The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline attended the Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence yesterday evening, to deliver a presentation to Ministers.

Helpline Manager Sonya McMullan updated Ministers on the running of the Helpline, as well as the advice, information and support Helpline staff and volunteers offer to victims of domestic and sexual violence. In attendance were Health Minister Michelle O’Neill, Justice Minister Claire Sugden, Education Minister Peter Weir, and Junior Ministers Megan Fearon and Alastair Ross.

Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic & Sexual Violence
Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic & Sexual Violence

The government-funded 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline, which is run by Women’s Aid, is a confidential, anonymous support service, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Helpline supports all women and men affected by domestic or sexual violence, and takes calls from concerned friends, family and members of the public, as well as professionals seeking help and support for their clients. Staff and volunteers are highly-trained specialists and support victims in dealing with the complex issues surrounding abuse, including safety planning and crisis intervention.

Ministers commended the helpline staff and volunteers who provide victims and their families with immediate support and signposting to appropriate follow-on services. Minister of Health Michelle O’Neill and Justice Minister Claire Sugden, who co-chair the Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence, re-affirmed the Executive’s commitment to tackling domestic and sexual violence and abuse.

Helpline Manager Sonya McMullan (centre) with Health Minister Michelle O’Neill and Justice Minster Claire Sugden

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill commented: “I welcome the convening of the Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence and I am pleased to co-chair this Group with the Justice Minister.”

“We all know domestic and sexual violence and abuse can affect anyone in this society, and yet it still tends to be an unspoken, or even a taboo subject.  This violence and abuse not only impacts the victim but can also ripple out to the wider family circle and friends.

“A societal change is required and I know this will not be achieved by government working in isolation.  I encourage all stakeholders to partner with government in this task to ensure victims are supported and protected and perpetrators are held to account.”

Minister Sugden commented: “I too very much welcome today’s Inter-Ministerial meeting and the opportunity it provides to engage with Executive colleagues as part of government’s ongoing efforts to address domestic and sexual violence in Northern Ireland.”

“The five strands of the ‘Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse’ Strategy provide a platform upon which the Executive will tackle the multi-faceted nature of these issues in a systematic and holistic way.

“As Justice Minister, I want to ensure victims are empowered to report these crimes and ensure that they receive the support they need when they take that first brave step.  I also want to send out a clear and resounding message that these crimes are abhorrent and unacceptable and that is why I have committed to legislating for a new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland.”

The group was convened to coincide with the international ‘16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign’, which runs from 25 November to 10 December 2016.

Need support? Call the 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline on 0808 802 1414, email 24hrsupport@dvhelpline.org, or text support to 07797 805839.