Fighting the prejudice that the woman is to blame for violence against her

Sep 17, 2013

Roundtable discussion organised by the Office of the President. Photo: Office of the President of Croatia

Marking of National Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, 22 September

National Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 22 September, was commemorated at the round table discussion organised by the Office of the President of Croatia, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Autonomus Women's House Zagreb. Civil society representatives and relevant Government ministries joined together to explore ways in which the legal framework might be improved to ensure that women enjoy equality and security in daily practice, and not just in theory.

While evoking tragic deaths of Ljiljana Hvalec, Hajra Prohić and Gordana Oraškić who were killed by an abusive husband in Municipal Court in Zagreb during divorce procedure, President Josipović stated: „Reported numbers of family violence are grave, but the dark numbers are deterrent. It is obvious that society can not cope with this problem. Society at large needs to be aware of the gravity of the issue, while decision makers need to aspire to new and improved legal solutions and their consistent implementation.“

According to women’s rights organizations, a woman experiences physical abuse every 15 minutes; according to the Ministry of Interior, the police respond to 29 cases of domestic violence every day; and according to surveys conducted by CESI, one-third of Croatian men admit to having committed physical violence against a female spouse or partner. “Elimination of violence against women requires far more than even the most perfect laws“ - stressed UNDP Croatia Resident Representative Louisa Vinton. „We need to tackle gender inequality in all its manifestations – in politics, in economics, in the family. And we need to work together to fight the myths that excuse violence, thwart its effective prosecution, and deprive its victims of sympathy and support“.

The focus of the discussion was placed at impact of changes in Criminal Law that took effect at the beginning of 2013, and the proposed Family Law. The changes to the Criminal Law as of beginning of 2013 eliminated the article 215a, which provided specific classification of ‘violent behavior in the family’ as a felony offense. Instead, certain modalities of this felony are placed under other forms of criminal acts. According to Ivan Jelavić, lawyer of the Autonomous Women’s House: “The elimination of the article 2015a resulted in legal discontinuity between prior and current legal provisions. In practice this means, that a series of violent acts, such as verbal offense, slapping, hair pulling, spitting that were encompassed by article 215a are now de-criminalised.”  

According to Sanja Nola, assistant Minister of Justice, the impacts of amended Criminal Law will be assessed in the coming months which should allow for revision based on experiences from judicial practice.

Provision regarding family mediation, divorce procedure, protection of children and protection of family home stemming from newly proposed Family law, were presented by Branka Rešetar. The intention of the law is the strengthen the out of court preparatory procedure in divorce cases by placing greater emphasis on mediation and amicable solutions reached by partners, therefore, reducing lengthy court procedures. Women’s rights organizations perception is that new provision will further complicate and prolong divorce procedure, producing adverse effects in cases of family violence. In addition, according to Sanja Bezbradica Jelavić of Autonomous Women’s House: ‘Proposed law exaggerates in description of certain behaviour, while it fails to establish connection with other relevant laws, as it fails to address the issues of cohabitation and registered partnership’.

The participants reached a conclusion that additional attention needs to be paid to issue of psychological violence which is not addressed clearly in current legislation and that proposed Family Law should be further discussed from a women’s rights perspective. Importantly, it was concluded that provisions of Criminal law need to be reconsidered and family violence reintroduced as a felony specifically in order to send a strong message that no violence against women will be condoned or tolerated.