A new advocacy service offering impartial and practical support for victims of sexual and domestic abuse has been welcomed by Justice Minister Naomi Long.
Naomi Long said: “I am acutely aware that cases of domestic or sexual abuse involve some of the most invasive, intrusive and personal assaults that victims will have to endure. Victims are understandably traumatised and, for many, reporting what has happened to them and engaging with the criminal justice system can seem like a daunting prospect.
“I want those who have suffered sexual or domestic abuse to have the confidence to come forward and report a crime. I want them to know that they will be listened to and will be supported. ASSIST NI can provide an advocacy support service through a suite of measures, including assessing individual need, the development of safety support plans and providing impartial support and information.
“I have strengthened the law around domestic abuse with new legislation and the creation of a new domestic abuse offence. The advocacy service is complementing this.”
The Department of Justice and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have worked with voluntary sector partners to develop the ASSIST NI advocacy service. The three specialist organisations working in partnership to deliver the service – Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid, Foyle Women’s Aid and Men’s Advisory Project – have a lengthy and wide range of expertise in supporting victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
Referral can be made to the advocacy service by the police in circumstances where a domestic or sexual abuse crime is reported, the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre, or as an action from a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference meeting. The service is being rolled out on a phased basis.
Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally says: “Victims of sexual and domestic abuse can find the criminal justice process incredibly daunting and this can stop them from coming forward for help.
“We do not want anyone to feel like they have to suffer in silence. We want people to have confidence that if they report these crimes to the police, it will be treated with the upmost seriousness and that they will be given access to specialist help and support.
“The launch of this new advocacy service is another way the Police Service of Northern Ireland are cementing their commitment to working with partners to ensure a consistent approach to supporting victims in our communities.
“By doing this we can further tackle these crimes, which can have such a fundamental effect on victims and their loved ones.”
The ASSIST NI Advocacy Service Manager, Michelle Martin, stated: “We are delighted to present ASSIST NI, the new advocacy service for Northern Ireland. It is our ambition to ensure that qualifying victims of sexual and domestic violence are safe, informed and supported from the moment of reporting through the justice process. We strive to ensure that victims are provided with trauma-informed, victim led, bespoke support to meet individual needs and manage risk. We want to work towards a shared goal of independence, free from fear, harm and abuse creating safer lives, safer homes and safer communities.”
Naomi Long continued: “I want to thank all those involved in providing this advocacy support service and welcome the partnership approach adopted in its delivery.”