This past week, Northern Ireland’s most influential leaders from the legal, prosecution, law enforcement and frontline support sectors gathered in Belfast for the first-ever Justice Institute on Gender-Based Violence held in the U.K.
Funded by the Avon Foundation for Women, the Institute is an innovative and interactive training program that provides participants with the tools needed to better identify, investigate and prosecute gender-based violent crimes. The event was run by the Washington, D.C.-based Vital Voices Global Partnership and the US Department of State, with experts flying in to bring their specialist knowledge to representatives from the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Office, criminal and civil justice workers, lawyers and frontline workers.
Over 50 delegates, including the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), prosecutors and charity representatives, united to help combat the rise of domestic violence in Northern Ireland. The internationally led event was in direct response to the domestic violence problem sweeping Northern Ireland, with the PSNI responding to a domestic violence incident every 18 minutes of every day and a quarter of all murders in the region being related to domestic issues, according to the Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland Annual Report 2016-2017. In fact, The Irish News reported that domestic violence is at a 10-year high.
“Belfast was identified as uniquely well-suited to benefit from a Justice Institute not only due to its unique history of conflict and the impact of this on intimate partner violence but also due to its network of dedicated advocates working tirelessly to support survivors of violence,” said Christine Jaworsky, director of the Avon Foundation for Women. “In the past years in which Avon has funded these Justice Institutes we have seen some truly inspiring and promising results, and we are confident that the Belfast training event will help participants bring justice to victims and contribute to bringing an end to domestic violence once and for all.”
Welcoming the Justice Institute to Belfast, Detective Superintendent Ryan Henderson from the PSNI, said: “Domestic abuse is real and present across Northern Ireland. We respond to an incident of domestic abuse every 18 minutes. Many of the incidents that we see daily are distressing, and often very complex, so it’s not something that we can change overnight. However, with the right steps in place we can collectively make a difference and help change the landscape. We are hopeful for positive change as a result of this week’s Justice Institute.”
The three-day long event agenda included topics on how to more effectively investigate and prosecute gender-based violence; how to use a process-oriented approach to achieve the best possible results when investigating and prosecuting domestic violence cases; how to evaluate, investigate, litigate and dispose of cases locally; and how to consider the impact of each of their decisions on the victim’s safety and well-being.
In bringing the Belfast event to fruition, the Vital Voices Global Partnership has been supported on the ground by the Belfast Area Domestic and Sexual Violence Partnership, which comprises agencies, organizations and groups working locally in improving services and support for victims of domestic violence and abuse.
Noelle Collins, team leader at Belfast Women’s Aid, said, “We’ve been working very closely with Vital Voices in the US to ensure that the Justice Institute is tailored for the local landscape here in Belfast. We have a unique political and social backdrop here in Northern Ireland that brings a range of challenges, but it’s only by bringing all the key stakeholders together to constructively move forward that real change can happen.”
Added Ciaran McQuillan, acting senior assistant director of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, “Domestic violence is a complicated and often very emotional issue, but one that needs change and a real focus to both tackle the crime, but also ensure that perpetrators continue to be brought to justice. We’re looking forward to hearing different perspectives and solutions over the next few days and seeing how we can collectively deliver change to Northern Ireland.”
Since 2014, 17 Justice Institute events have taken place in 10 countries with high rates of domestic violence, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, India, Mexico, Nepal, the Philippines, Romania and South Africa.