Judges show little sensitivity to victims of domestic violence, Council of Europe experts say

Police not yet trained on dynamics of domestic violence, judges show inadequate understanding of the change in paradigm in proving rape 

“Judges appear to have inadequate understanding of the change in paradigm in proving rape.”
“Judges appear to have inadequate understanding of the change in paradigm in proving rape.”

Malta has shown firm resolve in stemming violence against women, the Council of Europe’s group of experts on domestic violence, GREVIO, said in a first report on implementation of the Istanbul Convention

But GREVIO has observed a serious lack of training when it comes to sensitivity and awareness on domestic and other forms of violence against women, saying there was need for urgent improvement to reach compliance with the requirements of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. 

“Police officers who routinely receive reports or respond to callouts, are not trained on the dynamics of domestic violence, nor on the gendered aspect of such violence, its risk factors and the need to ensure victim protection. This leads to the phenomenon of dual reporting, alleged refusals to receive reports, interviewing the victims in an insensitive manner, lack of recording of patterns of abuse, barriers to reporting for particularly vulnerable categories of women and insufficient and ineffective collection of evidence in cases of rape and domestic violence.” 

Similarly, GREVIO noted the little sensitivity of judges, leading to repeat victimisation and low levels of prosecutions and convictions. “Judges appear to have inadequate understanding of the change in paradigm in proving rape, of the role and importance of emergency barring orders and protection orders in breaking the cycle of violence in cases of domestic violence, as well as of the role and importance of referring perpetrators to domestic violence programmes.” 

Numerous shortcomings were also identified in immediate support services for victims of sexual violence, with GREVIO warning of ‘secondary victimisation’, and of child custody supervisors untrained to work with perpetrators of violence against women. 

“Victims of domestic violence wishing to separate are often required to undergo mediation. 

“Due to their vulnerability stemming from the power imbalance that is typical in cases of domestic violence, victims are thus unlikely to be able to negotiate and reach an acceptable agreement that ensures the children’s and the mother’s safety.” 

Malta employs a gender-neutral approach to violence against women, which ensures all experiences of violence in intimate relationships, including that experienced by men and boys (including GBTIQ) are addressed. 

GREVIO said it was of “paramount importance that the different forms of violence against women are addressed as a gendered phenomenon because they affect women disproportionately. These forms of violence are directed against a woman because she is a woman and thus need to be understood as a social mechanism to keep women in a subordinate position to men.” 

Malta’s adoption of a gender-based violence action plan had broadened government policies to address other forms of violence against women, beyond domestic violence. 

The Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act has also transformed the former Commission on Domestic Violence into a Commission on Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence (CGBVD) with a wider mandate. 

The CGBVDV was praised as a fully institutionalised entity with legal personality and dedicated financial and human resources, as well as for having a diverse membership. 

GREVIO said it noted the authorities’ efforts to run an increasing number of awareness-raising campaigns since the entry into force of the Istanbul Convention. “Teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, sexual education, and to a certain extent, domestic violence are, in fact, included in the mandatory national curriculum starting primary school.” 

GREVIO said there also no procedures in place to identify vulnerable individuals rescued at sea upon their arrival, and denounced the closure of ports to women asylum seekers who are victims of gender-based violence being returned to the place they are escaping from. “The practice of relinquishing responsibility for search and rescue operations to authorities who are unwilling or unable to protect rescued migrants or are in a state of civil war is also described and criticised.”