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Engaging change in Northern Ireland

Letter to The Executive Office

 

RE: Positive Action for Male Victims of Abuse.

I write to draw your attention to the statutory need for the Executive Office (TEO) and Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) to promote equality between men and women when implementing policies and practices relating to public protection.

 

In October 2023, Split the Difference submitted a response to the public consultation on TEO’s Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Framewor (EVWAG).

 

We have advised TEO that withholding protections and regard for boys and men under this framework may leave both them and and their Partnering Public Authorities vulnerable to complaints under The Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, The Human Rights Act 1998 and Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

TEO asserts that the EVAWG Strategic Framework is best characterised as ‘a targeted positive action measure’ designed to protect a Section 75 group that is especially ‘at risk’ from ‘the gender specific drivers, root causes and disproportionate impact of violence, abuse and harm. 

Positive action measures must be proportionate and also be balanced against potential adverse impacts of the action on other protected groups.

 

Actions that do not meet the statutory requirements for taking positive action are unlawful direct discrimination, irrespective of motives. 

Withholding regard for boys and men under this framework will have clear adverse impacts for them, such as being excluded from the scope of the imminent gap analysis of frontline services and pathways to protection. This exclusion seems unlikely to meet the object justification test.

Research commissioned by TEO to inform this Framework shows that males also experience gender based violence in significant numbers. Furthermore, our March 2023, report that was shared with TEO Officers, documents clear evidence of gaps in the range and quality of services provided to men and boys, when directly compared to women and girls. 

 

Women and girls are especially ‘at risk’ from gender based violence and, as minority victims, boys and men can encounter structural and attitudinal barriers when seeking protection, support and justice from the state. It is possible to take positive action measures to address disadvantages encountered by more than one protected group at the same time. 

TEO and their Partnering Public Authorities should be aware that The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland recommends that Government Departments should take gender specific action to tackle gender based violence experienced by both women and men. 

Split the Difference urges TEO and their Partnering Public Authorities to undertake significant positive action measures to address the needs of boys and men. 

This should include actions to address additional barriers to justice, service provision, and support experienced by boys and men who are deaf and disabled, minority ethnic, LGBTQIA+, older, younger, financially dependent, homeless, those who suffer from addiction, looked after children, as well as those with insecure immigration status and those residing in rural areas. 

These actions are necessary both to address existing gaps and barriers encountered by male victims, and to mitigate against potential further adverse impacts for boys and men arising from TEO and their Partnering Public Authorities’ intention to proceed with this single sex specific framework. 

Split the Difference are concerned that, in the absence of significant balancing positive action measures, the actions proposed under the EVWAG Framework will constitute unlawful direct sex discrimination, irrespective of motive. 

Split the Difference urges The Executive Office and their Partnering Public Authorities to act on the recommendations made by The Men’s Federation Northern Ireland. Specifically that: ​
 

  • TEO reviews their three Human Rights Impact Assessments and mitigate against adverse impacts for male victims arising from the single sex specific approach adopted by the strategic framework and foundational action plan.

  • TEO works in partnership with the relevant Partnering Authorities and agrees a parallel positive action plan (led by DoJ/H) to address structural and attitudinal barriers that male victims of intimate violence encounter when seeking protection, support and justice from Public Authorities.

 

Our understanding is that the Departments of Justice and Health’s draft Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategy has progressed to a revision stage and that they will be introducing a new pillar identifying outcomes and actions specifically for children and young people.

 

We have written to their Department Heads requesting that they also introduce a pillar addressing the needs of different ‘at risk’ groups. We believe that this pillar should include outcomes and actions specifically addressing the needs of male victims and that this may be a proportionate act of positive action to mitigate against the adverse impacts we have brought to your attention.

Split the Difference is prepared to protect the rights of male victims of abuse through the courts if necessary. We believe that ultimately such action will not be required and that common sense and human decency will ultimately prevail.

 

The Human Rights Act 1998; The Northern Ireland Act 1998; The Victim Charter Justice Act (NI) 2015; The Sex Discrimination Order (NI) 1976: The European Convention of Human Rights; UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and Rights of People with Disabilities; The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and The EU Victims Directive all contain articles asserting protection from discrimination due to personal characteristics. Even The Istanbul Convention encourages State Parties to apply the Convention to all victims of domestic violence, including male children.

 

Our March 2023 Report sets out 14 positive action recommendations that are primarily for the attention of Public Authorities represented on the domestic and sexual abuse and ending violence against women and girls Oversight Boards. I would encourage you to consider these.

 

I would also encourage you to attend our Briefing on the Need for Positive Action for Male Victims to be held in Parliament Buildings on Monday 20th November.

 

Finally, I would be grateful if you would arrange a suitable time to meet with me and discuss what positive action your Department intends to progress.

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