Abused women here 'offered less support'
Violently abused women in Ulster have less access to support services than anywhere else in the UK, a new report has claimed.
In Northern Ireland there is no funded, specialised support services for rape victims, no access to specialist domestic violence courts and no support services for women seeking to escape prostitution, trafficking and sexual exploitation, the shock report has revealed.
The findings have now sparked urgent calls for the Government to provide proper services for women who have experienced violence.
The report, published by the End Violence Against Women Coalition - which is made up of several organisations including Amnesty International and Women's Aid - examines the provision of services for women who have experienced violence across the UK.
Called the Map of Gaps, the report has revealed, through a series of facts, figures and maps, that women in the province who have experienced violence, have the least provision of comprehensive services.
It highlights the fact that there are no funded specialised support services for rape victims anywhere in Northern Ireland.
The report also shows how Northern Ireland is one part of the UK where women have no access to specialist domestic violence courts and that there is almost a total absence of programmes which seek to address the behaviour of men who are violent to women in the region.
In addition, it reveals that Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK where there are no support services for women seeking to escape prostitution, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
"The situation here contrasts most strongly with that in Scotland which has recently seen an increase in the provision of services for rape survivors," said Patricia Campbell of Amnesty International Northern Ireland.
She added: "The reason is simple.
"The Scottish Government is developing a strategic approach to addressing violence against women and has allocated ring-fenced funding for services.
"Women in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less. We owe it to every woman to allow her to feel safe, secure and respected. That's why we are asking our Government here to provide more support services. This deserves serious attention and funding and we will be seeking to meet with politicians here to make sure that we press the case for what is a lifeline for far too many women."
The report also highlights how one woman in every 10 across the UK experiences violence each year.
Eileen Murphy, director of Women's Aid, Newry, Mourne and South Armagh, said she welcomes the fact that the report breaks the 'silence on violence', and said that it "exposes a situation of which we have long been aware" .
"When women who approach us for help reveal that the abuse which they have suffered has included rape, the total lack of counselling and support services available for them anywhere in Northern Ireland means that we are forced to refer them to Dundalk for help. This is totally unacceptable," she added.
Marie Brown, director of Foyle Women's Aid, said: "It is vital that women across Northern Ireland have access to these services. Currently women in the North West have to travel to Belfast for basic forensic services.
"This can involve a nine-hour period of travelling and waiting to be seen. This discriminates against women who don't live in Belfast."