GENDER violence is one of the most pressing social problems of our time. Encompassing sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, violence against women and girls is endemic worldwide.
Men and boys also experience gender-based violence, albeit to a lesser extent.
Prevention measures are vital, yet there is also an urgent need to provide services to survivors of violence.
The demand is huge and growing, a result of both high levels of violence and increased awareness. In 2015, 9,172 women and 3,383 children received support from a domestic violence service, and, in 2014, 18,926 calls were made to Rape Crisis Centre helplines, while 1,913 people participated in counselling and support.
These people represent a minority of survivors: Most people who experience gender-based violence do not report it. Widespread availability of support services would reduce not only untold suffering for survivors, but also for their children.
Furthermore, as highlighted by a recent study on domestic abuse in Vietnam, funding now would prevent an even greater economic cost to the state in the future.
Therefore, in addition to the moral and social imperatives, the financing of intervention makes sound economic sense.
The State is committed to addressing gender-based violence, in accordance with international frameworks. The 2017 Domestic Violence Bill contributes towards Ireland’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
However, to meet the commitments made, resources are required. The 2015 EU Victims’ Directive mandates the State to provide free-of-charge support for survivors of violence.
The full budgetary allocation for gender-based violence services over recent years is not readily available: Snippets from various sources must be pieced together; phrases such as ‘in the region of’ are commonplace among State agency documents; and the few figures recorded publicly are not adequately disaggregated by type of service or intervention.
The support is grossly inadequate. With only 21 refuges in the entire country, Ireland provides a mere 31% of the minimum recommended in the Istanbul Convention.
In 2015 alone, 4,796 requests for refuge could not be met, due to the lack of space.
In fact, nine counties are without a specialist domestic violence refuge, while 10 counties lack a specialist sexual violence service.
The mounting pressure on existing services has not been matched by an increase in funding. This is despite a 12% increase in the number of people accessing rape crisis counselling and support between 2010 and 2011.
Rape Crisis Centres have experienced funding cuts of up to 30% since 2008. Domestic violence services have experienced similar funding cuts (up to 38% since 2008), while the number of women accessing their support services increased by 26% between 2009 and 2014.
Though Tusla received an increase of €1.5m for gender-based violence services for 2017, funding that was removed from local and national sexual and domestic violence frontline organisations since 2008 has yet to be restored.
Specialist NGO services have been at the forefront of the Irish response to gender-based violence since the early 1970s.
They have always been under-resourced, so to honour survivors and the international frameworks ratified, the State will need to significantly increase its funding to this sector.
Although government spending on health increased by €1bn between 2016 and 2017, gender-based violence services, which provide invaluable support at excellent value for money, continue to be underfunded.
The 2017 State budget for addressing gender-based violence is a mere €22.1m: Safe Ireland is advocating an increase of €30m across State and non-State services in order to help reform this inadequate response.
Within the current context of tight fiscal resources, a clear picture of the costs of violence within the economy, and its potential impact on economic growth, is crucial to input into plans for recovery.
The Centre for Global Women’s Studies at NUI Galway is conducting research, in collaboration with Safe Ireland and the Community Foundation of Ireland, on the costs of domestic violence in Ireland.
The research team has submitted a proposal to the Department of Justice and Equality, requesting funding for the second phase of the study, which would involve a fuller macro estimate of costs.
Numerous cultural differences between Ireland and the UK (including availability of services) make the department’s current costing approach (extrapolation from UK costs) wholly inadequate.
In spite of a commitment from the current government, it is clear that Ireland has neither adequate resources, nor adequate data, to fully understand or address gender-based violence.
The most recent national study in Ireland was the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report; practitioners have been calling for a follow-up for many years.
While a 2014 European multi-country survey provides some insights into the current prevalence of violence against women in Ireland, it offers only a broad overview and does not include statistics on men.
The data is not disaggregated by ethnicity, so it masks the specific challenges faced by marginalised groups, such as Travellers, in seeking help and in disclosing abuse. Marginalised groups require extra resources and support. Also, the paucity of administrative data within the criminal justice and healthcare sectors in relation to gender-based violence needs to be fully addressed.
Gender-based violence has a profound impact on individuals and society. It is not possible to provide adequate services unless the problem is better understood.
It is incumbent on the State to fund new research on its prevalence, in addition to its social and economic costs, thus enabling investment in intervention to be placed in the context of the improvement these services will make to our society and economy.
Life-saving specialist services, such as women’s shelters and rape crisis centres, must be adequately funded and made widely available.
Forcing a survivor to be placed on a waiting list, or to travel a long distance to access a specialist service, is inhumane and often unfeasible, due to the cost and time away from work/home.
Given the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in Ireland, and the importance of seeking safety and support to facilitate the recovery process, this is untenable.
The Government has to facilitate all survivors who need help, not just the minority.
Their commitment to addressing gender-based violence must be matched by fiscal transparency, so that they can be held to account. After all, commitments are only as good as the actions that follow.