• Minister confirms commitment to continuing work to combat all forms of sexual, domestic and gender based violence
  • Welcomes recent Dáil and Seanad statements showing cross party commitment to supporting victims of domestic abuse
  • Highlights planned victim centred improvements to be introduced as a priority

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, has welcomed the start of the U.N.’s 16 ‘days of activism’ to end violence against women, which concludes on International Human Rights Day, 10th December 2020.

The UN Secretary-General’s ‘UNiTE to End Violence against Women’ campaign, a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls, will focus on amplifying the call for global action to bridge funding gaps, ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, focus on prevention, and collection of data that can improve life-saving services for women and girls.

Welcoming the international focus on this important topic, Minister McEntee said:

As Minister for Justice, and a young woman myself, I am deeply committed to the eradication of all forms of violence against women and girls. I will do this by improving, advancing and implementing preventative policies, and ensuring we have legislation that is fit for purpose in today’s world.

Our systems and processes must support and respond to the needs of victims in an appropriate and sensitive way. This will require action on a number of fronts, including the introduction of effective legislation. We also must ensure we can provide a system with inbuilt supports for victims, one which is adaptable and focussed on their needs.

Awareness raising campaigns are another important tool in combatting violence against women. These act as a call on all of society to stand up for women subjected to abuse and violence, and to stand up to those who perpetrate it. 

Following on from the important work of Tom O’Malley, Minister McEntee recently published a comprehensive implementation plan, ‘Supporting a Victims Journey – A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases’. This detailed, ‘living’ document, outlines the measures needed to protect vulnerable witnesses during the investigation, and prosecution, of sexual offences. The Minister said: 

Giving full effect to the actions contained in ‘Supporting a Victims Journey’ is a key priority for me. Vulnerable victims must be supported, informed, respected and treated with the utmost compassion and professionalism by trained personnel on every step of their journey through the criminal justice process. 

I want victims to feel empowered, and most importantly, to feel confident coming forward and reporting such crimes. I want them to know that the system will work to support and protect them, and not leave them feeling re-traumatised or re-victimised by their experience.

Minister McEntee acknowledged that with rapid advances in technology and the ways in which information is shared online, new challenges are continuously presented in the fight against image-based abuse. The Minister welcomed the approval received yesterday, from Cabinet, to bring forward important amendments to the Harassment, Harmful Communication and Related Offences Bill.

These amendments will make it a criminal offence to share intimate images without consent, regardless of the motivation for doing so. Speaking on the need to bring forward these amendments, the Minister said:

“I firmly believe that harassment and abuse in any form, whether online or otherwise, is utterly unacceptable and has no place in Irish society.

“I know the recent reported leak of intimate images has caused so much upset and anger. I share that anger and I want people to know that we are introducing tough new laws to ensure that anyone who shares these kinds of images will face serious criminal sanctions.

“These sanctions reflect the devastating effect this type of crime has on its victims.”

The UN’s campaign includes a call to ensure that essential services remain available to survivors of violence throughout the COVID-19 crisis. At the outset of the pandemic, the Department of Justice led the development of an inter-agency plan to address the potential increase in domestic abuse and sexual violence that could arise out of the restrictions on movement.

Minister McEntee noted:

The inter-agency plan to reach out to and support victims of domestic abuse during the pandemic remains in place. It ensures that the civil and criminal legal system continue to be available to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence at this difficult time.

This is true regardless of the level of restrictions in place.

From the provision of additional funding for organisations working with victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, to the ongoing ‘Still Here’ campaign, we are making sure that victims know that help is still available to them.

Minister McEntee also recently relaunched the ‘No Excuses’ campaign on sexual harassment and sexual violence, and a public awareness campaign with the International Organisation on Migration to highlight the issue of human trafficking. Commenting on these campaigns, the Minister said:

These particular campaigns are about more than raising awareness of a particular issue. These campaigns are a call to action, a call to all of us to look at what we turn a blind eye to, to look at what we excuse.

The ‘No Excuses’ campaign asks us to stop ‘explaining away’ incidents when we see them, simply because it’s what we have always done.

Both campaigns call on us not to be passive bystanders, but to take a stand and speak up for those that are vulnerable, abused, and often unable to speak up for themselves.

The Department of Justice will be supporting this UN campaign and will be using #OrangetheWorld on social media over the 16 days of activism to highlight the work undertaken by the Minister, the Department and its Agencies, to combat violence against women and girls, and to support vulnerable victims of violence and abuse.

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