Northern Ireland news

Naomi Long to bring forward paper on strategy to combat violence against women

Justice minister Naomi Long. File picture by Mal McCann

A paper on a strategy to protect women and girls against violence is to be brought before the Executive as early as next week.

Justice minister Naomi Long said she aims to bring forward the plan amid concerns that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not have such a strategy.

Protests and vigils have been held across Ireland and Britain in the wake of the abduction and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in London earlier this month.

Ms Long said tackling violence against women is not simply an issue for the Department of Justice and wider work must be carried out to address the "root causes".

She said the Executive should have a strategy which encompasses the health, education, communities and justice departments, co-ordinated by the Executive Office.

Ms Long intends to introduce legislation in May which will criminalise 'upskirting', taking indecent images and other offensive acts.

She also wants to take forward a bill to make misogyny a hate crime but told BBC Radio Ulster this is unlikely before the end of this assembly term.

"I will also be bringing a paper to the Executive, hopefully next week, to set out how I think we should take forward the strategy for violence against women and girls," she said.

"I think it is important that we go upstream and try to make sure that we have fewer victims and that we tackle things in education, like the issues around consent, understanding of rape myths, victim blaming and all of the cultural changes that are necessary for women and girls to feel truly confident and safe in this society."

First Minister Arlene Foster told BBC Radio 4 that "Northern Ireland has a very low record of this sort of activity (violence against women) but it happens".

"Those of us who are in public life are fully aware of the threats of violence that we receive so there is this atmosphere at present which needs to be tackled," she added.

Shadow Secretary of State Louise Haigh said she was concerned to hear Mrs Foster "almost underplay" the level of violence against women.

"There is a significant amount of research to suggest that after the Troubles ended and after the violence ended on the streets that a lot of that violence was brought into the home and turned on intimate partners," she said.

Ms Haigh said given that the north is a post-conflict society there is "more of a need in Northern Ireland than anywhere else to have a specific strategy to tackle this".

Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon said misogyny must be recognised as a hate crime in the north.

"We need to educate our young people (on) what a healthy relationship looks like," she said.

"We need to educate our young girls and women on how to protect themselves but we also need to educate our young men how not to become perpetrators."

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