Police ill prepared for domestic violence

POLICE face criticism, as threats turned to reality when 53-year-old Iveta barely survived a knife attack by her ex-husband, who then shot and killed himself with an illegal gun.

(Source: Sme)

Iveta, who is now recovering, says she approached police in the city of Martin several times after her ex-husband sent her SMSs threatening to kill her as well as her son. “They told me that nothing has happened and that they can do nothing about that,” she told the Pravda daily. “I told them that when it really happens then it will be probably late [for an action]. Sadly, that’s how it goes here.”

The police dealt with the threats reported by Iveta in 2011 as misdemeanour. Viera Toporová of Martin District Office told Pravda that her ex-husband was punished with a reprimand.

NGOs pointed to the failure of police officers who knew about the threats but took no action to prevent the tragedy. “He was proven guilty,” Toporová said, as quoted by Pravda. “Since he has never been prosecuted, he admitted and regretted [his act], which we saw as facts which soften punishments.”

Iveta later showed to police even a SMS saying that “time is running out and all numbers will disappear”. The ex-husband also claimed to have schizophrenia and possess an illegal weapon in a text message. Such words, however, could not be assessed even as a misdemeanour, according Martin Police Chief Peter Sivoň.

Individual failures

Such cases are individual failures of police officers, many times they are not properly educated about how to deal with domestic violence, according to Tatiana Brnová, director of the Žena v tiesni (Woman in Need) crisis counselling NGO. Sometimes they even persuade victims to not file a criminal complaint, telling them it would be pointless.

“We have police officers who can sturdily deal with such cases and we have police officers who neglect it,” Brnová told the Sme daily. “It is about their individual approach – many times it is more comfortable for them to deal with it as a criminal offence not a criminal act [which is punished harder].”

The police approach such cases very sensitively with the aim to provide protection to victims. They can act only after they learn about a criminal act, Police Presidium spokeswoman Denisa Balo-ghová said. Many times it is too late.

“Victims are often ashamed and afraid to speak about the problem,” Baloghová said, as quoted by Sme. “Most of the time violence happens in private, behind closed doors. Even this is the reason why we learn about it late or not at all.”

Sometimes abused women file criminal complaints, but then cancel them out of fear. Victims also often underestimate threats or provoke their abusers, according to Zuzana Kovácsová, the deputy director of the emergency shelter for abused women Jozefínum.

“Sadly, many victims never take the decisive step and don’t seek help,” Kovácsová told The Slovak Spectator. “The first condition is that the victim of violence must be willing to solve the problem and this will has to be stubborn.”

To deal with such cases the police have courses to train officers. It also has power to ban a violent person from a home if they threaten other household members, according to Baloghová.

She added that police officers also use the SARA DN questionnaire method which helps to identify whether threat of violence the victim talks about is real. Brnová, however, pointed out that police officers generally do not use this questionnaire since it is not an official methodology of how to deal with domestic violence.

“Only professionals well educated in this issue use SARA in Slovakia,” Brnová said, as quoted by Sme. “In the Czech Republic they are obliged to use it.”

State prepares new law

There are voices calling for more women in the police force. In larger police departments there should be special teams of female investigators who could deal with domestic violence cases in a sensitive manner, according to Oľga Pietruchová, the head of Labour, Social Affairs and Family Ministry’s gender equality department.

Her department is launching a project together with the Council of Europe which should educate those investigators as well as prosecutors and all state employees dealing with domestic violence. As of March there should be a hotline for women threatened by violence that is integrated with other hotlines from NGOs and police.

“Therefore we should be more coordinated when dealing with future cases and cooperate with the Interior Ministry and police,” Pietruchová told The Slovak Spectator.

Another measure is preparation of new legislation which should be complete in autumn 2015 covering and standardising all steps of state employers when dealing with domestic violence.

“For example, many of those women are noticed by the health care system and [legislation sets] where it should be reported,” Pietruchová said. “When police receive such a report it should approach a regional advisory organisation to help such a woman and provide her with shelter.”

Attitudes improving

Pietruchová said that violence against women is the only form of violence where people think that it is the victim’s fault. Such attitudes legitimise violence and allow offenders to escape liability.

“Many times even the woman’s late arrival from work, having their own opinion, visiting a friend or criticising men is considered as provocation,” Pietruchová said. “Many times men see provocation in [woman’s] behaviour which they would consider as normal in a case where it is their own [behaviour].”

Kovácsová, however, pointed out that this attitude is disappearing from society and people can speak about the abuse of women, children and older people quite openly. The victim has also much more options for finding information on this issue as well as professional help as compared with the past.

On the other hand, Slovaks still have much to learn about violence against women as there are still cases when a lack of knowledge results in negative attitudes towards them, according to Marian Mesároš, director of Slovak National Centre for Human Rights.

Mesároš cited past examples of neighbours objecting to the construction of shelters for abused women near to their homes.

“People were afraid that construction of such a building for abused women will cause many violent people to be running around,” Mesároš told The Slovak Spectator.

Nevertheless, Brnová witnessed many positive examples of people willing to help and calling the hotline to help their neighbours.

“We have positive experiences that people are not ignorant and try to help,” Brnová told Sme.

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