Wednesday, 29 November 2006
Domestic Violence: Statements
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to inform the Seanad of progress on this important and serious issue. Domestic violence is too often a hidden crime in our society and we must never lose sight of the fact that it is a crime. Society must treat it as such and must punish offenders most severely. We must create a culture where every man, woman and child enjoys the right to live in peace and harmony in his or her home.
The excellent report published by the National Crime Council last year showed that 15% of women, or some one in seven, and 6% of men, or approximately one in 16, have experienced severely abusive behaviour of a physical, sexual or emotional nature from a partner at some time in their lives. The council noted that while the risk to women as victims is higher, domestic abuse also affects a significant number of men. The survey suggests that in the region of 213,000 women and 88,000 men in Ireland were severely abused by a partner at some point in their lives.
Accordingly, while the focus tends to be on violence against women, we also must ensure that supports are available to men who are victims. We must create a culture where both male and female victims of violence can seek support and redress through the legal system and other support services without experiencing embarrassment and shame.
Much has been achieved since the 1997 Task Force Report on Violence against Women was published as a blueprint, recommending new structures and comprehensive services to bring perpetrators to justice and to support victims. I chair the national steering committee on violence against women, which brings together all the Departments, State bodies and non-governmental organisations which work with victims of violence. As a committee, we work proactively to implement the recommendations of the task force report. I cannot go further without paying tribute to all those in both the voluntary and State sectors who continue to work selflessly with victims of domestic violence.
The Government's key aims in regard to domestic violence are threefold. Our objective is to bring perpetrators to justice; help victims, who are most frequently women, to come forward to seek help and redress, and to provide them with the support they and their families need; and stamp out this dreadful crime by creating awareness among people of all ages, and by changing the culture of anger and violence that can infiltrate intimate partner relationships.
The Department of Health and Children, through the Health Service Executive, makes available some €12 million annually to support services and developments to help combat and respond to domestic violence and sexual assault. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government makes capital and current funding available to voluntary housing bodies and local authorities, respectively, for accommodation for homeless persons, which may include persons who are victims of domestic violence. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, together with the Garda and the Courts Service, play a major role in the responses to domestic violence of the civil and criminal justice systems.
It is important that perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice. It is a difficult crime to deal with, however, because there may be barriers of influence, authority, shame and even affection between the perpetrator and victim, which can militate against reporting and prosecution of the offence. Tackling these barriers is crucial and the Garda Síochána is working to ensure that domestic violence is dealt with as a serious criminal matter. A domestic violence and sexual assault unit was established as a national facility in 1997.
The Garda has a written policy on domestic violence intervention which is arrest oriented and recognises the vulnerable circumstances in which victims find themselves. Any evidence of fear or harassment is brought to the attention of the court in the event of a bail application. This domestic violence policy is an integral part of Garda training and is reinforced continuously. All the feedback on its policy is positive. Nonetheless, the Garda has undertaken a review of its policy with a view to modernising and honing its procedures further.
A strong legal framework for tackling domestic violence is also essential. Under the code of criminal law, there is a range of sanctions the courts can apply in situations involving violence against women. Civil law also provides a range of orders to protect victims from abuse. Contravention of an order under the Acts is an offence and subject to sanctions under the criminal law. Under the Acts, the Garda has powers of arrest without warrant to deal with cases of domestic violence.
Statistics from the Courts Service for 2005 show that 1,037 safety orders, 2,622 protection orders, 550 interim barring orders and 1,265 barring orders were granted last year. The statistics also show that 115 safety orders, 71 protection orders, 34 interim barring orders and 100 barring orders were refused in that year. In addition, 1,714 safety orders, 157 protection orders, 38 interim barring orders and 1,818 barring orders were withdrawn or struck out in 2005.
Although there has been progress, the level of reporting of incidents of domestic violence remains low. The National Crime Council report found that a little less than one quarter of all people surveyed who had experienced severe domestic abuse reported that abuse to the Garda. The reasons for non-reporting are complex, including a belief that the abuse was not serious enough, that it was the victim's fault in some way or that to report it could end the relationship.
This highlights the complexity of the issue and the need to build up the confidence of victims and their awareness of the supports open to them. This is being done in several ways, including the provision of support to victims as they proceed through the legal channels and working with the perpetrators of violence to make them understand the gravity of their violent crimes and to enable them to change their behaviour towards the partner.
The Commission for Support of Victims of Crime within my Department provides funding to Women's Aid and to the rape crisis centres to assist with running court accompaniment services which assist the victims. My Department also funds several perpetrator programmes which are designed to promote changes in personal behaviour and to prevent future abuse. This type of work both here and internationally is relatively new and is far from straightforward. In some instances, however, and with the right safeguards, it has a role to play in tackling domestic violence. We have undertaken a review of the existing programmes, and recommendations are being considered that will guide our policy decisions.
We also funded a pilot domestic violence intervention exercise in the Dún Laoghaire and Bray areas which aimed to work with all the agencies in the locality, including the Garda, Courts Service, and the probation and welfare service to make the criminal justice and other response systems work together better. This project was the subject of an external independent evaluation, and some outstanding tasks are being completed prior to a full consideration of its efficacy.
The 1997 task force also recommended awareness raising programmes to make victims aware of the services that are open to them and to encourage them to take the difficult step of seeking help in dealing with their violent partner. As I mentioned last week in regard to the launch of the latest awareness raising campaign, it is time for everyone to acknowledge that domestic violence is often a hidden crime whose victims may feel ashamed and embarrassed despite their innocence. These victims need the support of friends and family as they address their difficult circumstances.
We must raise awareness of the need to change our culture, in which violence is all too often seen as the choice method of addressing a problem. This requires us to start awareness raising with our youngest children and to inculcate the respect of human rights as a primary goal of our culture. The current national media campaign ties in with the UN's 16 Days campaign and has the key message "Domestic Violence — End the Silence", stressing that free and confidential help and support are just a telephone call away.
This debate is timely. Last year the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform commissioned a study to review the work of the national steering committee on violence against women and the implementation of the 1997 task force report. It was also to develop a new strategic action plan for the committee. The final report from the consultants was recently received in the Department and is under consideration prior to its submission to the national steering committee. Today's debate will further inform our thinking.
The issue of the difficulties faced by various sexual assault treatment units has been raised. Action is being taken following the review commissioned last year. Two new sexual assault treatment units will be established in Galway and the midlands. I have asked the Department of Health and Children to re-examine funding for the Kerry unit which closed down. I have been assured by the HSE that the recent issues in the Rotunda Hospital are not a matter of finance but of a small cohort of doctors trying to cover an out-of-hours rota. The recent delays in sexual assault treatment in the Rotunda, which are unacceptable, have been caused by a shortage of doctors during out-of-hours and weekends. Every effort is being made by the HSE to address this and to ensure adequate staff are in place to provide a service on a 24-hour, seven-day a week basis.
