Strategy comes after murder of schoolteacher Aisling Murphy
A new PSNI action plan to tackle violence against women and girls will focus on prevention, early intervention and enhanced support for victims, a leading police officer has revealed.
The first such action plan will also concentrate on the safety of women and girls “in all spaces” and will see the implementation of more robust measures to “disrupt and deter” male offenders.
The Male Violence and Intimidation against Women and Girls strategy is expected to be launched early this year at a time when anxieties over safety are heightened following the recent murder of schoolteacher Ashling Murphy. The 23-year-old was killed in Tullamore, Co Offaly, last Wednesday in an area called ‘Fiona’s Way’. It was named after 25-year-old Fiona Pender, who was seven months’ pregnant when she went missing in 1996.
Ashling’s murder led to a series of vigils across Ireland and repeated calls for more to be done to tackle male violence against women. On Sunday, the Antrim Senior Hurling team, who were playing Offaly, stopped off at Tullamore en route to the game, to pay their own respects.
The PSNI began work on its strategy last summer, following the murder of Sarah Everard in London. Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was sentenced to life in prison for the marketing executive’s killing.
Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally, who is leading the development of the PSNI action plan, said women and girls were being listened to and that the strategy to tackle male violence was developing “at pace”.
“The voices of women and girls in our society, and our partners that support them, are being heard loudly,” he said.
“We have been developing and consulting on the first Violence and Intimidation against Women and Girls action plan for Northern Ireland for a number of months and it continues to develop at pace.
“Our action plan for Northern Ireland will focus on prevention, early intervention and enhanced support for victims.
“It will also have a specific focus on the safety of women and girls in all spaces and putting even more robust measures in place to disrupt and deter male offenders who seek to harm women and girls in our society.”
The PSNI is working with several partners including Women’s Aid and Victim Support to implement the plan, which Supt McNally says remains on track to launch early this year.
Former senior RUC officer Jim Gamble, an expert in child safeguarding and a co-author on the UK’s first Domestic Homicide Review, said the PSNI needed to work in partnership with education and the wider health and social care family to prevent misogyny “incubating” at home. And he said the police force also needed to “demonstrate integrity and absolute commitment” by taking all forms of coercive control, intimidation and harassment of women and girls seriously and by “putting its own house in order”.
“If we are going to address the root cause of these problems, we have to focus on the way some male attitudes are incubated at home through poor example and bad influence from some of the men in their lives, through what they say or what they see them do,” he said.
“There needs to be a programme that begins to educate from home. Misogyny often incubates at home and then cascades into school so from the early stages we need to teach them, in the most effective way, to understand the need for mutual respect, to develop an ability to celebrate diversity and critically, to understand the principle of consent.
“As they go through school, that needs to be constantly reinforced so that any seeds of misogyny can be addressed and challenged.
“What I have found most often, especially looking at schools, is that low level comments, those things cast to one side as mere banter, can reinforce and fertilise misogynistic behaviour.
“We need to get teachers, parents, other professionals and peers to feel confident enough to challenge those low-level comments that, if not challenged, so often become normalised.”
Mr Gamble said it was crucial that the PSNI be seen to “lead by example” by removing any officer facing an allegation of coercive control or domestic abuse from a public-facing position and by sacking any officer found guilty of such an allegation.
He said these steps were necessary to ensure public confidence in the competence of the police.
“The PSNI can begin by putting its own house its order, as all workplaces should, by being seen to take these things seriously,” he said. “It also has to up its game with regards to how officers investigate and collate evidence and hold individuals to account, whether online or off.
“When people look in from the outside and see that they haven’t been able to do anything about the brutal misogyny on the internet or how that manifests itself on the streets of our cities, towns and villages, they lose confidence.
“The priority now should be the investment of resources to hold people to account for brutalising women, either verbally or physically.”