Prevention, protection, prosecution

It seems incredible that it has taken until 2020 for domestic violence to finally be validated and given some importance in Malta through the setting up of a gender-based violence and domestic violence squad in the Police Force. This has only happened after years of mishandling of reports of violence happening in the home, at work and on the street. Throughout that time, such reports were handled with abysmal carelessness and superficiality, and unfortunately, in many cases, it is still the way such reports are being treated.

While the setting up of this squad seems to be a move in the right direction, up until today, people in an abusive relationship have found little help, if any at all. Couple that with the stigma of having to admit that one lives with an abusive partner. There is also a small army of poor homeless women who feel uncared for by the state, with little to no help whatsoever.

The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) report is the first evaluation on what is actually happening in Malta when it comes to combating violence against women and domestic violence.  While education receives due praise, particularly in the primary years on the topics of stereotypical behaviour, gender roles, sex education and non-violent conflict resolution, there is a stark difference with what actually happens out there on the streets.

We still have a highly misogynistic patriarchal society in which women are viewed merely as incubators. Their education is still considered by some as less important. What’s more their life is also sometimes considered as a commodity to be dealt with on a whim. A case in point is the recent story of an ectopic pregnancy, where permission was needed to get the treatment required, to the detriment of the woman’s health and life. There is much foot dragging, even in the least ambiguous of ethical situations, due to fears of somehow decriminalizing abortion. Debates about women’s health are tarred by the brush of pseudo-morality.

The laughable sentences for men who commit rape and the way this crime is dealt with by the authorities shows the insensitivity and one-sided way in which the State views the act. We are living in a society which promotes violence against women due to the inability of the state to take care of half its population even against the vilest transgressions. Harsher sentences would show that women are not simply “asking for it”. Women who try to break the mould of care givers and mothers are confronted by a society which tries to put them back in their place through bullying and character assassination, to the point that some people actually celebrate gender-based violence openly on social media.

The four pillars of the Istanbul Convention are “prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies” and in practice these are still lacking in Malta. Violence against women is prevented by showing that no form of violence is tolerated, no matter the arguments about how it was supposedly provoked, or pathetic arguments on how annoying that person and her opinions are. These are unfortunately the kinds of excuses which are being brought up again and again. One protects the abused by funding the homes which take care of women who flee from their aggressor and by offering free legal advice. Some flee their homes (prisons would be a more appropriate descriptor), with only the clothes on their backs and whatever money they manage to grab on the spot. We need prosecution of these violent aggressors, and if need be, a register of people with a history of domestic violence, on the model of that for sex offenders.

Eliminating domestic violence and protecting our women needs more than just lip service. It takes an overhaul of a mentality in which men think that catcalling is cool and being a macho is something to aspire to, suppressing any expression of emotion or vulnerability. In our society the emotional bar for men is so low that hardly anything is expected of them when it comes to caring nurturing and showing sensitivity. It is time for change!

Sandra Gauci
ADPD Executive Member
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 27 December 2020