The main problem identified by the review was the shortage of trained staff for this vitally important service to victims of sexual assault. Consequently, more forensic nurses will be trained and will be attached to acute hospitals. This will provide a much better staffing set-up. Extra resources are required and have been provided in the Estimates. The HSE will roll out extra services in the next month.
I accept that in the past several years the amount of money provided to voluntary organisations, such as the Rape Crisis Centre and Women's Aid, by the Department of Health and Children was inadequate. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, is most anxious to address this issue. She has assured me, and the various organisations, that adequate funding is provided in the Estimates for the various organisations to ensure they can continue their work effectively.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss this important issue. Many Members call for debates on domestic violence to highlight the ongoing difficulties that many people face. It is a problem that is not going away, unfortunately, but continues to grow. We have not been able to arrest this growth. While the Minister of State outlined the difficulties in dealing with the problem, I am concerned it is out of hand.
I am referring to domestic violence in an inclusive context and am not discriminating against men. It can affect anyone. A man, a woman or a child can be a victim of domestic violence. While I am not speaking solely about women and domestic violence, I must point out that women tend to suffer more in domestic violence. Recently, the House debated the concerning rise in the number of murders of women in the State. In the past ten years, 125 women have been murdered, some 50% in their own homes by a partner or former partner. We do not see the same level of murder — thankfully — of men at the hands of women. Murder is the extreme end of the domestic violence spectrum. If we do not tackle the issue, several years from now that number will have grown.
What is the cause of the increase in domestic violence incidents? Is it problems with society? Are people under greater stress, either from the work-life balance or financial pressures? Why are many more relationships becoming more violent? More money needs to be spent on education and awareness campaigns. While I welcome the current awareness campaign, it needs to be the fore. It should be part of a school programme. While children need to be made aware that violence of any type is unacceptable, they must be taught that violence between family members is a particularly serious crime. Children need to be taught how to resolve crises when they occur in families. Many do not have the skills to solve problems when they arise which then develop into violent situations.
The National Crime Council recently published figures on the extent and impact of domestic abuse against women and men in intimate partner relationships. Up to 15% of women and 6% of men suffer severe domestic abuse; 29% of women and 26% of men suffer domestic abuse when severe and minor abuse are combined; 13% of women and 13% of men suffer physical abuse. The report also shows that 29% of women, one in three, and only 5% of men, one in 20, report to the Garda. The figures are startling, particularly those for reporting to the Garda.
The Minister of State outlined why many people are afraid to report the abuse but they must be encouraged to do so. Where abuse goes unreported it may continue and get worse. People must be informed as to how best to deal with the problem, by reporting to the Garda and going to the organisations which will attempt to help them if they receive adequate funding. I welcome the promised increase which hopefully will come to the organisations.
People need support and further support is necessary when they go to court. Studies show that people must wait for unacceptable periods before their cases are heard, be it to get a barring order or whatever. The delays are unacceptable because these are vulnerable people. I urge the Minister of State to do anything he can to ensure that resources are provided to enable the courts to respond quickly to those who need help. The Minister of State mentioned the number of cases that went to court. That costs time and money. It would be better to give people the skills and the education to resolve their problems without having to go to court, and to continue to live together and keep the family unit together. That requires resources for the organisations.
Domestic violence has a serious impact on children who witness it. They may become withdrawn and depressed and will not perform well in school. The experience stays with them into their adult life and research has shown that children who have experienced or witnessed abuse may well become abusers. They are incomplete and damaged people. It is a serious problem and much more could be done at an early stage to intervene and give people the skills to work out their differences.
While legislation and policies have focused on violence against women, which is a significant issue, the Department of Health and Children should conduct a study on the impact of domestic violence on men to create a more equal approach. When we discuss domestic violence we should not confine it to women but should regard it as all-inclusive. I would like to hear the Minister of State's comments on that point. I do not want anybody to suggest that I am trying to devalue work on violence against women because I am calling for more work and funding in that area, but I want to see more recognition of the fact that domestic violence affects men, women and children.
I welcome what the Minister of State said about the sexual assault treatment units but we need more centres around the country, even when the two or three new ones come on stream. Women should not have to travel a great distance if they have been raped. Obstacles such as distance or waiting overnight or longer for a doctor's examination inhibit people from reporting the crime. We need to examine this problem and see what can be done to ensure that the services are in place. It is totally unacceptable, for example, that the people with the necessary medical and forensic skills were not available recently in the Rotunda Hospital. I hope that sufficient numbers of these people will be trained to provide this service around the country.
I welcome the fact that we have had the opportunity to debate this issue on which much more could be said. I also welcome the Minister of State's commitment to increase funding to organisations such as Women's Aid. I hope he will also recognise organisations that help men in this difficult situation when allocating funding this year.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I thank Senator O'Rourke, who has kindly given us time on several occasions — this may be the second or third — to speak on this issue about which she and we care deeply. It is a burning issue that neither receives enough attention nor is sufficiently addressed. It is important each time we debate the issue to look back on the previous debate and ask ourselves whether we have made any progress. If we have it has been extremely slow and we need to deal with that. I was glad to hear the Minister of State make that point.
We should pay tribute to all the fine non-governmental, voluntary agencies that work at the coalface of this issue. It is most unfortunate for a family or individual to experience domestic violence. These organisations give people in this situation unquantifiable strength. Many of the agencies have been particularly associated with the protection of women but we now know that it is a problem for men too, and that agencies such as Amen and Men Overcoming Violence, MOVE, do great work for them.
Most of these organisations work in a vacuum because there are no resources for them to put in place proper structures about which people know and with which they can work. They respond to basic needs, in a fire brigade action. An organisation cannot be structured if it does not know from where its next few euro are coming. That is something with which we must deal. In examining some of the statistics we received, I discovered one agency revealed it was able to answer only 60% of calls made to it. It is unable to answer two calls in five. I welcome the media campaign to which the Minister referred. It is an excellent idea. As he stated, the reporting of incidents of domestic violence is low. In part, this may be due to frustration. Apart from the people who do not report this crime for one reason or another, others may get tired of trying to get through to a helpline and eventually give up. Part of the problem is that people suffer in silence.
Those of us who have never experienced domestic violence cannot imagine how horrible and lonely it must be for people who are suffering. Despite all the pain and anguish they endure, people still find it extremely difficult to leave a violent relationship. It is difficult to understand this type of situation. Research tells us people are often in as much, if not more, danger when they leave a violent relationship. It is imperative that when a person makes the heart-wrenching decision to leave a violent relationship, that he or she would do so in the knowledge that the State can look after people in such circumstances. That is not the case at present and this may be one reason for the low rate of reporting domestic violence. We must ensure the necessary resources are in place to address this issue.
