Department of Justice to establish new agency to tackle domestic and sexual violence

The Department of Justice has released its National Strategy on Domestic Violence, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2022-2026 with the aim of reducing assaults which overwhelmingly affect women throughout the State.

The strategy, the third of its kind, will take the additional step of establishing a new state agency, the sole purpose of which will be to oversee and monitor the implementation of the strategy over the next four years. It is based on the four Istanbul pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution, and policy connection.

“The strategy recognises that while both men and women can be victims/survivors, women and girls can be affected disproportionately as a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women,” the paper states.

The new strategy has been announced amid provisional statistics released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which indicate that there has been a 12.5 per cent increase in sexual offences, as of the first quarter of 2022, whilst the most recent Crime and Statistics Survey, released in 2019, indicates that more than one third (36 per cent) of women in the State do not feel safe walking around their local area at night.

Aims and objectives

The strategy aims to ensure that the Government is strengthened to combat the increasing sexual assaults which are taking place, it has established a set of actions to be undertaken by the Department of Justice to this affect. These actions are:

  • the establishment of a new statutory domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence (DSGBV) agency;
  • doubling the number of refuge spaces available in Ireland;
  • national sexual violence and national domestic violence prevalence studies to be conducted alternately at one-year intervals;
  • new legislation to provide for the introduction of a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation, and a specific offence of stalking;
  • public awareness campaigns which will seek to raise awareness of DSGBV as well as challenging existing myths, misconceptions, and established beliefs;
  • overhaul of the relationships and sexuality education curriculum;
  • reforming criminal law, including increasing the maximum sentence for assault causing harm from five years to 10 years;
  • training frontline workers to identify domestic violence and refer victims and survivors to appropriate services;
  • removing the legal barriers that can prevent people experiencing domestic violence from remaining at home (where it is safe to do so);
  • progressing and implementing the new Family Court Bill; and
  • improving prosecutions of breaches of any and all DSGBV civil orders provided for in domestic violence and family law legislation.

Emphasising the importance of interdepartmental cooperation, the paper states that the strategy will deliver an “enhanced understanding of the root causes and impacts of DSGBV across society, ensure significant and ongoing reduction in incidence of DSGBV, and support operational and behavioural changes” with the aim of ensuring that Ireland becomes a society where survivors are receiving quality support services, with an ultimate goal of zero tolerance which will be at the forefront of citizens’ mindsets.

Monitoring progress

A key element to the strategy is the establishment of a new government agency which will be responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the strategy under the aegis of the Department of Justice. This agency, which is still to be formally created and has not as of yet been named, will require staffing and funding to succeed and will be tasked with:

  • Coordinating all government actions set out within this third national Strategy, and reporting on their delivery to the Minister of Justice, political oversight will be provided by the cabinet committee on social affairs and equality;
  • delivering excellent services to victims of DSGBV, including delivering on the number of safe and accessible accommodation spaces needed, as well as ensuring that helpline and other supports are available to everyone who requires them;
  • ensuring a robust set of national service standards and governance arrangements are in place to ensure adherence to the appropriate standards or such supports;
  • leading on awareness-raising campaigns designed to reduce the incidence of DSGBV in Irish society as well as ensuring that all victims know the full range of supports available and how to access them;
  • working with the Minister of Justice to ensure alignment in its work with overall government DSGBV policy; and
  • leading on consistent and ongoing research to inform DSGBV policy development, working with others, such as the CSO, who have research and data projects underway.

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, said: “The goal and guiding mission of this strategy is clear: zero tolerance of domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.

“Zero tolerance means realising that we have allowed gender-based violence and abuse, and the attitudes and assumptions which underpin it, inflict misery on too many for too long, but know now that radical change is required.”

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