Shocked and saddened, activists say system failed murder victim Bernice Cassar

Bernice Cassar was the third femicide victim this year, prompting activists to call for root causes of domestic violence to be addressed

Murder victim and mother of two, Bernice Cassar
Murder victim and mother of two, Bernice Cassar

Bernice Cassar’s murder was the third femicide of the year, prompting several organisations and activists to express outrage and shock.

Cassar was shot dead by her estranged husband as she drove to work at the Corradino industrial estate. The man used a shotgun to fire three shots at the victim who was in her car at the time.

Cassar, the mother of two young children, died on the spot and the murder suspect remains holed up at his Qrendi house surrounded by police.

Negotiators are trying to convince the man to hand himself over and the situation in Qrendi remains tense.

Cassar’s murder has prompted several organisations to point an accusing finger at the system for failing the victim.

Lara Dimitrijevic from the Women’s Rights Foundation said that the murder clearly showed that the country has a wider problem of male violence against women. 

“Even after ratifying the Istanbul Convention and changing legislation we are not addressing the root cause which is gender inequality,” Dimitrijevic said. 

Taking note of the multiple domestic violence reports Cassar had filed with the police, Dimitrijevic insisted the system continues to fail women like Bernice. 

“No matter how we look at it, we cannot justify it. We must address attitudes of ‘If I can’t have you, no one can’; we must tackle the procedures and gender stereotyping that is prevalent across the board, from our culture to our institutions,” Dimitrijevic said, adding the country was patching things up without working on the root cause. 

The Malta Women’s Lobby said it was “extremely saddened” to hear of yet another femicide. 

“We are saddened that her life was lost, and that her family are now faced with the loss of a beloved daughter, sister and mother. But we are also angry - we are angry that another woman has been lost to femicide and angry that the system appears to have failed her,” the MWL said.

How many more women must die?

Moviment Graffitti said like so many other victims of femicide, Bernice Cassar had filed multiple domestic violence reports in the past. 

“She feared for her safety and that of her children. She made reports as recently as yesterday, yet no action was taken. How many more women must die this way before something changes?” 

Graffitti said the police must offer continuous training to its front liners and officers across the hierarchy. “Training is needed on what the law says as well as to change harmful attitudes and behaviours that persist.” 

The movement added that it was unacceptable to have just one magistrate hearing domestic violence cases, leading to a backlog. 

“Training is also required to address damaging attitudes and stereotypes, and the gendered dynamics of intimate partner violence,” Graffitti said. 

Alexander Dimitrijevic from Men Against Violence said that men killing women they profess to love is not an act of passion, not a momentary lapse of reason, nor product of sudden rage.  

“Men killing the women that they shared intimate moments with, that gave birth to their children, that they are supposed to love and protect is an ultimate claim of ownership,” he said. “Men claiming ownership of the lives of women is an international disease and Malta is not immune.”

A failing system 

Nationalist Party spokesperson for equality Graziella Attard Previ described the murder as “shocking”.  

“It is obvious that the system is failing; procedures and reporting of domestic violence is not being taken seriously. Although we have made legislative amendments, in practice the system continues to fail these victims,” she said, calling for a “whole revision” of the system.  

Attard Previ said the latest gender equality index did not list a score for Malta on violence since no figures were forthcoming from the authorities. 

“Why aren’t we reporting our statistics? Is Malta not monitoring the problem? Are no records being kept? Part of dealing with the system is collection of data, to get a better understanding of where we are failing and what can be improved on.” 

Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar acknowledged that the system failed Bernice Cassar. 

“We failed to protect you as well. You called for help and you were not heard. Now it is too late. Every word that is written and spoken is irrelevant. Nobody and nothing will bring you back. Your children lost their mother for ever,” Cutajar said. 

President emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said the murder showed that changing the law to address femicide was not enough. 

She called for wholesome revision of the law and assurances that when police reports are filed these are dealt with swiftly. 

Coleiro Preca said police officers required more training and called for education in schools to address the root causes of inequality. 

“We cannot remain comfortable in the status quo. It is not enough to rush to arrest the aggressor after a woman has been killed because at that stage it is of no consolation to the victim’s children and family,” Coleiro Preca said. 

In an impassioned plea, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said: “Stop killing women. No more excuses. Protect women. Action. Now. Bernice Cassar should have arrived to work today. She should have been able to play with her children this evening. She should not have been forced to live in fear. She should have been safe. She should have been free from torment. She should not have been killed. Stop killing women.” 

Additional reporting: Nicole Meilak, Maya Dimitrijevic