I can only imagine what it must be like for a woman, for example, to leave her home with her children with only the clothes on her back. It must be the most soul-destroying emotional and physical process a person could ever go through. In addition, such a person has to give up his or her home and all the dreams he or she had when starting out in the relationship. People in these circumstances are worried about their future and that of their children. Such people may be coping alone for at least some of that time. In some cases there is no wider family circle to provide support. In addition, there is always the fear of reprisal from the spouse who has been exposed.
Refuge centres play a big part in dealing with this issue. More than 20% of homeless households cite domestic violence as the reason for their need to be housed. Of those, we are told 90% of households seeking assistance are headed by a woman. These unfortunate facts demand attention. In spite of the excellent care and respite offered by refuge centres, for the sake of all concerned, they can be only a short-term solution. We hear people are being turned away from refuge centres in many parts of the country due to a lack of space. That may not be the case in Dublin but places there are not of much benefit to a person in need in the west or any other part of the county.
It is important that alternative accommodation is provided as soon as possible because it is impossible to order one's life from a refuge centre. No child wants to go to school from a refuge centre. By their nature, children can be unintentionally cruel and the playground can be a difficult place for children coming from a refuge centre. This kind of stigmatisation can have a deep and lasting effect. Children in such circumstances need counselling to help them address the difficulties they have encountered which can be damaging to their self esteem.
I recall trying to deal with the provision of housing for victims of domestic violence when I was a member of Dublin City Council. Overall, we did a poor job. We probably accommodated only one third of the requests we received. At the time 80% of the women who were interviewed gave the lack of alternative housing as a reason for remaining in a bad relationship. They were not confident that if they left their violent spouses they would find alternative accommodation. From my experience at the time in Dublin City Council their position was valid in that we were unable to provide those people with alternative accommodation.
It is difficult to understand why this horrible crime gets such poor media coverage. In contrast, incidents of sexual assault and rape are frequently splashed across newspapers. Unfortunately, domestic violence is a crime that occurs behind closed doors. In some cases these crimes do not come to attention while in others they are not reported. Where it is known, it is important that such crimes are reported. Domestic violence should be seen for the cowardly act it is.
As children, we all felt our homes were places of security and love. That dream is smashed when a child witnesses his or her parents arguing and fighting and the impact of that must be extremely distressing. In 80% of cases it is believed children either witness domestic violence or are in an adjacent room and hear what is going on. We cannot comprehend what impact that has on children. People working at the coalface of this problem are no doubt aware of the effect it has on children.
I read a publication called, Making an Impact, which discussed the impact of domestic violence on children. Senator Terry alluded to this issue. Children become withdrawn, secretive, silent and bitter. In many instances, they blame themselves for the difficulties. They face difficulties in school and have emotional problems. They are confused about what they witnessed taking place between their parents. They suffer sleep disturbance and have trouble eating. They inflict self-harm and are affected by sickness and depression. That is a dreadful legacy for a child to contend with when starting out in life. Most of us who grew up in happy homes found it difficult to get where we are without having to contend with such problems. We must ensure educational awareness programmes highlight the forms this horrible crime can take.
In the main, discussion of domestic violence is confined to the suffering of women but other speakers have stated this is no longer the case. Men also suffer domestic violence and this is now recognised. In acknowledging that, we must take into account the plight of both men and women in dealing with this matter.
Senator Terry stated that 125 women had been murdered in the past ten years. Eighty of these were murdered in their homes. One would like to think they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but if being in one's home means being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it is a sad reflection on our society. I am aware the organisations have made budgetary submissions to the Minister for 2006-07. I hope that we on the Government side take on board the necessary requirements to get us to the point where women, men and children can look to us as a nation for some help and assistance when they find themselves in this type of difficulty.
I welcome what Senator Kett has just said. It is important that the Government listens to the budgetary requirements of groups such as Women's Aid in particular. It is clear that a comparatively small amount of money would make an enormous difference. It is good that this comes from the Government side. This House is united in asking the Government to do this. I welcome that the Minister of State has shown a sensitivity towards the fact that there is also violence against men, some of which is quite serious. Senator Kett said 19 people were murdered. I would be surprised if any of them were men, I think they were all women, so that violence is extreme. It would be a great pity if we got into a competition of victimhood——
——between various organisations. If anybody is battered, then it is a reproach to us all and we must all address it, while accepting that the preponderance of violence perpetrated by men, most of whom are intimately connected, is against women. That said, I very much welcome the commitment of the Minister of State to ensure the needs of men are facilitated.
I refer to the report conducted, I am glad to say, by an academic in my university, Trinity College. The Minister of State described the report as excellent and it indicated that it was inappropriate to address the issue exclusively as one of violence against women. An aspect of the report I found quite astonishing and which must be examined is that 49% of admissions to women's refuges were from the Traveller community which represents 0.6% of the entire population. That is an extraordinary disproportion. We need to find out the how, why, where and when, and what can we do. It is a gross distortion that 49% of admissions were from the Traveller community which represents 0.6% of the population. There is something seriously wrong in the Traveller culture that needs to be studied.
Women's Aid is a marvellous organisation and we are greatly in its debt. The report is of great concern. For example, there is a huge increase in calls, up 30% in 2005 from 19,000 to 25,000. Of greater concern than anything else is that 10,504 were missed calls, a matter to which the Minister of State should pay attention and which he should address urgently. The number of missed calls has increased in the past year from 26% to 40%. A woman or man has to get the courage to make that report and then they are blocked, do not get a reply and the call is missed for one reason only — a lack of adequate resourcing. Let us reflect on that — 10,000 people in distress whose calls are not listened to for this reason. Both the calls and the applications for refuge are increasing rapidly.
The report has an interesting chart showing the types and incidence of abuse involved. Some 57% were emotional abuse, 28% physical abuse and 6% sexual abuse. When one looks at it, emotional abuse sounds vague but it is a way of controlling people. The report states that the tactics of abuse used by perpetrators are deliberate, controlling and unrelenting. The repetitive nature of the abuse has the effect of wearing a woman down gradually, making her doubt herself, putting her in fear and isolating her from supports.
