'Why isn’t this a headline issue?' – Women's Aid call for domestic violence to become election priority

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Women’s Aid has said domestic violence should be a “headline issue” in the general election and predicted it will receive around 700 calls to its helpline between now and polling day in 16 days’ time.

The charity said the 44 calls it receives, on average, each day is only the “tip of the iceberg” of the level of abuse in the country and called on political parties to make it an election priority.

“It is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of women and children across Ireland,” said Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson.

“However, it is not seen as a priority issue for the majority of candidates, political parties and media commentators during election time. Why isn’t this a headline issue? Are we so blind or immune to the suffering behind closed doors?”

Launching its election manifesto outside Leinster House, Ms Benson cited garda figures on domestic violence, which were revealed by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last month.

“Domestic violence is a serious public safety issue,” she said. “Recent figures from An Garda Síochána suggests that they receive between 500 – 600 calls a week. That is a staggering 30,000 calls a year.

“Our own 24hr National Freephone Helpline and other support services responded to over 19,000 contacts in 2018. Yet, we know these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.”

She said its manifesto, Transform and Support, highlights urgent issues that it said need to be addressed by the parties.

    These include:

  • *Reform and resource the family law system across the country;
  • *Increase funding for specialist services, including more refuges;
  • *Enact legislation on cyber-stalking and image-based sexual abuse, including a Digital Safety Commissioner;
  • *Introduce statutory paid leave for domestic violence victims;
  • *Establish a domestic homicide review tribunal

Ms Benson said much had been done in the last number of years to address violence against women, including the Domestic Violence Act 2018 and the ratification of the Istanbul treaty.

“However, more needs to be done to increase protection for women and children vulnerable to abuse,” she said. “Promised laws to tackle online abuse and stalking have not materialised. The family law system is buckling in the face of huge demand and the facilities are well below standard.”

The manifesto said the necessary funding for the long-awaited new family law complex near Dublin’s Four Courts needs to be provided as a “matter of urgency”.

Women’s Aid said a regional network of specialist family law courts is also needed, with such cases often heard alongside criminal cases.

It said Safe Ireland figures show that refuges were unable to accommodate 3,256 requests from women in 2018.

*Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900`.

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