War does not eliminate the need to address domestic violence
The full-scale war currently underway in Ukraine has not erased domestic violence from our lives. What are the features of combating this phenomenon and how to protect victims from it in emergency conditions? We are discussing this with the vice-president of the NGO "La Strada-Ukraine", doctor of philosophy in the field of law, attorney Maryna LEHENKA and director of the National Hotlines and Social Assistance Department of this public organization Alyona KRYVULYAK.
- Are the statistics of cases of domestic violence increasing in this difficult time for our country?
Alyona Kryvulyak: - Our public organization always monitors such statistics in great detail, but after the start of a full-scale war, we tried to do it every day. We focus on the indicators of our Hotline for the prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender discrimination: its figures show that from February 24 to May 31, 2022, it received 5,334 calls related to this very problem. This is quite a high number.
But in some regions the indicators decreased. First of all, we are talking about those that are temporarily occupied by the Russian military, in particular, parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Their residents often do not have the opportunity to turn to us for help. Fierce fighting continued or is currently ongoing in other regions, for example, at one time in Kyiv region and Kharkiv region, now in Donetsk region and Luhansk region - their residents prioritize issues of their own safety in order to survive or leave for safer territories, therefore issues related to domestic violence , are relegated to the background.
I think that cases of domestic or gender-based violence in those regions have not decreased, and perhaps even increased, but it is more difficult to fix them.
- Some believe that today the issue of domestic violence is out of time - we have more important problems. your opinion
Alyona Kryvulyak: - We really encountered the fact that many victims refrain from contacting law enforcement agencies or social services. They reproach themselves: now there is a war in the country, and I am looking for support from domestic violence! That is, the victims themselves level this problem. But we must remember that Ukraine is struggling with such a phenomenon as violence, not only on the battlefield with a foreign enemy, but also with any manifestations of violence within our country. We must not allow violence at all.
- How does war affect domestic violence?
Alyona Kryvulyak: - It became the risk factor that influenced not only the increase in the number of cases, but also the increase in brutality in situations of such violence. We receive appeals from women and children who say that their husband or father is in the Teroboron and threatens them with a weapon during domestic violence. Victims fear that they may simply not have time to ask someone for protection.
Threats with weapons also occurred in peacetime, but during the war they increased. And this should be taken into account, given that a petition on the legalization of weapons in Ukraine is currently being discussed. What are the consequences if domestic abusers have guns? It can significantly complicate the situation with domestic violence.
- Can a difficult emotional and psychological state caused by war become an excuse for domestic violence?
Maryna Legenka:- No, it cannot, but, unfortunately, it can become a catalyst for such violence. Military operations, various economic and social factors can add to the psycho-emotional burden, and domestic violence occurs even in those families where there has never been violence before. Our hotline was contacted by a woman who left with her family
from the east of Ukraine to Germany. There, her husband began to commit domestic violence, and she did not know what to do about it, especially in a foreign country. And this became an additional challenge for her. It is good that the relevant local services, in particular the police, reacted quickly enough to her statement about this case.
Alyona Kryvulyak: - After the demobilization of our soldiers who participated in the ATO/OOS in Donbas, we saw a rapid increase in domestic violence in their families. Those demobilized after a full-scale war can have the same post-traumatic syndrome. If their quality rehabilitation is neglected, they may vent their emotions and pain on their family members. We have to think about professional help for servicemen who will return home from the war right now.
The psycho-emotional state is not easy even in those Ukrainian families whose members are not on the front lines today, domestic violence can also worsen there.
Therefore, we should not leave the message that we will think about it after the victory. It is necessary to think and protect people here and now.
Law enforcement agencies must promptly respond to cases of domestic violence. Of course, in the territories where active hostilities are taking place, law enforcement agencies do not always have the physical ability to come to the call. Another matter is the safer territories of Ukraine. We analyzed conversations with victims in the Chernivtsi, Cherkasy, Volyn and Zakarpattia regions. Some of the victims said that the law enforcement officers scolded them, saying that we should think about how to defeat the enemy, and you are complaining about domestic quarrels. Such inaction kills the confidence of the civilian population in law enforcement agencies.
- In which regions of Ukraine is there an increase in cases of domestic violence?
Alyona Kryvulyak: - Quite a lot of appeals come to us from regions where a large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are registered. In particular, from Western and Central Ukraine.
Almost 15% of the total number of appeals falls on the Kyiv region, as well as about 15% - on Dnipropetrovsk, 10% - on the city of Kyiv.
In the western region, the most active applications from the Lviv region are 15%. Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast sheltered a lot of displaced persons - here the number of appeals has almost tripled - up to 10%. Zakarpattia Oblast has 5% applications. In fact, this is a large indicator, because previously there were the fewest cases of domestic violence reported here.
The number of appeals also increased in Odesa region - up to 10%. And in the Kharkiv region, we observe a decrease in such statistics - 6% appeals, in the pre-war period there were more of them.
- Why did forced migrants fall into the most vulnerable category of the population?
Maryna Legenka: - This population category is more vulnerable for a number of reasons. In particular, psycho-emotional, economic. There are social and household reasons when people who are used to living in larger rooms are constantly in a group in one small room. When they simply do not know where to turn for help in a new place, what it should be like.
One victim said: the man who committed domestic violence threatened: if you turn to the police, the military commissariat will find out about it, they will send me to the front and kill me there. And you will be guilty of this! That is, he shifted the responsibility for the violence from himself to the victim. And she was afraid to use the response mechanisms, not having family or friends nearby with whom she could consult.
