International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – focus of the justice system must be on the victim, not the abuser

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In commemoration of the tragic murder of the Mirabel sisters in the Dominican Republic, 25 November is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Violence against women and domestic violence is a serious social problem that needs to be addressed comprehensively by redefining the institutional focus on the victims of violence. The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration insists that violence cannot be acceptable or tolerated, and abusers must be sanctioned more severely.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration has continuously been taking measures aimed at tightening penalties for abusers and improving the victim and witness support system.

As a reminder, a multidisciplinary working group was established in October this year with the aim of further improving the legislative framework steered in the past two years towards tighter sanctioning and protection of victims through amendments to the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Protection against Domestic Violence Act.

The amendments have reduced the possibility of misuse of the institute of recusal in criminal proceedings, strengthened the precautionary measures by prescribing a new measure of prohibition of internet access, and stronger protection of the victim was ensured by introducing a new institute, namely an independent precautionary measure.  The state of long-term suffering was introduced, the criminal offence of sexual intercourse without consent was abolished, and a new criminal offence, "Misuse of a recording with sexually explicit content" (so-called revenge pornography), was introduced.

The amendments to the package of laws have ensured a better demarcation of misdemeanour responsibility from criminal responsibility, and the expansion of the circle of close persons has enabled the imposition of stricter penalties for violence.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women serves to show that we need to be more effective in protecting women from violence. Society is as effective as it protects those most vulnerable. It is therefore essential that the justice system focuses on the victim, and not just on sanctioning the abuser. Unfortunately, this cannot be achieved only by legal changes, but it is necessary to work on further education and sensitisation of judicial officials. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration will introduce a specialisation of judges in violence against women, and the Judicial Academy, in cooperation with experts from civil society and academia, will delliver additional trainings aimed at recognition of not only the rights, but also the needs of victims. By establishing new court departments and continuing cooperation with NGOs, we want to facilitate access to the victim and witness support system", said Minister of Justice and Public Administration Ivan Malenica.  

Tighter sanctions for abusers – greater rights for victims

A working group of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration has held five meetings so far to discuss the legislative framework for sanctioning violence against women.

By the end of this year, a package of regulations will be sent to the eConsultation procedure, which will:
  • introduce specialization of judges for criminal and misdemeanour offences related to violence against women and domestic violence. Following the example of family departments in courts, judges will receive additional training in the field of protection of the rights of women victims of violence, and special statistics will be kept on those cases in order to better monitor the case law
  • amend the Ordinance on Conducting Individual Victim Assessment to ensure individual approach to each victim and to provide them with the help they need. This will ensure a holistic approach and prevent further victimisation of victims.
  • increase the rights of victims of violence by redefining the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act, especially when imposing precautionary measures. If someone poses a danger to the victim, they should be isolated from society.
  • tighten sanctions for abusers, especially when they violate the imposed measures.

Strengthening victim and witness support system

Apart from the legislative framework, the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration wants to improve the system of support for victims and witnesses of crime. By establishing a Victim and Witness Support Department in 10 additional courts: 8 county and two municipal courts in Zagreb and Split, the institutional framework for providing emotional support to victims and informing them about their rights will become more accessible to all victims. In co-operation with the Network of Support and Co-operation for Victims and Witnesses, additional support has already been ensured in 13 counties.

116 – 006 free helpline for victims – change starts with a call

In October, the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration signed a new Agreement on Financing the Programme of the National Call Centre 116 -006.

The National Call Centre for Victims of Crimes and Misdemeanours was established in 2013 as a project of the Victim and Witness Support Service Croatia, created in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), making the Republic of Croatia the fifth European country to introduce a free European standard helpline for victim and witness support – 116 006.

The National Call Centre helpline is free, anonymous and available 24/7.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration will continue to improve the system of protection of women victims of violence by introducing legislative amendments, additional trainings and a better organisation of the victim support system as there is no justification for violence.