Labour calls for task force to tackle sexual violence

A GOVERNMENT-appointed task force is needed to tackle the growing levels of sexual and domestic violence, the Labour Party said last night.

The party's spokesperson on justice, Joe Costello, has asked the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice to meet with the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland to discuss the crisis in funding.

Mr Costello said a ministerial portfolio to deal single-handedly with the issues of rape and sexual violence must be established. The funding for Rape Crisis Centres is currently under the remit of six Government departments. "A minister with a specific brief for sexual violence under either health or justice should be established or else a task force with specific functions to co-ordinate services and to make sure funding for those services is there.

"It's something that's worth looking at. We have a minister of state with responsibility for children and drugs, but there are other criminal issues that need to be dealt with," he said.

Given the rise in sexual crimes reported in 2004, Mr Costello said services and back-up services need support to ensure victims are treated sympathetically and assisted through the system.

Provisional figures released recently by the Garda Síochána show rape and sexual crimes experienced the highest percentage increases in 2004. A total of 447 rapes and Section 4 rapes were reported, compared with 370 in 2003. While sexual assaults dropped from 1,449 to 1,046, aggravated sexual assault rose from 11 to 14.

"The minister says headline crime is down overall, but in most categories of sex offences there's a very considerable increase," said Mr Costello. "I think there are areas we could look at it does take political will."

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland has called for a funding framework on violence against women by 2006 and a 7m funding increase for frontline services.

The group, which met Junior Justice Minister Frank Fahy last night ahead of a meeting with Finance Minister Brian Cowen next week, has criticised the Department of Health's lack of commitment to the issue of sexual violence.

"The SAVI report tells us that 42% of women and 28% of men are affected by sexual violence. To put it frankly, because of insufficient services, insufficient awareness and insufficient justice every minister in Ireland is failing," said Fiona Neary, executive director of the RCNI.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Mary Harney denied that a funding crisis was being experienced by frontline service providers. "There is no 'funding crisis' in this area nor has the issue slipped from the national political agenda."

The funding for services had "increased substantially" to €12m over the last three years, said the spokesperson, and was now the responsibility of the newly formed Health Services Executive.

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