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MLAs must sort this out, victims deserve better

When the Inter-Ministerial group on Domestic and Sexual Violence was launched in 2008, the then Health Minister Michael McGimpsey cited its aim, "...to ensure that domestic and sexual violence is given the priority it deserves, to focus on what needs to be done, and for ministers to use their influence to ensure that the joined-up approach actually delivers change".

Given its remit, the fact that this group has not met since 2012 is disgraceful, and victims of both domestic and sexual violence are being failed as a result. Not one meeting in three years, it has been revealed.

Take that in again slowly, because it really is incredible.

It's not as if the issues are under the radar.

An independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland concluded in 2014, the high-profile Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry is ongoing, and other infamous cases like the Kincora Boys' Home scandal, and my own, have been in the public domain.

Countless other victims are suffering in silence, and we need to be able to reach them.

What sort of message does it send to those victims - who are among the most vulnerable in society, if the departments cannot even get their act together to attend a meeting?

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Government cannot give a voice to the voiceless - or indeed work to prevent the cycle of abuse repeating, if they do not formulate joined-up strategy.

Anything less makes the problem not a priority but a perceived inconvenience.

Abuse victims, be it domestic or sexual, deserve the very best.

They have been let down.

In 2013-14, the PSNI recorded over 27,000 domestic abuse incidents, more than 12,000 domestic abuse crimes, 550 rapes and almost 2,000 other sexual offences.

Figures are escalating while resources are decreasing.

These crimes, apart from the very real damage done to victims, have an impact across the various departments of government. Which is why it is so frustrating to hear that the people who are supposed to lead and formulate on the policy, have not utilised and pooled resources through this mechanism to do so, despite the promises when the group launched.

Every single one of the ministers who have responsibility for attending this group should make it their business to convene without delay.

Aside from support needed for those affected, prevention strategies are urgently needed to reduce the potential for further victims.

The message needs to be loud and clear that Government take the issue seriously.

Anything less is lip-service.

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