Outrage after police dismiss gender link to Paulina Dembska's murder despite brutal rape

Anger and confusion has erupted over comments made by the police during a crime conference on Thursday stating that Paulina Dembska's rape and murder was not linked to gender

Vigil for Paulina Dembska (left) was held the day after she was murdered by accused Abner Aquilina (right) (Photos: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Vigil for Paulina Dembska (left) was held the day after she was murdered by accused Abner Aquilina (right) (Photos: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Anger has erupted over a statement made by the Malta Police Force that the brutal rape and murder of Paulina Dembska was not linked to her gender.

In a crime conference, just before 20-year-old Abner Aquilina was charged in court, the police said Dembska's murder was not premeditated, random and not linked to her gender despite the rape charge. No justification was given as to why the crime was not considered to be gender related.

The statement left many confused and angered, especially after court testimony a couple of hours later by the prosecuting officer revealed how Aquilina not only murdered Dembska but raped her vaginally, anally and orally.

READ ALSO: Abner Aquilina charged with brutal rape and murder of Paulina Dembska

Lawyer and Womens Rights Foundation member Lara Dimitrijevic said that Thursday’s press conference once again showed the ingrained misogyny and gender stereotyping that existed in Malta.

“I believe that today's press conference, followed by the arraignment of Abner Aquilina, confirms the ignorance that persists at the highest level of what gender-based violence is,” Dimitrijevic said.

The lawyer said that it was impossible to state that a woman had been brutally raped, yet at the same time also say it was not gender-related.

“A rape so brutal that in itself shows misogyny and hate,” Dimitrijevic said.

Lawyer Desiree Attard said that just because murder or rape is random does not mean it was not committed on the basis of gender.

“The fact that there is no link between the killer and the victim does not mean that the act was not motivated by the fact that yes, the victim was a woman,” Attard said.

Attard called the statement by the police a “disappointment.”

Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus said that the police’s statement was absurd unless it was a miscommunication on their end.

Callus questioned the fact that the police said that the murder wasn’t linked to gender when they also noted that Aquilina would be charged with rape while also asking women he has harassed to come forward and report it.

“This absurd statement would further testify to the seriousness and depth of the problem of violence against women and gender inequality,” Callus said.

Doctors for Choice Malta also added that such statements from the police are the reason women don’t come forward and report rape.

“A woman was raped and killed, and the police say it’s not gender-related. Are we meant to believe that had a man been in her place at that time, he would also have been raped and killed? Pull the other one. No wonder women don’t report sexual crimes to the police,” the NGO said.

In a statement on Friday, the Malta Women's Lobby said it objected to the observation made by the police that no particular gender was targeted by the accused in Dembska's murder.

"This raises serious questions on the lack of knowledge and sheer lack of sensitivity around the issue of violence against women on the part of the police," the Malta Women’s Lobby said.

The lobby said the fact that the victim was violently raped is in itself a clear indicator that she was targeted because she was a woman.

"The police's statement that no gender was targeted implies that if a man happened to be feeding the cats on the day instead of the victim, he too risked being violently raped, strangled and murdered because he randomly happened to be there," the organisation said. "If the police are unable to see violence against women for what it really is, how can women feel protected in this country?"

The outrage also prompted a parliamentary petition calling for clarification as to why the domestic violence act isn't being enforced.

Dembska was murdered at around 5:15am on 2 January at the Independence Garden in Sliema. The accused pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody with the prison authorities expected to decide whether he should be kept at Corradino Correctional Facility or Mount Carmel Hospital.