Northern Ireland news

Analysis: Strategy to protect women and girls against violence is badly needed

Sarah Everard was abducted and killed in London earlier this month. Picture from family, Press Association

WEEKS before the murder-suicide in Newtownabbey, politicians were coming under increased pressure to tackle violence against women and girls.

The abduction and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in London earlier this month prompted a wave of vigils and protests.

While much of the focus following Ms Everard's murder was on street harassment, the double murder of Stacey Knell and Karen McClean in Newtownabbey on Friday by Ms McClean's son Kenneth Flanagan has shifted attention in the north to the issue of domestic violence.

Domestic violence has soared across the UK during the pandemic. A report released by MPs revealed domestic abuse killings doubled in the first 21 days of lockdown.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not have a strategy to protect women and girls. Yet so far, eight women are known to have died in violent circumstances in the north since the start of lockdown last year.

Justice minister Naomi Long has already indicated that she will bring forward a paper on a strategy to tackle violence against women within days.

Ms Long and Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon have said any plan should encompass several Executive departments and involve educating young people about healthy relationships.

However, as Shadow Secretary of State Louise Haigh has already pointed out, domestic violence is still under-reported in England, which does have a strategy.

While educating young people should form part of a wider plan, no strategy can replace a robust response from police and the wider criminal justice system.

The public must feel confident that reports of domestic violence will be prioritised by police, that women will be protected, and perpetrators will be given appropriate sentences.

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