Malta still lacking rape crisis centre for women

20 rape cases reported on average each year, but less victims coming forward to report assault and rape.

Malta still lacks an easily-accessible rape crisis centre for women, despite repeated calls by women's organisations, human rights NGOs and the Commission for Domestic Violence.

An average of 20 rape cases are reported every year, although the numbers dropped to 15 in 2012. Professionals believe this however was not the result of less cases of rape but a reduction in the number of victims coming forward.

In 2009, a task force was set up to coordinate the setting up of a sexual assault response team which would operate from Mater Dei Hospital. A report was prepared within a year but the first time that funds were allocated for this team was in Budget 2014.

On 7 April 2011, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers adopted the Istanbul Convention, on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The convention will come into force following 10 ratifications, eight of which must be member states of the Council of Europe. As of 2013, the convention has been signed by 32 states, followed by ratification of the minimum eight Council of Europe states - Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, and Turkey.

Malta is one of the signatories to the convention, but has not yet ratified it into law. Social Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli today announced Malta would soon be ratifying the convention.

Marking the international day for the elimination of violence against women, the Malta Confederation of Women's Organisations' seminar was marked today by the intervention of social worker Marisa Russo, who works with victims of marital rape.

The Istanbul Convention highlights the fact that rape is not only about stranger assault, but also about intimate partners and other people known to the victim.

Russo recounted just a few of the horrific experiences her clients go through: a woman who was severely beaten up and laid unconscious on the floor was raped twice by her husband; a wife who was forced to have sexual intercourse with strangers in her home while her husband sat down and watched; a young woman who was forced to take pregnancy tests in front of her partner who thought she was breaking off their relationship because she was having an affair and not because of his abuse.

"Rape is the worst form of violence, it induces shame and tarnishes the victim's dignity. Sexual intercourse, which should be an act of love, is used to degrade the victim," Russo said.

Fighting rape is also about changing mentalities: Russo said there are beliefs that men have sexual needs that must be satisfied at all costs or that a married woman has to do everything which her husband tells her - irrespective of what she thinks of it; some who think that refusing to be sexually intimate would be wrong.

Degradation was not only limited to physical abuse, but also mental: a husband forcing his wife to sleep on the floor for refusing to have sex with him, or leaving windows open so she'll feel reluctant to argue for fear of being heard by their children or neighbours.

Former commissioner for domestic violence Marceline Naudi, who represented Malta during the negotiations on the Istanbul Convention, described the convention itself as being about people who "do not even dream of having a better life".

The 77-article convention makes a solid case in defining rape as being an act where voluntary consent - as result of the person's free will - is not given. "It also means analyzing different behaviours: fear can block a woman from moving during the act of rape, leading the perpetrator to believe she was willing," Naudi said.

I am so surprised Malta has no Rape crisis Centre, what is the government thinking? how more girls have to be raped ? how many more criminals do we have to leave on the streets before the government decides to open this centre. This is a fundamental right of every girl,lady and women that this government has to a help rape crisis center. Also I am very surprised that nobody has commented about this knowing very well that their own daughter may have passed through this situation.