Excerpt of Women's Media Center op-ed co-authored by GJC Legal Intern Katelyn Buckles.
In October, the United Nations Committee Against Torture issued a final decision in Elizabeth Coppin v. Ireland that once again dashed hopes of justice for survivors of one of Ireland’s worst regimes of torture and abuse. The committee, under its mandate to examine individual allegations of torture and ill-treatment around the world, ruled that Ireland did not violate the Convention Against Torture — despite repeatedly calling the Irish government’s investigation into torture in the Laundries over the years inadequate. By ignoring their own jurisprudence, the committee is setting a dangerous precedent for standards of future investigations into violence against women and girls.
In 1951, the Listowel District Court found Elizabeth Coppin to be destitute and illegitimate, meaning she was born to a single mother who could not afford to raise her. They then committed her to an industrial girl’s school, a system which has also been investigated for abuse and neglect, which later sent her to Saint Vincent’s Magdalene Laundry in 1964. The Laundries were religious institutions where at least 10,000 women and girls — many of whom were perceived to be “promiscuous” as unmarried mothers (or their daughters) or as burdens to their families or the state — were confined and forced to work unpaid, laundering and sewing for local businesses or government departments. Coppin was transferred to two other Laundries before being discharged in 1968 at the age of 19.