The report moves on to the physical abuse and points out the catalogue of things that are done: struck with golf clubs, thrown against the wall, hit with a hammer, burnt with an iron and shot at. This is astonishing and so much of this takes place within intimate relationships that must have started on a reasonably positive note. Emotional abuse includes being stalked and watched constantly, denied food — this is medieval — and having to ask permission to turn on lights. The mental cruelty involved in this controlling is all a question of power. Sexual abuse includes being forced into prostitution by somebody they had loved, married and lived with, and coerced into re-enacting pornography and rape. This is so degrading. It a question of control and power. The impact of the physical abuse includes foetal abnormality, which means it is passed on to another generation, miscarriage, and serious physical injuries which sometimes lead to attempted suicide. It is not surprising that when broken down, the preponderance of requests concern legal advice from solicitors, court accompaniment, refuge and housing.
Some 67.5%, almost 70%, of attacks are committed by male intimates, 30% by male family, and 8.5% by male other. There is no doubt there is a gender element. There is also abuse of children which follows a similar pattern. Children are even more vulnerable, yet they are beaten with weapons and are the victims of violent physical assault, attempted murder, being thrown across rooms and so on.
Women's Aid sent Members some briefing material which is interesting. It indicates that it has some concern about the shift that appears to be taking place towards including men. What it says needs to be listened to. Of great concern to Women's Aid is the way in which these contentions have been used to attack organisations working to end violence against women and to undermine the valuable work of refuges and frontline services. This must not be done. I did say there should not be a competition of victimhood but neither should reports be used to undermine the very valuable work of groups such as Women's Aid. It has certainly traditionally been regarded as an area that is heavily gender centred.
The recommendations made are practical and, perhaps, the Minister would look at and address them. Parents of the child in common but not residing together should be eligible for protection under the Domestic Violence Act 1996. Often the couples may not live together on a permanent basis. They have, however, a child in common and have access rights and so on. These people are entitled to be protected. It is not just a question of barring orders; it is a question of protecting the physical and emotional well-being of the people.
On a related issue there is the residence requirement for cohabitees applying for a safety order. This should be removed. It is a ridiculous qualification that they have got to be residing together. It is a question of protecting people from physical danger. A property qualification is appropriate for something to do with rates, it is not proper for something to do with physical violence. The residence requirement for cohabitees who have an equal or greater interest in the property should be removed from barring order applications. In the case at present of unmarried couples living together, a barring order may only be sought if the applicant has lived with the respondent for six of the previous nine months and has an equal or greater ownership right to the family home. This is all about property. This is nonsense. We examine the rights of individual human beings rather than this legalistic property requirement. Guidelines should be developed for the criteria for granting orders under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 because it fails to set out any of these criteria. We need to speed up the court process in situations of gross domestic violence in some cases leading to murder. Delay is not just justice denied, it is possibly lethal for the person who has applied.
I thank Senator Norris for sharing time with me. I was astonished to note the recent lack of understanding of domestic violence by a District Court judge. On a Wednesday he told a woman, who withdrew her case for assault within the home, that he had come across a similar case on the Monday, that he was fed up of women crying wolf and that he was going to take action against them in the future. It shows such a lack of understanding of domestic violence. As other speakers have said, those women may have been terrified of what might happen to their children. Some further education is needed in that area.
Senator Norris referred to the over-representation of Traveller women among those who seek help in the refuges. I do not have figures for migrant women who seek help. This is a group that needs to be considered. I am delighted the Leader is in the House because I heard her nephew, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, speak at the Irish association. He said he wished people would talk about a multiethnic society rather than a multicultural society. This point is important because some of our immigrants have different cultures. However bad our culture is, we must recognise that domestic violence is worse in some other cultures. The domestic violence Bill was introduced in India only in recent days after 30 years lobbying for its introduction. Changes have been made in Pakistan in the recent past as they have in eastern Europe, from which we have many migrants. There is more violence in some of those communities than we might be prepared to admit.
Women who come here are frequently isolated by their inability to speak English, by lack of money and by being controlled by the threat that they will be deported from the country if they go to the police. If Women's Aid or any other organisation needs interpreter services, they should be supplied. The courts and accident and emergency units should also have such services. The late Dr. Fiona Bradley carried out a survey some years ago in the casualty department at St. James's Hospital. If a woman presented, whom staff believed might have been beaten up, they ensured she was interviewed separately by a female nurse or female doctor. In approximately one third of cases they found domestic violence had been the cause of the injury. There was often a long delay of up to a week in reporting fractures. If help with interpreting is needed in those cases, it is most important. From patients coming to me for elective procedures, I have frequently met patients who did not speak English and were accompanied by a man claiming to be the husband. Men are more likely to be working in the community and get a better command of English faster than their partners. Health care professionals are at a terrible disadvantage when asking questions through someone else whom they might suspect as being involved in the injuries the woman sustained.
Owing to the issue of isolation, we are not discovering the problems that some women are experiencing. As we know too well, some of these women get diverted into the sex trade. The murder two years ago of a woman involved in the sex trade remains unexplained with no apparent lead. We need to address the isolation of such people, as it is even more difficult for them than it is for Irish people.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, who has been very consistent with his attention and diligence to this aspect of his brief. We received very good documentation from Women's Aid and Amen. I am disappointed a spirit of hostility is apparent in some of the documentation we received from Amen regarding supports and help for Women's Aid. That is not the way it should be. If violence takes place — as happens — perpetrated against both sexes, both should work together. I do not fault Women's Aid in this regard as it has always put across its point of view clearly. I did not like the particular point made by Amen which stated:
There are many obvious reasons why men do not report, including the lack of support services for men. This is a consequence of Government policy. In excess of €15 million per annum is provided by Government for services for female victims, but less than 1% of this amount is provided for male victims.
As a woman, I would not be in a position to discuss violence against either men or women from personal experience. However, I have personal experience of people who have come to me in that regard, and they were always women. I never received an approach from a man upon whom domestic violence had been perpetrated. However, the 2003 National Crime Council survey found that men were the victims of domestic violence and therefore we must accept it. However, I do not like the apparent spirit of rivalry. It is an awful topic and should not be viewed in that respect.
We had a similar debate last year and we have made a feature of it. I thank those who commented on that point. Senators Kett and Terry along with others referred to the difficulty of not being able to answer the telephone. A telephone is a wonderful weapon for people who have been victims of domestic violence. It is relatively anonymous and easy to lift the telephone and tell one's tale. It is very serious that 40% of calls cannot be answered owing to lack of funding. I spoke to the Minister of State after last year's debate and I know he tried to get additional funding for this sector, but it did not materialise. While he was able to provide for other matters, this additional money is desperately needed. People working in the voluntary sector are greatly fuelled by idealism and by a wish to do the right thing and help. However, if that is thwarted by a lack of money, they feel a strong sense of upset and frustration. I hope the Minister of State will be able to address the issue.
The Minister of State also spoke about the need for two more centres, one in Galway — obviously he will look after Galway all right — and one for the midlands.
