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Unhappy Christmas for victims

Christmas tends to make sad circumstances even sadder. This is the time for families to get closer and celebrate together. However, for those whose family is shattered by violence, it is adifferent time. More frequent occasions for consuming alcohol and for partying do not help. They may give rise to jealousy, unfounded suspicions and accusations, more prohibitions over what the spouse or partner may wear, where she or he may go and with whom and thus a greater risk of violence. Victims of domestic violence may also have a harder time at this time of year to maintain a semblance of normality especially with the more regular family gatherings.

It is women who suffer most at the hands of their abusive partners. It is mostly women who will be crying silently as the Christmas celebrations unfold around their miserable world.

While a number of services are in place to support victims of domestic violence, much more to be done for these vulnerable persons to be able to cope with such a traumatic and dehumanising experience and to be able to rebuild their lives. The ratification and effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence would be a much needed step in this direction.

This convention is particular in a number of ways. Once ratified, it is legally binding. Its aim is to ensure that victims of violence are given the same level of protection across Europe.

The foundations on which this convention was developed are the prevention of violence, the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators.

More significantly, the convention recognises violence against women both as a human rights violation and as emanating from stereotyped, culturally constructed definitions of women’s and men’s social expectations.

It recognises that as long as men continue to believe that they have a natural right to exercise power over women and as long as the existing social structures continue to make them believe that this is acceptable we will never eliminate gender-based violence.

As a party which considers social justice and social equality as two of its main pillars, Alternattiva Demokratika recognises the merits of this convention particularly its wide scope and holistic approach. It also appreciates the fact that it addresses violence in its every form and within various contexts. While recognising that women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence it urges policy makers to protect the rights of victims of violence without discrimination on any grounds including sex, social class, marital status, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

With an almost perfect tool in their hands, all policy makers need to do is roll up their sleeves and get to work. Procrastination on ratifying the convention suggests a lack of political will to give this social scourge the seriousness it deserves. That said, ratification without effective implementation will only be an exercise in political propaganda without necessarily making a difference in the life of victims.

For political action to be significant for victims of domestic violence, more investment in human and financial resources is needed in order to enhance the effectiveness of both the Commission for Domestic Violence and the Domestic Violence Unit within Appoġġ whose staff complement has not increased for ages.

A boost in financial investment and better allocation of resources will enable the social workers at Appoġġ to give more attention to both victims and perpetrators who seek their professional help and to engage in other useful activities such as training, awareness-raising and liaising with other related entities, which is crucial to ensure a better coordinated and more holistic service to victims.

A specialised section within the police force would be better equipped to protect victims of violence and their children. The police need to be sensitive to such situations and should be trained to be able to deal with them effectively. Yes it is frustrating for police officers to start legal procedures and then having the victim drop the charges. However, one has to understand what induces such victims to discontinue the case or to refuse to testify.

It is also regrettable that in such cases, it is often the abused woman who is constrained to leave the family home rather than the perpetrator. While sensitive and well-informed officials are found both within the police force and the judiciary and legal profession, the opposite can equally be said of some of their members.

Unfortunately there are still those who tend to pressure the victim not to press charges or to discontinue the case so as “not the break up the family” or “send the father of her children to prison”. Guilt feelings are all an abused victim needs when she is in such a vulnerable state.

Furthermore, since many victims of violence cannot afford a private lawyer, they often have to rely on free legal aid which is not always so efficient, often leading to more suffering by the victims as proceedings take a lot of time. The practice of having volunteers, albeit trained, manage the 179 helpline should be stopped. Similarly, victims of domestic violence should be given protection in shelters used exclusively for this purpose.

The law regulating abuse should be revised so that violent persons would be given harsher penalties and support if they need help. Campaigns targeted at different audiences and involving men should be stepped up.

Effective measures such as these would make a nice Christmas present next year. This is after all a time for hoping.

Angele Deguara is the spokesman for social policy and civil rights of Alternattiva Demokratika.

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