THE Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based violence has been welcomed by Cork campaigners supporting women who are victims of such abuse.
One in four women and girls experience domestic and/or sexual violence in Ireland.
“If implemented, the strategy will go a long way to promote the much-needed zero tolerance approach to violence against women,” said the National Women’s Council.
The €363 million five-year strategy will include a number of actions - such as a new statutory agency to drive implementation, the doubling of refuge spaces to 280, new legislation to provide for the specific offence of non-fatal strangulation, an overhaul of the relationships and sexuality education curriculum for schools, a doubling of the maximum sentence for assault causing harm to 10 years, and removing legal barriers to allow victims stay in the family home.
Children will also be recognised not only as witnesses, but as victims, if they are in a home where abuse is happening.
Here, a number of Cork organisations respond to the strategy.
SEXUAL VIOLENCE CENTRE CORK
Mary Crilly, CEO of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC), said she is very glad that the plan deals with stalking “and that the legislation is going to change around stalking.
“Since we started the campaign against stalking 12 months ago, we received over 100 calls from people, and women as well as some men who have been victims of stalking have come in to us.
“Right now, there’s nothing people can do if they’re a victim of stalking. But at least when (legislation) comes in, there will be safety and protection orders put in place and that will make a massive difference.”
Mary is also pleased that strangling is going to be looked at and that it is being taken very seriously.
“Some perpetrators try and strangle their partner and say what they’re doing is part of a sex act,” she said.
Dealing with media coverage of sexual abuse is something that the SVCC has been working on for some time. Mary welcomes the strategy’s plan to address the issue of reporting in the media - as sometimes the language used can be unintentionally offensive.
“We are very involved with the Fix It Campaign,” she said.
Education is key, adds Mary.
She also thinks “it’s great” that issues around consent will become part of the school curriculum.
“They’re getting the Active Consent group in Galway to do it.”
Based at NUI Galway, Active Consent comprises academics who have already given workshops on the issue.
“It’s good to see a group like that go into schools with the resources they need. I go into schools a lot. But it’s very piecemeal. So I welcome any organisation that comes in as a civic organisation and talks openly about consent.”
WEST CORK WOMEN AGAINST
Marie Mulholland, CEO of the West Cork Women Against Violence Project, says the strategy is very positive.
“We definitely welcome it. It has been a long time in the making. It gives us some of the key fundamentals that we have been asking for, for a long time. This is a policy that isn’t just a quick fix. It’s actually looking at the whole area of prevention and prosecution and policy co-ordination. We need the policy to come from a central place in government.”
Marie says it’s important that the responsibility for domestic and sexual violence has gone to the Department of Justice.
“Up to now, it’s the responsibility of the Department of Children, which is not where it should be. This is a justice issue and it needs to be with that department. It recognises women as citizens in their own right. Before, with the Department of Children, it was always about mothers and children - not recognising women in their own right.
“Also, (it’s recommended) that it’s cross departmental so all the key departments have a role to play - health, education and justice.
“It’s also good that it stands for children as victims in their own right because they often witness the violence in the home.”
Over the lifetime of the strategy, 140 new refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence are to be provided.
“This is playing catch-up. We haven’t done anything about refuge spaces for several years now and we’re trying now to do it in the midst of a housing crisis.”
What Marie says is important about the strategy is that it’s the result of a lot of consultation with services across the sector.
“Everyone is a stakeholder . This isn’t pie-in-the-sky. It’s based on the reality we face with crisis services on the frontline for the women and children that we work for.”
Cork, says Marie, is the largest county but “is under par” because of the number of refuge spaces.
“There are also ten counties that don’t have any refuge spaces.
“So we’re among those that are going to be prioritised.
“We’re told that in the first two years of the strategy in West Cork, there will be resources released to help develop an additional five refuge spaces.
“We already have a safe house that we fund-raised for ourselves.”
Marie adds that work is being done in the city and north Cork to increase the number of refuge spaces there too.
The five year programme of reform is worth €363 million.
“The funding hasn’t been allocated yet. We’re all holding our breath to see where it does get allocated. That will be the proof of the pudding. Resources are the absolute key as to whether or not this strategy is going to make a difference.”
Gurranabraher-based Mná Feasa welcomes the strategy and proposed changes.
The co-ordinator of the women’s group, Ann O’Mahony, says: “A shortage of refuge places and safe houses have long been issues for women experiencing domestic violence, with a lack of suitable accommodation a very real concern - and active deterrent - for women contemplating leaving an abusive relationship.”
Ann says that “zero tolerance demands stiffer sentencing around the breaking of orders, protection, safety, barring and maintenance in order to be effective.
“In our experience, we see orders being repeatedly broken without consequence for the perpetrator.”
For a number of years, Mná Feasa has been running a school awareness programme around what constitutes a healthy relationship.
“We have found this to be a very effective programme and would welcome that such a programme would become part of the school curriculum, as opposed to what it is now which is an add-on.
“We would also welcome education and awareness raising for public bodies where women go to access help, and are often met with an indifference to their situation.”
Mná Feasa hopes the strategy is put into place “as soon as possible, that the focus of the strategy reaches its targets and provides a solid foundation for future policy and strategies”.
Sexual Violence Centre Cork You can freephone the centre on 1800 496 496 For more on their work, see www.sexualviolence.ie/
West Cork Women Against Violence Project operateafree - phone helpline 1800 203 136. Their office line 027 53847.
For more, see westcorkwomensproject.ie
Mná Feasa runahelpline, 021 4211757, staffed by trained volunteers Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm.
For more information see www.mnafeasa.com.
Women’s Aid operate the 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900. See www.womensaid.ie