There are cases when special protection mechanisms do not work sufficiently, when the problem of domestic violence is belittled by the representatives of the authorities themselves. Of course, now everyone faces certain problems in these matters, but it is more painful for displaced persons.
- Can the court force the abuser and the victim of domestic violence to live separately if they are immigrants?
Maryna Legenka: - Actually, this is a very difficult question. To date, no one has canceled special measures to combat domestic violence. In particular, they provide for the issuance of an urgent injunction, a restraining order. The court can apply such measures and issue a decision on a temporary ban on the residence of the offender at the same address as the person who suffered domestic violence.
Currently, we do not have access to the Unified Register of Court Decisions, it is closed due to the war. Therefore, we cannot analyze the general trend in Ukraine. But we have separate appeals - from the Zaporizhia and Chernivtsi regions, where the victims say that they were refused a restraining order by the court, because the court says - war and how do you imagine it, where the offender will live? Although the war in no way affects the safety of the offender: he can go down to the bomb shelter both from his own apartment and from rented or any other housing.
- Do Ukrainian IDPs abroad have any specific problems in combating domestic violence?
Maryna Legenka: - Specific problems are related to the fact that the majority of them do not know where to turn for help. Some do not even have contacts of Ukrainian embassies and consulates. Problems can also be due to ignorance of the laws of the host countries. And many are afraid that in the event of a complaint about domestic violence, they will be forced to leave their country of residence or their children will be taken away. And these are additional restraining factors.
Alyona Kryvulyak: - The probability of deportation due to cases of domestic violence is a huge myth. European countries are always ready to counter domestic violence - whether among their own population or among forcibly displaced persons. If you are faced with a situation of domestic violence abroad, you have every right to defend yourself.
Another problem is the language barrier. We are faced with cases where very many people are limited in their access to help resources because they do not know a foreign language. And not all organizations of other countries have qualitatively trained Ukrainian-speaking consultants.
But if we are talking about the universal emergency service telephone number 112, which operates in EU countries, there are trained Ukrainian-speaking operators who can promptly do everything to protect a victim from Ukraine from domestic violence.
- How do the conditions of martial law operating in Ukraine limit the opportunities of victims to receive assistance in connection with domestic violence?
Maryna Legenka: - We do not have any legislative restrictions today, everything has remained at the same level as before the war. Injured persons have the right to various types of both state and non-state assistance.
However, in practice, due to completely understandable objective reasons, less attention is paid to the problem of domestic violence, its prevention. And that is why the victims lose the opportunity to use the established guarantees.
Yes, we had two appeals about the impossibility of placing injured persons in a shelter, because the shelters at that time were occupied by forced migrants. It was at the beginning, in March. Today there are no more such requests, so I hope the problem is solved.
In some regions of the front-line zone, courts and other state authorities do not work. And the injured person cannot use most of his guaranteed rights, despite the fact that he has them.
- Was the system of combating domestic violence and combating it, which was developed earlier, effective?
Maryna Legenka: - At the beginning of the war, we received many complaints about the unsatisfactory work of the authorities in the fight against domestic violence. Now the number of complaints has decreased. This shows a certain stabilization of the work of the relevant structures, their return to a more or less normal mode of activity, which will allow responding to the violence committed.
At the same time, it would be very good to hold interdepartmental meetings, working meetings to establish a mechanism for preventing and combating domestic violence on the ground, at the regional level, in order to work out certain schemes of work during the war for more effective interaction and assistance to the victims, because they really need it. These are local authorities, the police, social services, centers for free secondary legal assistance, courts.
- How does "La Strada-Ukraine" monitor the situation with domestic violence during the war?
Alyona Kryvulyak: - Our national hotlines were and remain the main tools for such work. It National hotline for the prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender discrimination (tel.: 0800 500 335 or 116 123 from a mobile phone), she has been working in Ukraine since 1997. And National hotline for children and youth (tel.: 0800 500 225 or short 116 111 from all mobile operators).
These hotlines have always worked only in an office format, even when there was a pandemic of COVID-19, we had staff working remotely, but hotline consultants worked in their offices.
But when a full-scale war began, we understood that we could not expose our consultants to danger and suggested that they all evacuate from Kyiv to safer areas. From February 24 to March 10, our hotlines worked only in electronic mode, we provided consultations through social networks.
Since March 11, we have fully resumed our work and the lines are working around the clock. Both over the phone and online through social networks. We are trying to do everything to ensure that people get the same support, the same access to relief resources, as they did before the war.
- Does the work to combat domestic violence during wartime require additional legislative support?
Maryna Legenka: - Today, it can be absolutely clearly stated that Ukraine's ratification of the Istanbul Convention is particularly relevant. First, in these difficult war months, we submitted an application for joining the European Union - this is a serious step. Therefore, we have to bring the national legislation in line with European norms, especially in matters of human rights.
We have cases of sexual harassment, in particular in bomb shelters, which to date are not punished at all in Ukraine. And the need to establish responsibility for such actions is provided by the Istanbul Convention.
The convention provides for the improvement of the response system to cases of domestic violence in Ukraine, which is important for us during the war. It will also allow for more effective interaction with the European countries that have ratified it in matters of combating domestic violence and punishing offenders, it provides for appropriate cooperation mechanisms. And this is also very necessary, because millions of Ukrainian citizens are forced to stay abroad and can potentially be victims of domestic violence.
I think that the situation itself brings us to the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
I prepared the article