Domestic violence remains an urgent issue in many European countries. It has been estimated that domestic violence costs approximately €366 billion to the European Union budget every year.
However, the most negative consequence cannot be put into figures. The real impact is on the children, women, and men who are experiencing domestic violence. Their lives are scarred, often forever, and tragically, domestic violence often ends in murder.
For Ukraine, this issue is likely to become even more urgent in the coming years, as people carry psychological disorders caused by the war, exacerbated by further traumas such as loss of income and internal displacement.
What’s more, the impact of Covid 19 on the increase in domestic violence has not yet been sufficiently researched in the EU, and the relevant lessons have not been learned.
Nevertheless, given the importance of the issue, it is important to highlight the positive practices that do exist in EU countries and how they could be brought to Ukraine.
The EU’s rich experience
Practical action to tackle domestic violence is mostly the preservation of national legislation in the member states, but the European Union does have a number of tools to support and protect victims.
The European Commission has implemented the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which sets out the framework to prevent and combat gender-based violence, support and protect victims, and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
In 2017, the EU signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the “Istanbul Convention”. This international agreement is one of the most prominent documents that provide practical instruments for combatting domestic violence.
There are no legal acts at the EU level that specifically regulate combatting violence against women and domestic violence. But there are several directives and regulations that establish and regulate judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In particular, these regulate the prevention of crime and the rights of the victims of crime, equality between women and men, and asylum policy.
For example, the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 sets minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, protecting the rights of victims of domestic violence at all stages of criminal proceedings. Generally, it establishes defined standards on the rights, support and protection of all victims of all crimes.
The European Union has also implemented legal tools for the mutual recognition of protection measures. This means, for instance, that restraining or barring orders issued in one member state are recognised in another with minimum bureaucracy. EU member states are also obliged to combat sexual harassment in employment and in the access to and supply of goods and services.
Earlier this year, the European Commission also submitted a proposal for a directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. This draft directive proposes rules for the protection of women who are victims of domestic violence, in order to strengthen the actions taken by the member states. The goal is to ensure a minimum level of protection across the EU, and the directive includes protection against actions that take place online or offline.
The European Commission also provides funding for non-governmental organisations combatting gender-based violence through the Daphne stream of the Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values programme.
At the same time, the EU provides study and research opportunities to support the exchange of best practices on gender equality. For instance, the Mutual Learning Programme in Gender Equality conducts seminars on ways of tackling violence against women and domestic violence, while the European Commission supported a comparative study of the European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination on the criminalisation of gender-based violence against women in European States. This study was the theoretical support to the proposal for a directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The European Institute on Gender Equality for its part has carried out research on the costs of gender-based violence in the European Union.
Finally, the European Commission participates in the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. These social media campaigns were run in order to raise awareness against this violation of human rights, particularly, domestic abuse.
The modern Ukrainian approach
The main changes in Ukrainian legislation took place in 2017-2018 with the adoption of the Law of Ukraine “On Prevention and Combating Domestic Violence” and a number of legislative acts that amended the Criminal Code of Ukraine, the Code of Ukraine on administrative offenses, and the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine.
In 2019, approximately 136,000 people were charged with administrative responsibility under minor offences proceedings that perpetrated domestic violence, in 2020 almost 160,000, and in 2021 more than 200,000 people. At the same time, 255 people were convicted for offences of domestic violence in 2019, 1,000 people in 2020, and 1,772 people in 2021.
More and more Ukrainians every year are coming to understand that violence in the family cannot be silenced, and that radical changes are beginning to take place.
On 20 June 2022 Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention, in spite of the ongoing full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation.
Even before the ratification, tools for the prevention of domestic violence did exist in Ukraine. The problem is that they are often not effectively used.
Take the example of restraining order: unfortunately, children witnessing domestic violence are rarely considered victims, as law enforcement agencies and the judicial system only very rarely apply this approach. When the police respond to a domestic violence call, they do not record whether a child is present at the scene. The court, therefore, does not identify the child as a victim. This affects the child’s right to receive aid and protection. This issue needs to be worked out, and the work of the relevant governmental and judicial bodies should be improved.
Additionally, the convention includes the possibility of a probation programme, where the court has the right to refer the offender to probation measures without imprisonment. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian courts practically do not apply this.
In addition, Ukrainian courts often approve restraining orders, but only in cases where the offender has previously been found guilty of domestic violence. A statement from the victim against an abuser who has not been previously convicted is not enough to issue a restraining order, although such an interpretation of the legislation is wrong.
It is therefore important to continue working with law enforcement bodies and judges for further implementation of the convention and protection of the rights of victims.
The next step is the transformation of civil society, the education of professionals and ordinary people about the problems of victims, their effective protection and assistance.
For this purpose, a number of interesting initiatives have been introduced.
One of the proposals is to place additional duties on teachers who are in daily contact with children. It is proposed to introduce an obligation for teachers to inform the relevant state social services and the police on receiving information about domestic violence against a child in the family, as well as about the detection of any traces on the body or clothing that may indicate such abuse.
The same goes for medical workers. During medical examinations and visits to the hospital for the treatment of injuries, medical workers will be obliged to inform the authorities about likely domestic violence, if they suspect the injuries have been received in the family.
In December 2021, the “1547 hotline” was introduced, as well as a website on combating human trafficking, preventing and combating domestic violence, gender-based violence and violence against children: https://1547.ukc.gov.ua.
The services work 24 hours a day, and it is possible to report cases of domestic violence and gender-based violence online, including by anonymous complaint.
There are also non-governmental projects. In 2021, due to the initiative of the Ukrainian representative office of the international initiative of men to support women against gender-based violence and discrimination, the mobile application “White Ribbon Ukraine” appeared in Ukraine. The platform consists of three functions: emergency assistance to the victim, keeping records of domestic violence, and providing information to identify signs of domestic violence.
In the application, it is possible to find emergency phone numbers, the nearest support centre, police station or state emergency service.
What European practices can be implemented in Ukraine?
Further integration into the EU will obviously open more opportunities to Ukraine as a candidate for membership and eventually a member state.
However, there are many tools that can already be used today. For example, various EU countries have prepared national plans for tackling domestic violence. These plans include awareness-raising campaigns across the European Union. One fifth of EU countries found these to be effective tools in raising awareness of domestic violence.
Such awareness-raising initiatives can have an important impact, whether at the national or regional level. Most of them are promoted by NGOs, then by government bodies or statutory agencies, and sometimes by research institutes. This demonstrates that civil society is still faster to respond to challenges like domestic violence, and, even today, Ukraine has a lot of active NGOs tackling the issue.
Another thing that would be useful for Ukraine is the further development of services providing support to the victims of domestic violence, such as safe environments, legal support, and undoing the harms of violence. Such options include listening, advice, advocacy, shelter, self-help, counselling, protection, prosecution, and access to activism. To reach this goal, additional funding is necessary, and even though the current situation makes state funding harder to access, it is important to advocate in this direction too.
Finally, training courses can have a significant impact, whether aimed at the general public, professionals, trainers or domestic violence victims. Additionally, the degree programmes on gender violence, as exist in some European countries, would be effective for teaching a new generation of professionals.
Ukraine’s best is yet to come
Despite all the obstacles in Ukraine, the process to combat domestic violence has already begun. People have understood that silence is not the best tool to combat domestic violence. We have to speak out loud about this problem in order to fundamentally change the situation in Ukraine. NGOs and other members of civil society continue to work on the issue and the state will need to follow their path. The perspectives for implementing new tools to combat domestic violence are encouraging. It will not be easy, but together we can.
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