Experts call for greater supports for victims of crime and domestic abuse

Psychological control within relationships is set to become a crime

Domestic violence victims could soon be allowed to give evidence behind screens or via video-link.

The newly enacted Criminal Justice Victims of Crime Act aims to make it easier for all victims to report crimes and see them through to prosecution.

This afternoon, a conference in Dublin heard that around one-in-five women experience some form violence, however the majority are reluctant to report it.

European statistics indicate that as few as 2% and 10% of rapes are reported.

The conference, organised by the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women, heard of the need to establish a ‘gold standard’ prosecution process that supports survivors and holds perpetrators to account – while also respecting the rights of the accused.

Speakers called for additional measures to support victims and encourage them to come forward in the first place and urged the Government to make increased resources available to Gardaí and the front-line services dealing with people in crisis.

Maria McDonald, barrister and co-founder of the Victims' Rights Alliance, said the Victims of Crime Act is a great first step:

“For the first time victims have been defined in Irish law,” she said. “Previously, there was no definition.”

“They have basic rights to information on first contact with the guards – regardless of whether somebody makes a formal complaint.

“They have a basic right to support services free-of-charge before during and after the criminal justice system – again regardless of whether somebody actually makes a formal complaint or decides to go and proceed to prosecute.”

She said it is time to appoint a victim’s ombudsman to help with the process of reporting and prosecuting and to ensure that victim’s rights are fully protected.

“It is all very well if you are entitled to rights but if you can’t access them it is no use,” she said.

“These victims have already been through the courts process – they don’t want to go back to the court to try and enforce their rights again.

“But if we had a victims of crime ombudsman that can deal with complaints in a clear, quick manner; those victims can access their rights.

“They will also know that if they come forward and there is an issue; they know their rights are being protected.”

Meanwhile, a support service for male victims of domestic abuse saw a 35% increase in contacts last year.

Amen marked its 20th anniversary with an event in Dublin City University (DCU) on Wednesday.

The service received 5,550 contacts in 2016 - a 35% increase on the previous year.

The Victims of Crime Act is due to be followed up with the Istanbul Convention which deals with supports and compensation and the Domestic Violence Bill which deals with includes an offence of coercive control such as mental or financial abuse.

Advocates at the conference urged the government to sign the bill into law as soon as possible, to encourage more victims of domestic violence to come forward.

Emma Murphy is a survivor of domestic violence and says it is vital coercive control is recognised:

“I am hoping it will encourage more women to come forward around these topics because with coercive control, it is something that is mentally challenging lifelong,” she said.

“It is not just something that you can get over.

“It is not a bruise that is going to heal in three to four weeks. It is a mental scar that is going to last a lifetime.”

Anyone who has experienced abuse can contact Women’s Aid on Freephone 1800 341 900.

Reporting from Nicole Gernon at the Women Seeking Justice Conference in Dublin ...