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Tackling domestic abuse is a top priority, Govt says

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Increased incidents of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 lockdown have brought Gibraltar’s national response strategy into sharper focus, the Gibraltar Government said on Wednesday, as it outlined plans to launch initiatives that will “go beyond legislation”.

The Government said tackling domestic abuse was one of its highest priorities and its focus lies in building a society that has zero tolerance towards this problem.

This comes after the Chronicle reported statistics showing a spike in the number of incidents of domestic abuse logged by the Royal Gibraltar Police in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2019.

Between January and June of last year, some 213 cases were reported to police compared with 270 for the same period this year.

The data prompted the GSD to voice concern and call for the Government to publish its national strategy to tackle domestic abuse.

Michelle Perera, a spokeswoman for the charity Women in Need, said the organisation experienced a “very big increase” in the number of calls it received during the period of lockdown, something which continues to this day.

She highlighted how the increase in contact with the charity is an indicator of how the community is more willing to discuss the issue and for victims to seek help.

Ms Perera further highlighted the Government’s positive response during lockdown.

She explained that the Government had worked to re-home residents of the shelter which in turn freed up space to help other victims of domestic abuse.

In a statement, the Government said as part of its strategy, it is widening the definition of domestic violence to include non-physical, economic abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour as part of developing the existing National Strategy on Domestic Abuse.

The Government said it was acutely aware of the likelihood of the increased risk of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 period and as such, the national strategy was brought into sharper focus.

During the lockdown period, it explained, a specific Covid-19 Domestic Abuse working group made up of professionals from all stakeholder departments, and extended to include a representative from Women in Need, was appointed for this purpose so that all agencies were prepared to deal with the anticipated influx of cases.

“Specific focused systems were established to ensure that any victims of domestic abuse would be able to receive the help and support needed on a multi agency basis,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“Measures also included increasing the number of secure accommodation made available to victims and families should the need arise.”

In addition, the Government said, the situation was monitored daily at the platinum level of command to ensure that there were no spikes.

In parallel, there was also a media campaign during this difficult period to raise awareness and to remind the community that there is always help at hand.

This included posters containing contact information which were distributed widely as well as on social media as well as videos which were aired on GBC.

The Minister for Justice and Equality and also Minister with responsibility for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento, said: “Domestic abuse is very much something that concerns us and initiatives and development are ongoing all the time.”

“For this reason, it was immediately a priority for us during Covid and all the professionals were ready to deal with the wave of cases that was expected.”

“In addition to our work specific to domestic abuse during the Covid pandemic, improvement on domestic abuse strategies across the board is ongoing; the teams who are involved in developing and delivering the various stands of the strategy are extremely committed.”

“Over the coming months, we will be announcing the culmination of a number of initiatives that we have been working on, the improvements from this work will go beyond legislation.”

“Our focus and our objective is to build a society that has zero tolerance towards domestic abuse, where people are encouraged to call it out and where victims, as well as perpetrators receive the support that they need.”