AFRAID to speak out.
While violence in the home is growing, society continues to refuse to address what is considered a taboo subject, a report by the Bratislava International Centre for Family Studies (MSSR) has said. The situation gives little hope to victims and makes it impossible to accurately map the state of domestic violence in Slovakia, the centre added.
"Something must be done," Jarmila Filadelfiová, one of the authors of the MSSR report 'Domestic Violence in Slovakia' told The Slovak Spectator.
"It is very difficult to quantify the situation with regards to domestic violence. Discussion of the issue needs to be widened and there is a lack of information on the subject, especially in places such as schools."
The report, the first attempt to accurately map the state of domestic violence in the country, confirms what many people working in the field have claimed for years: that domestic violence is growing and few people, including the victims, are willing to speak about the problem.
Between 1995 and 2000 domestic violence as a proportion of all violent crimes committed against women rose 9 per cent to 75 per cent, data in the report shows. The total number of violent crimes against women in 2000 stood at 4,952. The figure in 1995 was 3,252.
The rise ran parallel to a general growth in violent crime. The number of reported cases of violent crime in 1995 stood at 10,990, rising to 13,459 in 2000.
But the report warns that the actual number of violent crimes committed against women is much higher. "Criminal statistics show only a part of the total crimes in reality, and only give a picture of crimes that are identified. The number of latent crimes is much higher. Women who are victims of domestic violence very often do not present themselves to legal bodies or press charges," the report reads.
Fear of reprisals if crimes are reported, as well as the classification of some forms of domestic violence as a misdemeanour rather than a crime, excluding them from police figures on domestic violence, make the data misleading, the report claims.
The MSSR study also claims legislation on domestic violence is poor. Among the faults it sees with current legislation are that charges against someone committing acts of domestic violence can only be brought with consent of the victim, who can call for legal proceedings to be halted at any time.
It is also critical of the fact that there is no mechanism for ensuring the isolation of someone who has committed acts of domestic violence, often meaning that the victim and children are forced to leave their homes, and that perpetrators of domestic violence are not forced to undergo treatment following convictions.
The report also attacks what it claims is poor legislation forcing children to give witness testimonies in the presence of police officers. It says the testimonies should be given only to psychologists who would then act as witnesses for the children in criminal proceedings.
For many years a number of non-governmental organisations have been working to bring more open discussion of domestic violence as well as changes in legislation.
Amendments to existing laws, designed to help victims of domestic violence, have been drawn up by a number of NGOs in co-operation with the Justice Ministry and were presented and approved by government April 17.
Expected to go to parliament soon, the amendments deal with many of the shortcomings identified in the MSSR report and have been hailed by some legal experts working with domestic violence issues as a step forward in dealing with the problem and helping victims.
They include the introduction of obligatory video-taping of child testimonies, removing the need for them to testify again in person in court; the adoption of Council of Europe resolutions binding the state to provide specific forms of help to victims of domestic violence; and a narrowing of the classification of crimes for which criminal proceedings can only be launched with the consent of the victim.
"The state of laws on domestic violence is not good. But I am hopeful that the proposed legislation will bring a positive change," said Henrietta Kollárová, a lawyer who works for NGOs dealing with women's issues.
But while Justice Ministry officials say the proposed legislation is a step forward they say more work needs to be done in creating greater awareness of the problem.
"What is needed possibly more than legislation is to bring this topic out in the open and get more people talking about it," said Andrea Krajniaková, spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry.
6. May 2002 at 0:00 | Ed Holt