It pinpointed Galway and the midlands. The midlands is a vast area and I suggest Athlone should be chosen. I ask the Minister of State to revert to me on the matter.
Senator Norris spoke about physical abuse involving being struck by golf clubs, which indicates a particular social stratum in society, thrown against a wall, being hit by a hammer, burnt with an iron — perhaps that was against a man — and shot at. Such events are occurring in homes which were set up as havens against the world by people who were, I presume, together and in love but which have since become places of violence. It is sad and awful that this has been the outcome of a course on which people set out with high hopes.
There is an issue of power at stake here, namely, the power men wish to have over women or, in some instances, that which women want to have over men. I have a difficulty in dealing with the AMEN submission. I believe what is contained in the survey carried out by the National Crime Council. When, however, one considers matters, men are usually bigger, stronger and better able to defend themselves than women. I cannot equate this with people with whom I am familiar who are in situations of this nature and who are finding it difficult to cope.
I suggest that much greater effort be invested in finding and assisting men who are being abused by women. Perhaps men do not report violence against them by women because they feel people would not believe them. Certain men may be of the opinion that their macho image would be demeaned and destroyed if it emerged that they were the subject of violence perpetrated by a member of what they consider to be the lesser sex. I do not know if this is the case, but certainly particular men do not report such violence whereas women do report it. In my view, women who report violence against them are great.
I return to what I said earlier about excellent telephone answering service that is available. Those who offer this service are seeking additional money to fund it. This service offers a blanket of comfort to callers and makes them believe that they can remain anonymous while reporting violence against them until matters are referred to the Garda or other agencies.
I have not yet referred to children. When children witness violence in their homes, they will, when they grow up, perpetuate matters by harbouring feelings of wanting to inflict hurt or visit abuse of one kind or another on their partners.
I welcome this debate and I hope that concerns in respect of this matter will be reflected in an enhanced budget allocation. I also hope that further work will be carried out on the issue of violence against men. I thank the Minister of State for coming before the House and I look forward to seeing what emerges in the budget.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and I thank the Leader for arranging to debate this important matter today in advance of the budget. I also thank Senator Terry who raised this issue on the Order of Business on a number of occasions.
It is good that we are being given the opportunity to discuss domestic violence. Last week, the Minister for Finance came before the House to discuss the Book of Estimates. One of the issues I raised, to which the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, did not reply at the end of the debate, was the paltry increase in funding for those organisations that deal with people who are victims of domestic abuse. I echo the comments of Senators on all sides of the House who referred to the lack of funding with which these organisations must cope. The latter is a real problem.
I also wish to echo the sentiments expressed by previous speakers to the effect that domestic violence, contrary to the myth that has developed, is not an issue which affects only women, it is also affecting a growing number of men. I support calls that the organisations which deal with the male victims of domestic violence should receive commensurate funding from the Departments concerned with the area of such violence. The budget is one week away and the Minister will have some leeway in the interim to make changes in specific areas. I am sure most members would support me in suggesting that the Minister should use that leeway to ensure that funding to the organisations to which I refer will be dramatically increased.
A 2% increase for the area of women's aid was announced in the Book of Estimates. In real terms, this will be a decrease because inflation is moving at a rate much higher than 2%. By the end of the year, it will be much more significant than 2%. I urge the Minister of State to communicate to the Minister for Finance that we are seeking significantly more than the 2% increase announced in the Book of Estimates. We are also seeking that those organisations which deal with male victims of domestic violence should become eligible for State subvention. At present, approximately 99% of the money raised by the organisations that support male victims is gathered through voluntary efforts and fund-raising. This situation should be rectified.
Previous speakers referred to statistics relating to levels of domestic violence. Many of them highlighted the National Crime Council's report from last year, which contained many startling figures. For example, 29% of women and 26% of men stated in response to the survey that they were the victims of domestic abuse. Those two figures are much higher than most people would have anticipated and the fact that there is such a small difference between them indicates that much more domestic violence is perpetrated against men than people previously believed.
I wish to echo the opinions expressed by a number of Senators with regard to the figures in the National Crime Council report relating to Traveller women. I refer here to the fact that it is stated that 49% of the total number of cases of domestic violence against females relate to Traveller women. That figure is hugely disproportionate, particularly when one considers the size of the Traveller community in the context of the overall population. There is a need to educate the Traveller community to the effect that this type of constant abuse cannot be permitted or accepted. The Minister for Finance, when announcing the budget next week, could also provide funding and resources in respect of this matter.
I agree with Senators who welcomed the recent media campaign. Any such campaigns which highlight domestic abuse are welcome. My only reservation in respect of the current campaign is that it reinforces the stereotypical image that domestic violence is perpetrated by abusive husbands. The most recent statistics indicate that situations of domestic violence are often not caused by abusive husbands and that female partners can often be quite abusive. In future media campaigns, perhaps the Government will try to ensure that people are presented with a more balanced picture. The use of children in the advertisements relating to the current campaign, particularly in the context of the time of year, is an extremely effective tool. As already stated, any media campaign in respect of this issue must be welcomed.
Previous speakers referred to the fact that 125 women were murdered in the past ten years and that 80 of them were killed in their homes. That is a startling statistic. Of this number, 47% were murdered by their partner or former partner. That highlights the gravity of this issue.
Carlow Women's Aid and a number of other Women's Aid organisations have organised meetings and rallies. A march will be held next Monday in Carlow town to highlight the number of women murdered in their homes over the past ten years. I am familiar with the services provided by Amber, the women's refuge in Kilkenny. I echo the Leader's comment that many of the refuges are not funded sufficiently, as a result of which their telephone lines are not manned 24 hours a day. Quite often, calls made to such shelters are not dealt with by somebody at the time they are made, and that is a major problem which can only be addressed through a significant increase in the resources at the disposal of refuges and other organisations.
The budget will be announced next week. The Minister of State should convey the concerns of the House to the Minister of Finance and ask for significant increases in funding for victims of domestic abuse in the budget.
I thank the Leader for putting this serious issue on the schedule as part of the Women's Aid campaign and as the budget approaches. I also thank the Minister of State for sticking with the issue, which we debated last year but, as he said, nothing much has happened. We are all commenting on the awfulness of the suffering of men and women who are physically abused. In addition, children suffer as a result of domestic violence but we do not hear much about that. Following my contribution to last year's debate, I received an e-mail from schoolchildren who were doing a project on domestic violence and they wanted to highlight the effect of domestic abuse on children.
