, they found that six in 10 domestic violence offenders got a suspended sentence between May 2018 and April 2019.
Of those 65 domestic violence cases reported at that time, 97% of victims were women (63 cases) and more than half (52%) of the incidents occurred in their own home (34 cases).
Children were reported to have been on the premises when the offence was committed in 21 cases.
Most women consulted for the report were dissatisfied with the sentences passed down and did not believe that justice was carried out.
And most women did not believe that the criminal justice process had made them safer.
Sentences were reported in 50 cases, 45 of which were prison sentences which ranged from one month to eight life sentences.
But of these 45 prison sentences, 32 were reported as suspended. Seven were fully suspended and 25 were suspended in part.
Is assault a lesser crime in the home?
Is domestic abuse still treated by the Irish State as a lesser crime than assault in a public place?
Without accurate data, it is impossible to know whether perpetrators of domestic violence receive lower sentences than those convicted of assault outside the home.
Noeline Blackwell, lawyer and CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said that in the absence of a database on sentences and sentencing guidelines, it is also impossible for victims to know what to expect from bringing a case to court.
And the cases that do make it to court are just a faint reflection of an enormous problem that is terrorising families and individuals in private in every community in Ireland every day.
Because most victims never report the abuse at all.
On average, a woman will be assaulted by her partner or ex-partner 35 times before reporting it to the police, according to ‘Analysis of cohort’ —
a report by S Yearnshire.
According to a National Crime Council and ESRI 2005 report into domestic abuse, only 29% of women who had experienced severe abuse had reported it to gardaí.
And this abuse is horribly serious; a current or former male intimate partner kills one in every two women murdered in Ireland each year.
Women’s Aid estimates that 230 women died violently in Ireland from 1996 to 2019, averaging 10 female killings every year; 61% of those women were killed in their own homes and 16 children died alongside their mothers.
The home is not a safe place for thousands of people, mostly women and children, in Ireland who live in fear every day of the monster lurking within.
Risks increased during the pandemic
And the pandemic locked these people into the place where they were at most risk.
Whispered calls to helplines increased throughout the pandemic.
Women’s Aid’s annual impact report revealed a 43% increase last year in contacts with its services compared to 2019.
Positive changes have been made in recent years to tackle this scourge that festers behind closed doors, although more changes are still desperately needed.
Specialist garda training is improving some survivor’s encounters with law enforcement.
Operation Faoiseamh was launched by gardaí to proactively support those at risk of domestic violence and monitor known or suspected offenders throughout the pandemic.
Ireland’s first Domestic Violence Act 2018 was commenced in January 2019, which created the psychological crime of coercive control for the first time. It also created the crime of forced marriage.
The Istanbul Convention, an international legal framework to tackle violence against women and girls which requires the criminalisation of different forms of violence against females, was ratified by Ireland in March, 2019.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 have also helped to improve the treatment and rights of victims.
And funding for domestic and gender-based violence services has increased since the pandemic, although the scarcity of beds in women’s refuges alone would suggest that funding still falls far short.
There is also a baffling disconnection between the criminal and family law courts which Women’s Aid has described as “dangerous”.
Criminal behaviour is not taken into account when the Family Law Court determines access and custody, even when there is a conviction and a sentence.
Access to children is therefore granted even when that access potentially puts children and the abused parent at risk.
- For help, call Women’s Aid’s 24 hour National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900