Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence: A commentary on The Department of Justice Audit Report (14/07/21)

domestic sexual and gender based violence

Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence: An Audit of Structures

The Department of Justice, in consultation with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth published this Audit Report on the 14th July 2021.

The report sets out findings and recommendations arising from a review of the effectiveness of the current structures in place to oversee policy and its implementation in the area of Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Ireland.

One major issue the Audit identifies is the fragmentation across and within structures that deal with Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence. In this context fragmentation is taken to include lack of coordination and progress in implementation, misalignment of policy objectives, practices and resources, and disconnections between functions, services, and people.

The Audit concludes that there is evidence of distrust, disrespect, othering and blaming among organisations. These behaviours manifest where insufficient attention is paid to building trust and relationships in structures and in this case may also involve the dysfunctional mirroring of the dynamics of DSGBV.

The Audit identifies a clear need to change the way in which governments respond to DSGBV. However, it states that putting in place a new structure, changing a policy or the location of policy or services will not address the range of weaknesses identified. It identifies that solutions to these, can only be found in a different model of cross government and cross agency working, which must be designed and developed with stakeholders to ensure that all have a real and shared stake in its success.

Finally, the Audit concludes that to be effective, cross agency working and coordination must be well led, and based on trust, respect, understanding (of different perspectives), clarity about roles and responsibilities and programmes of agreed actions. Furthermore it states that insufficient investment has been made in building this culture in DSGBV structures, and good communications which is its foundation, has been particularly weak.

With a view to addressing the issues identified and conclusons drawn therefrom, the audit recommends that policy leadership for DSGBV be placed clearly with the Department of Justice. The Audit suggests that this would address any confusion of responsibility, bring all relevant policy elements under one Department, provide a lead and accountable body for the totality of DSGBV policies and interventions, and a strong basis for compliance with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention.

To reduce fragmentation between policy, funding and services, it recommends that responsibility for the funding and commissioning of all DSGBV services should also be with the Department of Justice, together with responsibility for service development plans and other measures discussed in the report. In this context it says that DSGBV services are; Refuges, Rape Crisis Centres and Helplines and any ancillary activities undertaken by the organisations providing them.

It further recommends the that needs of victims of DSGBV cannot be met by specialist services alone and a range of other community based services, provided by public and NGO bodies, must also be enabled to respond appropriately to their needs, as part of an overall framework of services. It therefore recommends that DSGBV should be a specific theme within existing local structures and networks and that it be incorporated into the pilot Community Safety Partnerships for review following the pilot phase.

The Audit identifies that an Advisory Committee of senior officials, experts and service providers should be set up to enhance and support the work of stakeholders. It says that officials should include participants from the Departments of Justice, Children/Tusla, Social Protection, Housing, Education, DPER. It states that similar structures are in place in the Departments of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Foreign Affairs to support their Children and Young Persons and Women Peace and Security strategies.

The Audit recommends that a special Ministerial Committee and/or Cabinet Committee be established as a functioning body, to oversee the implementation of the next strategy, ensure that all elements of the State apparatus contribute to its achievement and to intervene if progress gets “stuck” for any reason.

While it is clear that serious fault lines and fractures exist between services to protect against Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence, the Audit identifies a wealth of experience, talent and commitment among the people involved in this sector and an appetite for joint working and coordination. It must be acknowledged, that only with an enhanced effort by all stakeholders to build a sustainable architecture and configuration of services, which can be applied with a more cohesive and integrated approach, that we can as a society, competently protect the most vulnerable against Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

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