Concern over limited remit of domestic violence agency

Rape victims and women forced in to trafficking, prostitution and pornography will not be protected by a new government body, it was claimed today.

Rape victims and women forced in to trafficking, prostitution and pornography will not be protected by a new government body, it was claimed today.

An office to tackle domestic violence across Ireland came under fire by groups supporting victims of sexual assault.

Violence Against Women (VAW) rejected the recently announced office Cosc: The Irish Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, amid concerns it had major shortcomings.

It accused the office, set up by the Department of Justice, of failing to deal with the issues of rape, sexual assault, trafficking, prostitution and pornography in its remit.

More than 10 non-governmental organisations, including the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Rape Crisis Network, Ruhama, Amnesty and Women’s Aid demanded a postponement of any further development of the Cosc office.

An urgent meeting of the National Steering Committee on Violence Against Women was also called for to review the name, remit and the role of any proposed office integrating work on Violence Against Women.

In an open letter to Frank Fahey, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, VAW said the office is limited to prevention of domestic violence, sidelining the critical role of the Department in protecting and criminalising all forms of violence against women.

Members claim Cosc also fails to hold perpetrators accountable to the criminal justice system, to identify rape, sexual assault, trafficking, prostitution and pornography as violations; excludes NGO involvement and expertise, and emphasises awareness-raising, which international practice has demonstrated to be totally ineffectual unless backed up by strong enforcement (as with drink-driving).

Figures released yesterday by Dublin Rape Crisis Centre revealed its 24 hour helpline dealt with 15,781 calls last year.

Chief executive Ellen O’Malley said the centre supported an office, but it had to be extended.

“The title implies the only kind of violence is domestic violence and it does not deal with the whole area of violence against woman,” she said.

“Even though Minister Fahey would say the wider remit of the office deals with rape and sexual assault, we are very concerned with the whole limiting nature of this office.

“It doesn’t respond to what is needed, nor does it respond to what has been worked with on the national steering committee.”

Margaret Martin, of Women’s Aid, said there was a link between domestic violence and sexual violence, with many women who were married or in relationships falling victim to rape and sexual abuse, while others are forced into pornography or prostitution.

“Prevention is a long term strategy, but we are an organisation dealing with women in crisis who need protection,” she said.

“It is known from international experience that it is important that all the different organisations work together and it is important that its focus is kept on provision of services.”

Geraldine Rowley, of Ruhama, which aids victims of trafficking and prostitution, also said it was disappointing that the office excluded to cover sexual violence.

“All the groups who have signed up to this have different remits of violence against women, but we are coming together to ask the minister to expand and extend the remit of his office to cover every sector of violence against women,” she added.

Cosc – Irish for stop/prevention – was announced last month to provide better co-ordination and leadership for the widely diverse domestic violence and violence against women sector.

Violence in the home against men and children are also included within the remit of the new office, which will be headed by a senior civil servant from the Justice Department with its staff draw from the Garda Siochana, the Courts Service, the Probation Service, the Health Service Executive, the departments of Health and Environment and local authorities.

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