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Domestic violence gets attention

SINCE the beginning of March, cabinet has approved two out of six revisions to the country's Civil and Criminal Codes with the aim of improving legal tools for victims of domestic violence.
If all goes well in a parliamentary vote next month, all six laws will be effective as of July 2002. But even if the laws are passed, women's advocates say there will still be a lot of work to be done, especially in making judges, police, and the wider public more sensitive to domestic violence.
On March 13, the cabinet approved a proposal by the Parliamentary Education Committee which introduces a seven-day deadline for issuing a court order banning a domestic violence aggressor from approaching within five meters of his victim. Until now, courts have often taken months to award this basic protection.

SINCE the beginning of March, cabinet has approved two out of six revisions to the country's Civil and Criminal Codes with the aim of improving legal tools for victims of domestic violence.

If all goes well in a parliamentary vote next month, all six laws will be effective as of July 2002. But even if the laws are passed, women's advocates say there will still be a lot of work to be done, especially in making judges, police, and the wider public more sensitive to domestic violence.

On March 13, the cabinet approved a proposal by the Parliamentary Education Committee which introduces a seven-day deadline for issuing a court order banning a domestic violence aggressor from approaching within five meters of his victim. Until now, courts have often taken months to award this basic protection.

One week later the cabinet passed another proposal which introduces several changes to the country's Criminal Code, introducing the term domestic violence into Slovak legislation, and defining it.

Committee head Eva Rusnáková, a Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKÚ) member of parliament (MP) who proposed the six revisions, said that the victims of violence would no longer be obliged to find alternative housing for their aggressors. This will be achieved through a court order, which will be issued for a temporary period.

Financial compensation for rape victims, or victims of other domestic violent crimes, should be increased from 30 to 50 times the national average wage.

A priority issue

European Commission social affairs committee member Anna Diamantopulus recently appealed to European Union (EU) member countries to make the elimination of violence against women one of the EU's top priorities.

European statistics suggest that every fifth woman has experienced domestic violence, and Slovak women's issues activists say that although official statistics do not exist, the situation in Slovakia is no different.

Lawyer Zuzana Magurová, who works for the Advocates for Women organisation and who helped to prepare the six recent legislative revisions, said on March 25 that the problem of domestic violence in Slovakia was complicated by the low public awareness of the issue.

"Tortured women in Slovakia were for a long time worse off than tortured animals," Magurová said.

"While a law punishing torture of animals was introduced into Slovak legislation in the early 1990s, a clause protecting tortured women did no go into effect until September 1999," she said.

Police statistics also suggest a worrying situation especially with regards to extreme acts of violence against women.

Of the total number of murders in 1999, 34 - that is an incredible 89.5 per cent, were women," said MP Rusnáková.

While MPs agreed that the measures were needed, with Democratic Party head Ľudovít Kaník saying that "this is probably one of the few things we can unite on," lawyer Magurová thinks that much work to raise public awareness will have to follow.

"We often meet with a very insensitive approach to these cases in the courts. Even judges are often ignorant of psychological violence against women. A judge once told my client, whose husband was terrorising her by turning off electricity or water while she had showers, that she didn't care about such trifles."

Magurová said that her group was therefore organising sensitivity training for young judges on domestic violence.

In her study on domestic violence Eva Sopková, a psychologist from the Pro Familia organisation in the eastern Slovak town of Humenné, said that violence committed against women was more tolerated by society than violence against children or elderly people, and that beaten women were often looked down upon as being responsible for their dysfunctional relationships.

"Tortured women cannot stop the violence by themselves. In their loneliness they often continue suffering and don't leave because the rest of us are quiet and do nothing to help them," said Sopková.

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