I refer to Traveller women, two of whom are good friends of mine. They live in poverty and they have a tortuous, unbelievable and cruel existence as they rear large families. They live in the most primitive conditions which we, as members of the settled community, could not even contemplate. I will not reiterate the statistics outlined earlier because action is needed. The Minister of State is optimistic funding will be increased. However, this issue is related to the human rights of victims of domestic violence, including children and Traveller women. As Senator O'Rourke stated, it is unforgivable that insufficient funding is available in the richest country in Europe to staff a helpline for victims of domestic abuse. We should not debate the issue again if the Government does not get it right in the budget because it will only be a waste of time. The Minister of State takes this issue seriously and he looks after the Traveller community in his constituency. However, he must put his foot down with the Minister for Health and Children to secure funding for organisations working in this area. There is sufficient money in the pot to address this human rights issue.
The debate has been organised as part of an international campaign on violence against women. This is a worldwide problem and it is symptomatic of the inequality experienced by women in many societies where, at its most extreme, female genital mutilation is very much part and parcel of being a woman. It is important that we do what we can to address the inequality experienced by women throughout the world and to support initiatives to prevent violence against women. I support the statement by Mary Robinson recently and I acknowledge the issue of violence against men, which was raised by previous speakers.
I received a number of briefing documents from various groups, including Women's Aid, about violence against women and it is a serious problem because of the damage that can be done. Women can be more vulnerable for many reasons, especially those related to equality issues such as access to employment and the ability to become financially independent, so they cannot escape the violence and they are physically weaker. Women are in more danger as a result of domestic violence but it must be acknowledged that men also experience such violence. While it is not a new phenomenon, it has always been hidden. Amen Ireland forwarded a document which outlined that men who experience domestic violence have difficulty securing help. More needs to be done to provide structures and supports for them so that they will not be afraid to come forward.
When there are two sides on an issue, the answer is often somewhere in the middle. If one says domestic violence is experienced by men, one is considered by interest groups to be weakening the case of people who work to deal with domestic violence against women and vice versa. However, that is not the case and the various interest groups have much more common ground than they realise, which they must acknowledge. As a society, we are fighting against violence against either gender and perhaps different initiatives need to be taken to support both genders when they experience violence. Our objective is to prevent all forms of domestic violence and to provide necessary supports.
If I raise the issue of domestic violence against men with women's groups, their members react defensively and vice versa. Often, there is a misunderstanding in that if one discusses women's rights, it does not mean that one is not acknowledging that men are also discriminated against in society. In terms of how the argument is pitched, we must move beyond this defensiveness and realise that the issues, which are not mutually exclusive, must be addressed.
It is important that members of either gender who experience domestic violence feel free to come forward and get support. Just as women's groups would argue that one should always ensure that women feel free to get help and talk about their situations, one should ensure that men feel safe in coming forward and stating whether they are victims of domestic violence.
It is important that we provide the necessary funding for groups working with people who experience domestic violence. Women's Aid has provided thousands of examples of situations in which it was unable to answer telephone calls from people seeking help. The group raised the issue of people seeking refuge because there should be enough refuges available in different parts of the country. Local supports for victims of domestic violence are vital and people should be able to go to places in their communities if they need advice and so on concerning domestic violence or other matters. As some people in rural communities are isolated and have many children, support agencies should be able to visit their homes and provide the necessary support.
The Women's Aid document refers to the need for more housing options. There is a general problem relating to social housing and housing options for people. Women's Aid makes the point that the single greatest reason people do not leave situations of domestic violence is because they have nowhere to go. In a survey of homeless people, it was found that a high percentage of women were homeless because they had experienced domestic violence. Due to the broader issue of providing more social, affordable or transitional housing or places of refuge, many people cannot escape the situations in question.
A number of recommendations have been made. Multiannual funding for groups that work with people experiencing domestic violence is needed. It is an issue that goes across the board because non-profit organisations, which must apply for funding from year to year, never know where they stand or what level of service they will be able to provide. In a paper supplied to me, it was pointed out that security in finance via multiannual funding is important.
The Minister of State may comment on the recommendation concerning the need to amend the Domestic Violence Act so that people experiencing domestic violence at the hands of ex-partners who are not living with them can avail of the Act's provisions. Other recommendations have been made in this regard.
For a short time while I was a solicitor, I worked in family law and I have a fair amount of experience with the system. It should be reformed.
The Australian example should be examined. It has overhauled its system to remove as many family law cases from the courts and into the alternative dispute resolution arena as possible and to promote co-parenting, parenting plans and so on. Issues of abuse or domestic violence should be appropriately dealt with and court cases should be fast-tracked and given priority in the system.
Our society discriminates against women, but it discriminates against men in other ways. If we are to have a family-centred and child-focused system, we must address these problems. Issues of domestic violence should be given priority and resources should be made available to help the victims.
I welcome the Minister of State and the opportunity to speak on this issue to determine how best to stamp out the dreadful crime of violence against women and men. I am glad the Minister of State has chosen to attend in advance of next week's budget.
I too received much documentation. While many Senators have aired the statistics, I want to put to the Minister of State the question of whether we are doing enough to handle the situation. According to the latest figures, more than 9,573 barring orders were made in 2004. In other research compiled by Women's Aid, it was estimated that between 92% and 97% of women contacted were violently treated domestically. Imagine the implications on family life and society, the fabric of which is threatened by such an increase in violence. The Sonas Housing Association, which provides transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, states that between 500 and 1,000 children were forced to use housing refuge to escape from domestic violence in Dublin last year.
The Minister of State has claimed that €12 million has been provided for the Department of Health and Children's support services, that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is funding voluntary organisations to facilitate accommodation and that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda have been given funding in respect of training to handle domestic violence.
However, the reality is that a number of people cannot be helped. In a recent article in The Irish Times, managers of several refuges in Cork, Dublin, Donegal and Limerick admitted that they must often send women to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or local bed and breakfasts because their centres were full. Last year, Bray Women's Refuge turned away 276 women and their 326 children because it did not have enough room.
Imagine a household in which this battering is taking place and a woman, who has a child in her arms and fears for her life, is trying to make a telephone call to a refuge centre to determine whether she can get out of her situation, but no one is on the other end of the line. This is the reality that the Minister of State should take to the discussions before next week's budget. We need to put people in centres. Local authorities should become involved. I do not care whether they are hole-in-the-wall centres, but the victims should be facilitated in escaping their immediate situations.
I have also considered how we define domestic violence. It can take many definitions, as has been outlined in the House today. It can be physical, sexual and emotional, the last of which is the hidden form and involves the use of power to control a person, isolating that person from family and friends, manipulating children against him or her, embarrassing them to create low self-esteem. The victim becomes downtrodden and all seems hopeless.
