Colm Dempsey’s Violence Against Women 365 International Poster Exhibition, now in its tenth year of touring, visited Dumbarton Women’s Refuge as part of their International Women’s Day 2014 celebrations.
In an interview with GlasgowAnni, Dubliner Colm tells how the Exhibition came about and the impact it has had over the years.
The idea for the exhibition came to Colm after meeting the late Ellen Pence during a visit to the world famous Duluth Domestic Violence Intervention Project in Minnesota http://www.theduluthmodel.org/ and touring the San Diego Family Justice Centre http://www.sandiego.gov/sandiegofamilyjusticecenter/ in 2001. Back at his job as a Garda officer felt that Ireland was ‘centuries behind the U.S. in its approach to domestic violence. It was like going back in time to the eighteenth century’.
‘Ireland was centuries behind the U.S. in its approach to domestic violence.
It was like going back in time to the eighteenth century.’
Colm’s visit the U.S. in the first place was instigated by his feelings of helplessness as a friend and as a police officer when his former (and first) girlfriend disclosed to him about the domestic abuse she was subjected to by her Garda officer husband. Colm describes how his friend had nowhere to turn and how her difficult situation was made much worse by her husband’s position in the force, describing him as ‘a criminal in uniform’, Colm wanted to know ‘how to do my job better’.
‘a criminal in uniform’
The posters Colm brought back from the States formed the germ of an idea that saw the first 365 exhibition open in Dundalk Museum in 2004 with financial support from the Irish Department of Justice and the attendance of two senior Government Ministers. The exhibition was endorsed by Tanya Brown the sister of Nicole Brown who was murdered by O.J. Simpson. Tanya wrote the foreword to the exhibition brochure. This created a media storm and generated a great deal of publicity for 365.
Among the visitors to the exhibition was Jan MacLeod of the Women’s Support Project in Glasgow and an invitation to visit Scotland soon followed.
‘I blame Jan MacLeod for everything’
‘I blame Jan MacLeod for everything’ jokes Colm who has since taken his exhibition all over Scotland returning several times to raise awareness of violence against women in Fife, the Western Isles, Glasgow, Edinburgh and West Dunbartonshire. Colm is impressed by Scotland’s national approach to tackling violence against women and thinks people here ‘get it’.
The exhibition has toured the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, has visited thirteen countries to date including U.S.,Canada, Cyprus, Russia and Taiwan and has the prospect of a visit to Norway and a return to Scotland in 2014. Having seen so many different national approaches to violence against women Colm’s view that Scotland is the most advanced of the UK jurisdictions is encouraging. Ireland, in his view, has a a bit of catching up to do.
The impact on the audiences who have seen 365 has often been profound. The visual impact of the at times very hard-hitting posters campaigning against domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse can be disturbing. The many different approaches and designs speak loudly of each country’s priorities and courage in confronting people with such difficult issues. Visiting the exhibition can be demanding for the visitor and comes with a health warning to alert them to what may disturb. Colm recalled the story of one woman from Dumbarton for whom seeing the exhibition was life changing. She told Colm during 365’s second visit to the area that she had been inspired by the exhibition to rethink her life and had since left her abusive partner. Now happy and settled with a new partner, she put it all down to that first eye opening visit to 365.
Exhibiting 365 in the Women’s Refuge in Dumbarton was a gamble for Colm and organisers Moira Swanson, Chair of the Refuge Management Committee and Refuge Worker Janine Jardine. According to Moira, ‘All of those who attended commented on the visual impact of the exhibition’. Hosting it there also raised the profile of the valuable work being done by Dumbarton District Women’s Aid. ‘Members of the public and local politicians who visited said they didn’t realise all the services offered by West Dunbartonshire Council and also the range of services provided by Women’s Aid…the “not just refuge thing! “’, Moira added, highlighting a common underestimation of what Women’s Aid Groups actually do in addition to running refuges.
local politicians who visited said they didn’t realise… the range of services provided by Women’s Aid…the “not just refuge thing!”
Moira Swanson, Chair, Dumbarton District Women’s Aid Management Committee
When he is not touring with his exhibition, Colm is a researcher and Children’s Rights and Child Protection Specialist and Trainer working with organisations across Ireland. His expertise in domestic abuse and violence against women continues to be focussed on improving the lives of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. Happily relocated to Galway, Colm can be assured that 365 will continue to inspire people to do their jobs better, to get people talking about the unspeakable and to encourage people to speak out and get the help they need to live their lives free forever of abuse.