I very much welcome the opportunity to make a statement on this important issue and to listen to the contributions of colleagues. It is important to look at how we can come together to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It is an area that I have prioritised since my appointment as Minister. The Government as a whole is committed to combating domestic and sexual violence in all its forms and ensuring that anyone who is a victim of this most heinous type of abuse is empowered and supported to come forward to seek help. We want people to know they will be listened to and to have confidence in the system and the people who work in it. I hope our commitment in this area is evident in the programme for Government commitments, the considerations taken into account as priorities in the context of managing the pandemic, and the work being undertaken as a priority within my Department and in conjunction with other Departments, agencies and stakeholders.
Since I became Minister for Justice, I have sought to engage as much as possible with those working across the sector and with victims. Unfortunately, due to the Covid restrictions, that has not been as easy as I would have liked. I like to be able to travel to different counties to engage with people in their own workplaces, where they do fantastic work. I would like to assure those working with victims and those who have advocated for change and reform in this area that, as restrictions are lifted, I am determined to meet them in person, if I have not done so already, and in the workplaces where they do so much good.
A number of issues have been highlighted in the engagements I have been able to have to date, such as when I met with people working on the crime victims helpline this week. One of the points highlighted to me is that public information campaigns make a difference. They are not everything but they do have an impact. Requests for help from victims and those in vulnerable situations increase when information campaigns are under way and when there are advertisements on television, radio, social media and elsewhere. We have said on a number of occasions throughout the pandemic that even as we asked people to stay at home because of the restrictions, we know that home is not necessarily a safe haven for everybody in the way that it is for many of us. The Still Here campaign is about getting the message out that services continue to be available to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence and - I want to emphasise this point - that Covid travel restrictions do not apply to anybody who is in a domestic abuse situation and is seeking help. Further information on the organisations involved in the campaign can be found on the website, www.stillhere.ie.
We are also midway through the No Excuses campaign, the Department of Justice's national awareness campaign to tackle domestic and sexual violence. The campaign is a key action of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence for 2016 to 2021. We are moving to produce a third strategy. The aims of the current campaign are to increase awareness of domestic and sexual violence, bring about a change in long-established societal behaviours and attitudes, and activate bystanders with the aim of decreasing and preventing this type of violence. On the latter point, we are asking friends, family and members of the community to look out for changes in behaviour which may indicate that a person is being abused.
We are all aware that domestic violence, unfortunately, has increased during the pandemic. It is frightening to see the prevalence of this type of violence, which is mainly directed towards women. In 2020, in response to the impact of the pandemic on front-line services funded by my Department, an additional €327,590 in Covid-specific funding has been made available. That funding has been used to help organisations adapt and continue their services during this period. Much larger and more significant funding for the day-to-day running of these organisations is provided by Tusla. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has been able to increase that funding, which he will talk about presently. Under budget 2021, I have secured an additional €400,000 to continue the Covid-specific funding that is helping organisations working to support victims of crime, including victims of domestic abuse.
While the Covid crisis has undoubtedly been an awful time for many, it has helped us to bring about some permanent changes which would otherwise have taken a little longer to achieve. One of the first pieces of legislation I brought to this House as Minister for Justice enabled the courts to make greater use of live video links and remote hearings. We had a welcome development in the past month when, for the first time, a domestic violence protection order was secured in the District Court by a woman via video link from her own kitchen. This is a really welcome development for many people.
Tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is a priority for the Garda Commissioner. I have spoken to him several times since my appointment about how the Department can work with gardaí to find new ways of tackling this issue. An Garda Síochána has shown its commitment in this area by completing the national roll-out of divisional protective services units in September.
The divisional protective services units will support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual and domestic crime. In addition, all serving members of An Garda Síochána engaged in front-line policing will receive specialist training for engaging with victims of sexual crime and vulnerable witnesses.
Both of these are recommendations made in Supporting a Victim's Journey - A Plan to Help Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Sexual Violence Cases, which I launched recently. It is a comprehensive roadmap for implementing the O'Malley recommendations. There are, of course, a huge number of recommendations, 57 in total over four overarching themes, all of which I am fully committing to implementing and working on with the agencies, NGOs and, in particular, victims of these crimes. The report outlines measures and supports to protect and help vulnerable witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, giving full effect to the actions contained in Supporting a Victim's Journey.
I am committed to ensuring that victims are supported, informed, respected and treated with the utmost compassion and professionalism by all who work within justice system and that everybody with whom they engage is trained at the highest level. It is also important that not only victims feel as though they can come forward but those who are perpetrators of these crimes know that through our support of the victims they will be reported, charged and face the correct consequences.
Combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is not only about the Department of Justice. It requires a variety of supports and services being available. It requires a proactive and appropriate approach by our agencies such as the Garda, the courts, and the Legal Aid Board, it requires appropriately funded community services and, of course, it requires robust underpinning legislation to ensure that perpetrators are held to account for their actions.
It is because of the need for a truly joined-up approach that this Government is committed to conducting an audit of how the services for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are segmented across the different Government agencies. I have just published a request for tender for a suitably qualified independent expert to undertake this audit who will, as part of his or her work, be required to take account of the views of those working at the front line. The results of this independent audit will provide us with an independent comprehensive analysis to inform how we develop proposals for the most effective future infrastructure. This is in line with our programme for Government commitment. It will be completed by the end of March 2021.
Domestic abuse is not only about violence. Coercive and controlling behaviour, whilst more difficult to identify, can have a similarly devastating effect on victims. The landmark Domestic Violence Act 2018, which came into force on 1 January 2019, created the offence of coercive control to recognise in law the devastating impact that emotional abuse can have on those upon whom it is inflicted. It is everything from controlling what somebody can spend to who the person can engage with to what is on the person's phone and monitoring everything the person does. The psychological impact this can have on people is devastating. That is why it was welcome to see last week the first conviction before a jury in the State for the offence of coercive control. It takes immense courage for somebody to come forward and follow through on such a prosecution and the bravery of the victim in this case is to be commended. I hope that as more convictions follow, other victims of coercive control will feel confident to come forward. No doubt my colleague, Deputy Carroll MacNeill, will touch on this further.
We have also seen in recent days the abuse and exploitation, mainly of women, where indecent images have been spread on the Internet. I look forward to working with all Deputies in this House as we implement the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 before the end of the year.
We all share a deep concern for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and a desire to provide the most effective system to support them. I thanks the Deputies who are here today to discuss the range of actions across the justice sector and I welcome the opportunity to listen to their views or any suggestions or proposals in this area that they have.
I urge all victims of domestic violence to reach out when it is safe to do so. I also urge anyone who is concerned that these offences are being committed against a friend, a family member or a community to please report this to the authorities. I assure the House that I am fully committed to combating domestic violence in all forms. I will work with all my colleagues and with our dedicated community and voluntary organisations to ensure that we do so in a way that serves the needs of victims best.