Concerns over vulnerability spur domestic violence services audit

Review on how response to violence is ‘segmented across different government agencies’

The Department of Justice has begun an audit into the State’s response to domestic and sexual violence amid concerns that there are gaps in the services offered to vulnerable women and groups.

The audit is being carried out by an external consultant with involvement from service providers and NGOs.

According to the terms of the reference for the research, the audit will look at the process of bringing perpetrators to justice quickly and will also look at available effective rehabilitation.

It will analyse the effectiveness of the current structures across Government policies and will look at the services in place to support victims throughout the criminal and investigatory process.

The Programme for Government agreed between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party promised to conduct the analysis amid concerns that the State's response to domestic and sexual violence is disparate and fractured.

The audit will specifically look at the how the responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is “segmented across different government agencies” and the consultants will develop proposals on what infrastructure is now needed.

‘Discriminatory attitudes’

It is understood that the work will be completed by the end of March. As part of this, consultants will also look into public awareness campaigns to tackle “discriminatory societal attitudes towards women and girls.”

The terms of reference for the research also state that the group will conduct an evaluation of what structures exist in other comparable jurisdictions where “changes in practice can be seen to have had positive outcomes”.

Recommendations will be made regarding the “optimum structure to lead coordination of Government policy and service delivery holistically”.

The results of the audit will also feed into a new national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence during 2021. This new strategy will be agreed by the Government by the end of the year.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the work will form a “key element of our commitment to improve services for victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence and it will examine how services are segmented across different government agencies.”

“I think it is especially important that the views of those who work on the frontline – helping victims of the most awful abuse – will form a major element of the audit.”

She said the results of the work will provide the Government with a “comprehensive analysis to inform how we develop proposals for the most effective future infrastructure to tackle domestic, sexual and gender based violence.”

Gardaí have reported a large increase in domestic violence incidents since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, Women’s Aid said it has experienced 41 per cent increase in the number of calls during the pandemic, compared with the same period in 2019.