I am painting a very bleak picture for the Minister of State but I urge him to imagine a man in that situation. Money is needed to help these people escape because the abuse of which we speak is on the increase in society. The Minister of State said he was a member of the steering committee and had put forward recommendations to bring perpetrators to justice. I support that and would do more if I were in the Minister of State's position, though I cannot say in the Chamber what I would actually do to perpetrators. He proposed an awareness campaign, which I also support, but a woman or man in such a situation tonight should be able to pick up a telephone to find a way out of their plight.
I appeal to the Minister of State to ask for Cabinet approval for resources to fund offices in every urban area so that victims can pick up a telephone and know they have a place to go. The inability to escape a situation is the reason for many murders, as a person's control disappears under the domination to which they are subjected. Psychologically, such people are dead and have no way out. By giving these people a way out we will build up their self-esteem and confidence. I do not want to read a story in two weeks' time about a person who was unable to connect to a help centre, with horrific consequences.
The Minister of State should stamp out domestic violence by creating awareness and providing the necessary facilities and resources, be they housing, refuges or other facilities run by voluntary organisations to provide an escape route for victims. The Minister of State is very good at his job and will deliver, which I expect him to do next week.
I apologise but I was unaware that this discussion was taking place and I am not very well briefed. Yesterday I attended a Council of Europe sub-committee meeting on equality between men and women and domestic violence was the subject of discussion. In Madrid on Monday a project was relaunched to address domestic violence, particularly against women. The project, led by the Council of Europe, aims to persuade every Parliament throughout the EU and outside the parameters of the Council of Europe to take a hands-on role in the issue. Ireland has a parliamentary representative on the project, Deputy Lynch of the Labour Party, so we should hear more from her on the matter.
Yesterday's debate followed up on Monday's launch, which I did not attend, and was in line with much of what we have heard in the House during this debate today. Many speakers yesterday said we were becoming repetitive. Everyone agrees this is an issue of profound concern and a very serious matter to which Government should respond. However, the question of what was being done was posed forcefully. Many of yesterday's speakers listened to speakers on Monday say domestic violence, in particular against women, was shocking. Many had said something needed to be done but that is an old phrase and many asked yesterday what was actually being done. We must pose the same question. What action plan has been put in place, to ensure that if this debate is repeated in five years' time it will not rehearse old phrases such as "Something must be done", "The statistics are shocking" and "Domestic violence is dreadful"?
The challenge facing the Minister of State, his senior Minister and the Government as a whole is to ensure we do more than simply debate the issue by taking action. The Council of Europe, with the limited budget at its disposal, will focus strongly on this issue and will ask all Parliaments within its remit to ensure that words become action by putting in place solutions so that this dreadful cycle of violence, of which we are all aware, becomes a key area of Government attention, rather than just the basis of statistics.
The statistics in Ireland are shocking, with one in five Irish women having experienced domestic violence and a rate of incidence of 23 per day. Whatever the policy of this and previous Governments it has failed utterly. At a time of economic success and the benefits of the Celtic tiger it is frightening to think that this hidden Ireland still exists, in which people are abused and beaten. I want to hear the Minister of State's plans because the statistics, sadly, speak for themselves We are all at one on this being unacceptable and on the need for action. However, as some of my colleagues at European level said yesterday we must go beyond glib clichés and reflections on how awful the situation is. We must take action and I look forward to substantial action on the part of the Government so that the statistics before the House become part of the history books.
I apologise again for not being more fully briefed but the debate needs to lead to a programme of action rather than a continuing discussion on statistics that are a blight not just on Irish but European society. If I learned anything in Madrid yesterday it was that this problem was not confined to Ireland, Britain or the EU. It is Europe-wide and possibly worldwide. We cannot solve the world's problems but we must start to solve the Irish problem.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is not the first occasion on which he has attended to debate this topic and those of us who have followed the work he has done in this area will acknowledge that he has made a tremendous commitment in terms of resources and effective action.
Domestic violence, as the Minister of State said, is one of the hidden crimes in society and some of our statistics are quite alarming. The National Crime Council, in association with the Economic and Social Research Institute, has found that 29% of women and 26% of men suffer domestic abuse. Some 13% of women and 13% of men suffer physical abuse, with 29% of women and only 5% of men reporting the abuse to the Garda. What has been highlighted here is the number of men who are in relationships that are violent and in which they suffer abuse. We have long recognised, because of the physical differences between males and females, that females have been the victims of violence in relationships over the years.
The figures show that in excess of 300,000 people are directly affected. That figure probably can be doubled, which amounts to approximately 15% of the population, given that most of the couples will have children and that the normal sized family consists of two children. Of course, the effects on children, both short-term and long-term, can be extremely negative.
It is not dealt with in the reports and has not yet been mentioned in the debate today but such relationships are often indicative of a behavioural disorder in one of the partners. This is something that obviously requires treatment. While the emphasis on bringing the perpetrators to justice is obviously essential, I would reverse the mechanisms outlined by the Minister. I accept the Minister has taken steps to create greater awareness of this problem in society. The third aim outlined by the Minister was to stamp out the dreadful crime by creating awareness among people of all ages and by changing the culture of anger and violence which can infiltrate intimate partnership relationships.
In that regard, it is essential that State services and the voluntary sector are encouraged to assist families to overcome difficulties. I am aware of cases where safety or barring orders were imposed, depending on the advice received by the individuals concerned, which led to the breakdown of the relationship. In irreconcilable cases that is inevitable but I have also seen instances where people were forced to confront the problem they had with being violent or abusive within the relationship. They recognised the problem, returned to the marriage or relationship and subsequently the relationships were saved and went on to become close and good relationships.
Obviously, in headline cases where severe physical violence is imposed on individuals — in some instances, murder has been committed — there is a need to protect the victim. On the other hand, however, in certain instances appropriate intervention by State services can resolve the difficulties being experienced and can lay the foundation for the couple to enjoy a good, stable and loving relationship subsequently. That should be a strong priority in our intervention mechanisms.
Only a small proportion of domestic violence cases is brought to the attention of the Garda. This demonstrates the need to create awareness through education. Our education system should reflect the need for people to develop harmonious relationships and point out that anything that runs counter to that not only affects the fulfilment of the two individuals concerned but also their children. It can have damaging lifetime implications for those children.
In conclusion, I echo the Minister's comment that he wishes to make the criminal justice and other response systems work together in a better way. That should be the objective and the Minister is committed to achieving it. In doing that we will hopefully see a reduction in the statistics before us today.
Much of what I had intended to say has been said already. There have been contributions to this debate by Members of all parties. There is general agreement on the situation and, probably, on what must be done about it. A great deal remains to be done and in his initial remarks the Minister outlined certain things that will happen.
At the weekend a number of Members were concerned to hear that the Rape Crisis Centre is unable to provide a weekend service in many areas. There is no sexual assault unit available in my region. This must be corrected as it has been an issue there for a long time. Unless specific measures such as these are implemented we cannot claim to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence.
