Implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Law: Experience of Organizations of Women with Disabilities

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The Coordinator of …IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA SOS service Ivana Zelić participated  the Implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Law: Effects and Challenges two-day seminar in Belgrade. It was organized by the Autonomous Women’s Center on 23-24 March with the support of Kvinna till Kvinna, bringing together representatives of the Serbian Women Against Violence Network.

The purpose of the event was to discuss the so-far implementation of the Domestic violence Prevention Law, which entered into force on 1 June 2017. The first day’s inputs were those of the Autonomous Women’s Center. Tanja Ignjatović presented an implementation overview concerning this Law in entire Serbia, pointing to its positive aspects, as well as its implementation challenges. Vanja Macanović talked about specific indicators of its implementation and data relating to Cities of Novi Sad, Niš, Kruševac and Belgrade, whereas Mirjana Mitić shared the Coordination and Cooperation Group participation experience of the Autonomous Women’s Center. Domestic violence victims’ participation in Coordination and Cooperation Group meetings was a special focus topic, along with the individual victims’ protection and support plans devised on those occasions. Acc. to the data from the 4th Independent Report on Implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Law prepared by the Autonomous Women’s Center, victims participated in their own protection and support measures plan creation with only 13 Public Prosecutor’s Offices in Serbia.  For instance, no victims participated in Coordination and Cooperation Group meetings in Novi Sad. In the second part of the program, the participants practiced writing requests for access to information of public significance addressed to relevant institutions on the local level.

On the second day, representatives of organizations dealing with multiply marginalized women presented their data on implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Law, as well as specific challenges and obstacles they have been facing in their work. Suzana Salijević from Osvit organization spoke about the problems faced by Roma women experiencing violence. Ivana Zelić from…IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA and Snežana Mađerčić from …IZ KRUGA – BEOGRAD talked about the problems faced by women with disabilities in this respect. Kosana Beker, a representative of the Serbian Mental Disability Rights Initiative (MDRI), highlighted challenges of women with intellectual disabilities in residential institutions, whereas Sanja Kandić from Atina presented the position of women migrants and asylum-seekers in domestic violence situations.

In her presentation, Ivana Zelić pointed out that women with disabilities face many challenges, one of the prominent problems being accessibility of relevant services and institutions. She mentioned that her organization is conducting an action research in seven cities in Vojvodina (Novi Sad, Sremska Mitrovica, Vršac, Sombor, Subotica, Kikinda and Zrenjanin) in which institutions (welfare and healthcare, judiciary and the police) are giving their feedback on accessibility of their services to women with disabilities in situations of violence. The research is a part of the Supporting CSOs in straightening the provision of services to women and girl survivors of violence specifically to marginalized group of women, such as women with disabilities and to survivors of rape and sexual assault, implemented in cooperation with UN WOMEN and with the support of European Commission. Women with various types of disabilities have also participated in the research and shared their experience about violence they had survived, as well as the way various institutions treated them upon reporting it.

Preliminary data indicate that most women with disabilities in Vojvodina have experienced or endured violence (55.4%), whereas only 15.45% of them have reported it.

A fifth of respondents (20%) claim they have received no information whatsoever on the proceedings initiated upon they have reported the violence. While 15% claim that police officers gave only a verbal warning to the perpetrator, 10% got court-ordered protection measures from domestic violence, and only 5% divorced, aka got custody over children. Respondents also stated that they received additional information, legal and psychological support.

Most respondents (41.2%) claim that there have been no formal proceedings in cases of reporting such violence, while only 14.7% of them are satisfied with these proceedings. The respondents are satisfied with the feedback they got, most commonly from the Women’s SOS Center and …IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA organization. They are not satisfied with the actions of the police, welfare staff and the schools.

…IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA organization noted the following issues concerning women with disabilities reporting violence perpetrated against them: prejudice, not knowing their own rights, lack of support, feeling of fear, guilt and shame, not recognizing violent behavior as such, perceiving disability as the cause of violence, rare reporting of violence, inaccessibility of institutions, physical dependence on the violator, women are not trusted and, most importantly, women with disabilities are very difficult to target and reach with information about the available support systems.

Despite initial positive indicators concerning implementation of the new Law, there is still a series of practical problems, especially as re. women from marginalized social groups. All seminar participants agreed that it is necessary to inform women continually, along with a consistent implementation of the Law, in order for it to be equally relevant for women from all walks of life.

Prepared by: Ivana Zelić

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