In Depth Society, 26/05/2019

Domestic Violence: Break the Silence

There are a number of issues that people, mostly women, feel embarrassed to discuss even with their close family and friends. They are often lonely in their own families; unhappy and lacking in confidence and self-esteem. Often, the reason for this is domestic violence, a problem which affects thousands of women.

Iryna Suslova, MP, member of the Equal Opportunities Caucus in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, who refers to the study of the UN Population Fund in Ukraine, claims that more than 1.8 million women suffer from domestic violence all over the country. As a result, 600 women were killed in Ukraine in 2017.

Changes to the law on the prevention of domestic violence

To prevent these appalling statistics, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted the law “On Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence” in December 2017 which partially came into force in January 2018, while the vast majority of № 2227-VIII law’s provisions entered into force a year later on January 11, 2019.

Notably, if the fact of domestic violence is detected, the relevant authorities such as law enforcement, social protection administration, centers for family and youth and children’s affairs services should give shelter to the victim in specialized centers.

According to the new law, forced marriage is criminalized, as well as its continuation. Furthermore, starting forced concubinage, the continuation of such concubinage or making someone move to another country against their will is punishable by arrest for a term up to 6 months or imprisonment for a term up to 3 years.

Since January 11, 2019, the definition of “rape” has been changed and the range of what can be potentially accused as forced sex is expanding.

Rape of a spouse, an ex-spouse, a relative or a close person is criminalized. Offenders will be subject to imprisonment from 5 to 10 years. Sex with a person under 14, regardless of his or her voluntary consent, is punishable by a prison sentence from 8 to 15 years.

In accordance to the new law, “domestic violence is deliberately and systematically exerted physical, mental, sexual or economic violence against a spouse, a former spouse, a family member or a close person, resulting in physical or psychological suffering, health disorders, disability, emotional dependence or deterioration in the quality of the victim’s life.”

How to act if a person suffers from domestic violence?

Firstly, the victim should call 102 to report the offense to the police. Victims can also phone 0 800 500 335 from a landline phone or 116 123 from a mobile phone to the statewide call-center for prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender discrimination. Specialists who work there must report cases to the police, send victims to social services, shelters or other institutions at the local level and provide psychological counseling.

To respond quickly on domestic violence cases, the National Police of Ukraine started the POLINA project in June 2017. POLINA is the abbreviated “police against the violence” phrase in Ukrainian.  Each POLINA mobile team includes a district officer, preventive patrol officer and criminal investigative officer. It is notable that half of them are women.

First mobile teams started working in Kyiv, Odesa and Severodonetsk. POLINA has proved to be successful in those cities that is why the project is going to be implemented in other Ukrainian cities and towns as well.

Kostiantyn Bushuyev, Deputy Chief of the National Police of Ukraine, noted that mobile teams’ officers of the POLINA project were trained at the Dnipropetrovsk University of Internal Affairs. He also highlighted that the police force alone is not enough.  Therefore, society, as well as executive bodies, should be involved in the process of combating domestic violence.

How must police react to the fact of domestic violence according to the new law?

After the police are informed about a case of domestic violence, police officers deliver an urgent restraining order to the offender.

If the situation is not resolved within 10 days, the victim may appeal to the court. In case the victim is a child, an empowered person, usually one of his or her parents or guardians, can appeal to the court on their behalf.

Everyone who has suffered from domestic violence is entitled to free legal assistance from the state.

The victim should also be provided with a shelter for up to 6 months.

How do shelters work in the Kharkiv region?

Iryna Krasnolobova, the director of the Center for Assistance to Victims of Domestic Violence, informs that there is one shelter in Kharkiv and one in its region.

In December 2016, one of Ukraine’s first shelters for victims of domestic violence was opened in Kharkiv. It was established as part of the project activity of the UN Population Fund. In order to implement the project, the Kharkiv city council allocated premises on a free rental basis. The UN Population Fund financed repairs and purchased equipment to enable the project to operate. During 2017, the shelter was funded as part of the Fund’s project. In November 2017, Kharkiv city council’s deputies voted in favor of the establishment of the “Center for Assistance to Victims of Domestic Violence” as a communal institution and since January 2018 it has operated under a format of communal establishment and is fully financed by local budget.

The shelter is designed for simultaneous round-the-clock occupation by up to 10 women with children. The center is equipped with essential facilities, including self-cooking and sanitation. A woman can stay there for up to three months. While staying in the shelter, women are provided with free psychological, legal and social assistance.

Together with a communal shelter, Rozirvy Kolo (English: Break the Circle), Center for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation, has commenced services since March 2019. It currently functions as a non-government organization with the financial support of the UN Population Fund and methodological support of the International Charitable Organization “Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health.”

Unlike the shelter, there is no accommodation as it’s a day center, but it is possible to find a safe place for temporary stays. Two departments currently work in the center, including a day department of social and psychological rehabilitation and a night emergency response.

At the day department, a person receives counseling from a psychologist or takes part in a correctional program for victims of violence. In addition, there are self-help groups where a victim can talk to people who are going through similar problems.

The center’s staff are ready to help not only the victim but all her or his family members. They pay special attention to their children and their psychological health because a child’s inner world suffers as much as adults’ even though the aggression is not aimed straight at them.

A victim can stay at night emergency response department up to three days but police have to authorize this.

To report on domestic violence in Kharkiv, a victim can call mobile teams: 0993666345, 0937953453, 0993666358, 0937953106 from 10  a.m. to 7 p.m. daily or La Strada – Ukraine non-government organization.

How can a person stop domestic violence?  

“The first step is to get out of a victim’s role and report the abuse to the police. If a person is not ready to report abuse to the authorities, he or she can talk to family members, friends, colleagues or discuss the issue with a psychologist,” suggests Larysa Shevchenko, Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology and Psychology of the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs.

“Unfortunately, it’s stereotypically that such problems must be kept in the family. Anyway, a person affected by domestic violence must figure out a way to talk about the problem. Only by taking action victims will be heard and assisted,” Larysa added.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo: Ukrinform, Iryna Krasnolobova

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.