Domestic violence overhaul widens definition of rape

A complete overhaul of the Domestic Violence Act will ensure stricter punishment and harsher penalties to those found guilty under the new law

Domestic violence is mostly perpetrated against women
Domestic violence is mostly perpetrated against women

A complete overhaul of the Domestic Violence Act will be presented to parliament before the end of the year, ensuring stricter punishment and harsher penalties to those found guilty under the new law.

Amendments to the Domestic Violence Act, which is set to become the ‘Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Act’, are based on the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, and domestic violence.

Rape will also be redefined, changing the current definition which, in the eyes of the law, is limited only to penile penetration.

Under the new law, domestic violence will refer to “all acts, or omissions entailing physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim. Domestic violence shall include children witnessing violence within the family or domestic unit. Recognising that domestic violence affects women disproportionately and that men may also be victims of domestic violence”.

The amendments will acknowledge that the current penalties are not harsh enough, leaving much to be desired. The changes aim at sending the message that society abhors violence and no form of it will be tolerated. It is expected that jail term may double.

The amendments will also strengthen the definition of rape, ensuring that it is recognised as a criminal act against the sexual integrity of persons. Rape will have two definitions: “who so ever shall engage in a non-consensual carnal connection, that is to say vaginal or oral penetration of a sexual nature of the body of another person with any body part, shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment from six to 25 years with or without solitary confinement”.

It will also state that: “who so ever shall engage in a non-consensual carnal connection, that is to say vaginal or oral penetration of a sexual nature of the body of another person with any object, shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment from six to 25 years with or without solitary confinement”.

MaltaToday is informed that the Domestic Violence Act is set to become the ‘Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Act’, giving greater strength to the policies as set out in the Istanbul Convention, which will be incorporated in the new framework.

Once finalised and before the document is issued for public consultation, the government will invite all stakeholders, including women’s organisations, for a briefing on the proposed legislative changes.

Background

Domestic violence, as a crime against an individual irrespective of sex or gender, is mostly perpetrated against women. Following the brutal killing of 33-year-old Eleanor Mangion Walker, the latest victim of femicide, protestors marched through Valletta calling for an end to domestic violence.

A ground-breaking survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRS) found that one in seven Maltese women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

Malta ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2014, and it became law a few months later. Despite its passing into the statute books, the Maltese legislation still needed to be updated to bring it in line with the policies of the Istanbul Convention, including the definition of domestic violence and rape. 

Last year, an interministerial committee set up between the Ministry for Civil Liberties and the Ministry for the Family worked on developing a set of proposals based on the Istanbul Convention, with the aim of amending laws, introducing policies and strengthening structures.

The amendments are overarching, including calls which have long been made by victim rights advocates: as opposed to the victims packing their bags and leaving the household, there should be an interim measure where it is the perpetrator who leaves.

A second change is that a victim will no longer be able to ‘forgive’ the perpetrator for violence suffered and thereby force the police to drop their case in court.

The Ministry for Civil Liberties roped in civil society to help with the drafting of the amendments. Human rights advocate Roberta Lepre, chairperson of Victim Support Malta, has been tasked with developing the legal framework.

During the Valletta protest, human rights lawyer Lara Dimitrijevic made a heartfelt appeal calling for an end to domestic violence. The protestors carried placards reading ‘Implement Istanbul Convention Now’.

“People in the 21st century are still in denial that victims of domestic violence exist,” Dimitrijevic said. 

“One in four women suffer physical abuse in their lifetime, one in three women suffer psychological violence, and one in two are victims of sexual harassment. One quarter of homicides in Malta are of women at the hands of their partner and ex partner, but their deaths will not be forgotten.”

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