Zero-tolerance plan on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence published

Five-year strategy and €363m fund involves new agency, more refuge spaces, targeted legislation, education and sentences

The 249 women and 18 children who have been killed since 1996 must be to the fore of everyone’s mind as work begins on implementing the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DSGBV), Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

Speaking at the publication of the zero-tolerance plan on Tuesday, she said the county had, “collectively grieved for the family and friends of Ashling Murphy” in January when the 23-year-old schoolteacher was killed while out jogging near her home in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

Describing Ms Murphy as “a beautiful young woman who was taken far too early”, Ms McEntee said for young women in particular it had been “very difficult to see because it was so familiar.

“But let us not forget the many, many other women who have been killed at [mainly] the hands of partners – Jastine Valdez, Jennifer Poole, Seema Banu, Anna Kriegel, Fiona Pender. Two hundred and forty-nine women... None of us can say it won’t happen again but certainly today we are saying we have those women and their families, and so many other victims that died violently, in our minds as we strive to work collectively to achieve that goal.”

Four pillars

Attending publication of the €363 million, five-year strategy were Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Education Norma Foley, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris and Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman from Cabinet.

Of the €363 million, about €100 million was funding already committed, said Ms McEntee, including €30 million within Tusla of which €17.5 million was for the provision of refuges. Establishment of the new statutory agency would cost about €3.5 million.

Based around the four pillars of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention – prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination – the plan says: “It is only though an integrated approach across all sectors of society that the problem of DSGBV, which is an expression of historical, unequal power relations resulting in coercive control and sexual violence, will be tackled.”

Among its actions will be the establishment of a new statutory agency to drive implementation, a doubling of refuge spaces from the current 141 to 280, new legislation to provide for the specific offence of non-fatal strangulation, an overhaul of the relationships and sexuality education curriculum for primary and secondary 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.

For the first time, children are recognised not only as witnesses to, but victims of, domestic violence as a result of being in a home where it is happening.

Abusive attitudes

Implementation will be overseen politically by the Cabinet subcommittee on social affairs and equality, chaired by the Taoiseach and will be led by the Minister for Justice.

Mr Martin said his Government would “not be found wanting” in its “determination to combat all forms of domestic and gender-based violence and ensuring we support each individual victim in a way that supports their needs”.

Ms McEntee said the attitudes underpinning the abuse of women, and some men, had to be challenged by everyone.

“Zero tolerance means not accepting any form of abuse”, she said, “be it sexual, be it physical, be it emotional, or financial simply because it happens behind closed doors, in a relationship or in a family setting.

“It means not laughing off the comments or behaviours, not laughing off the inappropriate touching on a night out... It means teaching our young people what a healthy relationship is... and as children become young adults what a healthy sexual relationship is.”

Mr O’Gorman said all women were vulnerable to domestic, sexual and gender-based abuse but certain groups faced disadvantages that left them even more vulnerable. These included poverty, ethnicity, sexuality, addiction and, precarious legal status.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times