05 Dec 2023

Ending violence against women and girls is everyone's responsibility

Northern Ireland has a problem with femicide, since March 2020 18 women have been murdered. The Northern Irish police service has dealt with 32,872 domestic abuse incidents; every 16 minutes of every day the police dealt with an incident (2022/23).

Take a second to reread those stats. 18 lives lost. A domestic abuse incident every 16 minutes. In Northern Ireland alone. 

We must do more to raise awareness and ensure as society we protect and support victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

Women’s Aid has been calling for better laws to protect victims of domestic abuse and hold perpetrators of violence and abuse to account. We were lagging the rest of the UK when it came to legislative protections. Thankfully, during the last three years Northern Ireland has seen some major legislative progress to better protect victims of domestic and sexual abuse including:

We know from Domestic Homicide Reviews and the research of Professor Jane Monckton-Smith on the 'Eight Stages of Domestic Homicide' that coercive and controlling behaviours combined with stalking and non-fatal strangulation can be key high-risk indicators that can lead to homicide. Domestic Homicides Review have been introduced to Northern Ireland, with two reports been published with others due to be published soon.

It's important that the agencies involved with victims and perpetrators such as health professionals, housing professionals, social services, police, probation services, schools and support charities take on board the lessons learned, better multi-agency working, greater understanding of domestic abuse, better training for agencies and ensure professional curiosity is common practice.

If, as a society, we are serious about tackling domestic abuse and gender-based violence we much invest and support agencies to enable them to fully implement and support legislation, better recognise the signs of domestic and sexual abuse, better support victims and we must do more to hold perpetrators of violence to account. We need commitment and funding to make this possible.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning Executive since February 2022, placing public services under enormous financial pressures, with civil servants implementing reductions across the board. Cuts to Department of Justice budgets are squeezing the police service budget and the Probation Board NI budget. The Department of Education and the Department of Communities are also feeling the pressure, which inevitably then leads to cuts in the voluntary and community sector.

Women’s Aid Federation NI, along with several other charities such as Disability Action, have had their core Department of Health funding cut. As part of the 16 Days of Action campaign we have been highlighting the impact of our work directly on people’s lives and why this funding is vital. Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid headline figures for the financial year 2022/2 include:

  • 518 women and 342 children stayed in our refuges
  • 7,543 women were supported throughout floating support/outreach services
  • Seven babies were born to women in refuge
  • We received 10,377 referrals for services.

The legislative changes pushed through in a politically challenging environment have made a huge difference to the people we support. Importantly, these changes send a significant message that domestic abuse will no longer be dismissed and will not go unpunished. We know that partnership is working and a whole system approach to spotting and supporting domestic abuse makes a huge difference. However, there is still much more to be done to support victims and survivors but working together we can, and will, make a difference.

Written by Kelly Andrews

Kelly is the chief executive at Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid and a CIH Northern Ireland board member.