With regard to calls to the Women's Aid national free phone helpline — the latest statistics are in its 2005 report — it is worrying that there is an ongoing increase in the number of calls to the helpline. A breakdown of the statistics gives a fair indication of the situation faced by women. The callers are mainly women. There is no denying there is domestic violence against men, carried out by women and by male partners in the case of a male homosexual relationship. It is time we acknowledged that and examined it. I note in the submissions received from the Amen group that there is a sense of discrimination against male victims of domestic violence. If that exists, it cannot be accepted and must be addressed.
However, my remarks today will deal with the issue of domestic violence against women and the problem of human trafficking. The latter was brought to our attention in a graphic and powerful way last week by a number of groups, particularly nuns, operating under the intercongregational ad hoc working group, which operates under the umbrella of CORI and IMU.
Notably, the statistics published by Women's Aid show an increase in the number of calls to the helpline. In 2005, a total of 25,843 calls were made to the Women's Aid helpline. That is an increase of 30% on 2004. The helpline responded to 15,339 calls, an increase of 26% on the 2004 figures. However, the Women's Aid helpline recorded 10,504 missed calls. These could not be answered as the service was working to capacity and all support workers were engaged. This was a 29% increase in the number of calls which could not be answered in 2004. That is unacceptable. It is notable that a number of calls to the helpline were made by children.
I agree with what has been said by other speakers. However, it is important to take note of the issue of trafficking of women. This is a broader issue than simply domestic violence but it involves violence against women which is perpetrated at an appalling level. We are currently experiencing a wave of trafficking of women from eastern Europe. They now represent more than 25% of what is, effectively, a slave trade. It is a modern form of slavery. In the 1980s alone, more women and children were enslaved by trafficking from Asia than all the people sold into slavery from Africa during the 400 years of the slave trade. We are talking about the modern world in this instance.
Ratification is urgently needed of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking of Persons and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking of Human Beings. Legislation should also be introduced to protect the victims of crime because the fact that Ireland has become a destination for gangs cannot be tolerated. The Government should introduce measures for rehabilitating survivors and establish an independent monitor to ensure transparency of procedures. It need not be said that trafficking in persons is a grave violation of human rights, so I urge the Minister of State to make the necessary responses.
I thank Senators for their contributions to this debate. Little has been said with which I would not agree and the eloquent arguments made by Members represent an important step forward.
Many of the difficulties surrounding domestic violence arise from the hidden nature of this heinous crime. Victims are often afraid to report the crimes committed against them, particularly when the violence takes place within the family. I have met women victims of violence throughout the country who have said their most significant step was building the courage to talk about the violence they suffered. By speaking out, the weight of their experience was lifted from their shoulders. Women who are subjected to violence should have the courage to talk to somebody or to make a report to the domestic violence services or the Garda.
The culture of male domination remains alive and well in Ireland and is often accepted or taken for granted. However, as Senators have noted, that culture can be the cause of physical, sexual and mental violence. Senator Terry referred to the worrying trend whereby 125 women have been murdered in the past ten years, 50% of whom were killed in their homes.
The issue raised by Senator Norris of violence against men was acknowledged in the report of the National Crime Council. Some 213,000 women and 88,000 men have been victims of violence, so we should not forget that men as well as women are affected by violence. I welcome that the terrible acts of violence to which Senator Norris referred are being highlighted in this debate because these heinous crimes cannot be tolerated. A research project in NUI Galway is investigating the length of time involved in bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice through the courts. This matter is a cause of concern to my Department, the Garda and the domestic violence services and we are co-operating with a view to ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice more quickly than heretofore.
Senator Norris also raised the issue of violence against Traveller women. I agree that the statistics on the number of Traveller women in women's refuges are frightening. We must tackle the culture of violence in the Traveller community because some of the stories from Traveller women about their treatment are unacceptable. I agree with Senator Norris in that respect and we are working on the issue on several levels.
Senator Kett noted that Women's Aid was only able to answer 60% of the calls made to its helpline. At the end of last year, I sought more money for the organisation so that it could improve its ability to answer calls. While I was unsuccessful at the time, the Minister was acutely aware of the need for additional resources and the issue has become a priority.
Legislation on these matters is kept under constant review. Several Senators referred to the court accompaniment scheme which is now being funded. We are anxious to ensure that a comprehensive service is provided to victims to give them support when they appear in court and I have made applications for extra resources in that regard. While the training of judges is a matter for the Judiciary, I am aware from the Courts Service that training is constantly being improved and that judges are anxious to be given the opportunity for ongoing training.
The issue of enforced prostitution and trafficking was raised by Senator O'Meara and others. Ruhama is doing commendable work in this respect. The issue has been raised in our committee and legislation is forthcoming to address the unacceptable increase in trafficking. In addition, the Garda is proactive in bringing the organisers of trafficking to justice.
As Senator Jim Walsh noted, difficulties arise in terms of behavioural disorders. I have been struck by the number of physical, psychological and sociological problems which arise as a result of domestic violence. Significant sums of money could be saved on the curative side by investments in prevention to support the ability of organisations to respond to complaints. Many of the mental illnesses suffered by women are the result of years of abuse. If we invest more in prevention, we will save a great deal on trying to cure the problems caused every day by mental, physical and sexual violence. Senator Ormonde mentioned people's need for an immediate response to get them out of the home and to provide them with a refuge. The women's refuges around the country do very good work. They are overcrowded and in severe difficulty, but it is also important to understand that a women's refuge should be a last resort and that every effort should be made to ensure the woman can continue to live in the home, with support services provided. I gave the relevant statistics. Where necessary, the perpetrator rather than the victim should be removed from the home. I am strongly of the view that we should ensure that people be allowed to continue to live in their own homes, with a refuge used only as a last resort. There are issues regarding Travellers in that respect.
I would also like to mention cultural issues, particularly the number of foreign nationals in the country and the growth in domestic violence among them. In some cultures, domestic violence is accepted. This year we are funding several studies and working with various organisations to deal more effectively with domestic violence in non-national communities. We are acutely aware of the levels of domestic violence in certain of them, and that is among the issues being addressed by the national committee. We intend investing more money in researching the issue further and tackling it more effectively. Of course, given the large increases of recent years in the number of non-national residents, it is a fairly new problem for us.
I thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate and members of organisations working on the ground for attending. I acknowledge the wonderful work done by many dedicated people who give of their time and energy in a voluntary capacity. Were it not for all the dedicated individuals across the country who put in so much effort, the problem would be much more serious. I acknowledge that it is time for the Government to respond much more generously to those organisations and am hopeful it will happen in this year's budget and Estimates.