Women’s lives short-changed by systemic failure of courts and police

Malta Women’s Lobby denounce severe shortcomings in ‘gender-neutral’ approach to domestic violence that victimises women

A march against violence against women held in 2019
A march against violence against women held in 2019

Malta is still not fully compliant with all aspects of the Istanbul Convention because the country is adopting a gender-neutral approach to violence, the Malta Women’s Lobby has denounced.

The MWL said Malta was failing to address this phenomenon as a specific form of violence against women, “because the victims are women”.

“The situation in Malta is regressing rather than improving in many aspects for a number of reasons,” the lobby said, citing extremely low prosecutions and convictions against perpetrators of violence and rapists in Malta, and rape victims still not having access to the morning-after pill at Mater Dei Hospital.

The MWL’s statement marks the start of 16 days of activism to call for the elimination of violence against women, on the occassion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

“Women’s experiences of violence are still being largely dismissed, minimised or even ignored.  To make matters worse, when victims try to defend themselves, they are often charged as an equal perpetrator in the crime, in spite of their trauma.”

The MWL said the Maltese judiciary still lacks basic training on the complex dynamics and risks of domestic violence and its gendered aspects. As a result, many judges refuse to grant protection or emergency, or  barring orders against the perpetrators in line with the Istanbul Convention.

“Many also insist on giving shared custody or access to the children, even when the father is violent and perpetrators are rarely referred to perpetrator programmes.

“Our laws also force women experiencing domestic violence who want to separate from their partner, to undergo mediation with their perpetrators. Often, the criminal and family court work independently when such crimes should ideally be dealt with in a court which is specialised in domestic violence.”

The MWL said children involved in cases of domestic violence were being short-changed by the legal system by not being factored in as victims of the crime, even if the law was clear that children witnessing domestic violence were also victims.

“Certain court ‘experts’ in family court, especially around the issue of so-called ‘parental alienation’, seem to be biased against the mothers and lack knowledge around the link between domestic violence and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on such children which can last for life,” the MWL said.

The lobby said the courts lacked understanding of trauma, viewing inconsistencies in testimony that are down to trauma “as a lack in the strength of the evidence” that get labelled as “twisting of truths”.

It said a tribunal was urgently needed to address perpetrators of violence continue who control their victims by not paying for child support, or holding on consent for children to change school or participate in extra-curricular sport.

It said the police was also not collecting evidence from the scene of the crime in a timely manner. “At times, the police also allegedly refuse to receive reports about domestic violence and make it difficult to the particularly vulnerable categories of women to lodge a report in the first place,” the MWL said.