A senior police officer has briefed members of the Mothers’ Union (MU) in Northern Ireland about the extent of sexual and domestic violence in the area. Detective Chief Inspector Anne Marks, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told members of the MU in Down and Dromore diocese that one in every 18 calls to the PSNI relates to domestic abuse; and that 1,393 reports of sexual assault were reported to the police in a 12-month period. The briefing took place ahead of the international 16-Days of Activism campaign, which begins on Saturday.
The 16-Days of Activism is an international campaign which begins on 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – and ends on 10 December – International Human Rights Day. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is designed to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
DCI Marks told MU members that while 1,393 sexual assaults were reported, the real figure is likely to be much higher, as research suggests that as many as 75 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported.
In addition, some 834 rapes were reported – and 153 cases – more than 18 per cent – the victims were children aged under 13-years old. She explained that most offenders are known to the victim. Sometimes they are members of the family or extended family, or are in a position of trust over them or are known to them socially.
During the breakfast-briefing, DCI Marks Anne explained how PSNI handle work in this area – beginning with the initial call from a victim. In addition to calling the police directly on their emergency and non-emergency numbers, victims can also call a dedicated domestic and sexual violence helpline, which encourages men and women to report either recent or historical abuse. To assist victims, there are specialist public protection units in police stations throughout Northern Ireland, she said.
In addition to investigating accusations, the police can help victims access local specialist support agencies, including the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). Rowan’s clinical director, Dr Olive Buckley, also took part in the breakfast briefing for MU members. She explained that the Rowan SARC is a one–stop centre, delivering a coordinated inter–agency response. It provides a full range of services to individuals who have been raped and sexually assaulted and operates 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. with support available 24/7, 365 days per year. The team will respond to all victims, irrespective of their age, gender, sexual identity/orientation, ethnicity, or geographical location.
“Olive gave a pithy description of her amazing work there, sharing real–life stories and giving some advice on what to do if someone discloses abuse or assault to you,” the Down and Dromore MU said on the diocese’s website. “She managed, at the same time to inject a good deal of Northern Irish humour.
“The reality, after all, is bleak; when clients range from babies to elderly women and the Rowan team has offered support, advice and direct care to more than 3,500 individuals since opening in May 2013.
“Sadly many, especially those abused as children, take their trauma to the grave without telling anyone.
“It was a revealing morning which began and ended, appropriately, with prayer. The 120 ladies who came along left more informed, better equipped, and with a real appreciation for those who work on the front line with victims of sexual and domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.”
The Mothers’ Union globally is an active participant in the 16-Days of Activism.