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Domestic violence – Women do not have confidence in the criminal justice system

29 May, 2007

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Women, West Belfast MLA Jennifer McCann has said that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. Speaking in the Assembly during the Sinn Fein sponsored debate on Domestic Violence Ms McCann said:

"The impact of Domestic Violence on families is devastating. It is estimated that a quarter of all women experience Domestic Abuse at some stage in their lives and almost half the women who are murdered are killed by their partners.

"Anyone can be a victim. Although both men and women can be abused, most victims are women and children. Children and young people can be the forgotten victims of and research indicates that 11,000 children are in the same or next room when physical violence occurs. This can have damaging long term effects on their mental health, sense of identity and ability to form relationships. For young people there is an increased risk of self harm, drug and alcohol misuse and running away from home.

"Elder abuse is also a form of domestic violence. It has become so prevalent that help the aged launched its high profile "Stop Elder abuse Campaign "to raise awareness of the issues. Elder abuse is most common in the home environment and they are normally neglected, or abused by someone they know.

"Domestic Violence requires a response which takes account of the inequalities which women face. There is a need for political direction to ensure that a clear and consistent message is provided, alongside a coordinated approach to prevention of abuse and provision of services to families experiencing Domestic Violence.

"Domestic Violence is a major public threat. The strategy Tackling Violence at Home has the potential to make a fundamental shift in the way society responds to Domestic Violence. There is a need to shift the focus unto the abuser and to introduce new and develop existing compulsory rehabilitation programmes as part of the preventative campaign.

"There are problems within the civil and criminal justice system. A number of recommendations to the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act of 2004 were rejected. And, while there have been some improvements in the criminal justice system through this act Women do not have confidence in the criminal justice system due to experiences they have had in attempting to get their partner prosecuted.

"Evidence shows a leniency towards perpetrators of Domestic Violence and sentencing which is much less than if the crime had been committed against a stranger. Further steps are needed to ensure that the issues of violence against women overall and domestic violence specifically are given an appropriate importance within the Government's policy on crime reduction and community safety." ENDS

Note to Editors

Last year in the North of Ireland around 20,000 calls were made to the domestic violence helpline and 1,069 women and 1,026 children used women's aid refuges refuges. One in 5 women in Ireland has experienced domestic violence at some stage in their lives.

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