Victims of abuse ‘retraumatised’ by burden of navigating separate legal processes

Victims of abuse 'retraumatised' by burden of navigating separate legal processes

Victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse are being retraumatised by having to simultaneously navigate separate criminal, family and child protection processes, according to a new report.

The Report on the Intersection of the Criminal Justice, Private Family Law and Public Law Child Care Processes in Relation to Domestic and Sexual Violence, produced by the National Women’s Council (NWC) with funding from the Department of Justice, calls for further support for victims.

The report has been welcomed by justice minister Simon Harris, who has committed to reviewing its recommendations.

“Today’s report is a significant analysis of the intersection of criminal, family, and child protection law for victims and the impact this has on them in the context of domestic and sexual violence cases,” Mr Harris said.

“It highlights the need for a more collaborative legal process for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the courts system.

“My Department and I will review the recommendations carefully, and progress appropriate initiatives as part of the government’s zero tolerance plan to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, and the government’s family justice strategy.”

Orla O’Connor, director of the NWC, said: “It’s really positive that an increasing number of women are reporting domestic and sexual violence incidents to authorities, but unfortunately these legal systems don’t recognise or engage with each other. This places a significant burden on victims to connect and inform the three processes.

“Victims can be in different courts process simultaneously, for example giving evidence against the perpetrator in the criminal process and at the same time negotiating in civil courts on child access.

“Currently the responsibility is on the victim to bring relevant information between the systems and there is no acknowledgement of the trauma this is causing for victims.

“It is vital that the legal process does not further traumatise people who have experienced domestic and sexual violence. If we are serious about achieving a victim-centred approach then a comprehensive and holistic approach is needed across the three systems and involving the courts, legal professionals, guards and Tusla.”

Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, one of the report authors, added: “The report is a call to action to address the unique needs of victims of domestic and sexual violence within the court system. It is vital that any changes stem from a victim-centered approach, which is at the forefront of our recommendations.

Having a wraparound system of both court and non-court support for victims throughout the entirety of the legal processes is vital in developing a system which doesn’t cause additional stress and difficulties to victims of domestic and sexual abuse.”

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