The key to solving the problem of violence against women lies primarily in the continuous education of those applying laws and regulations, gender equality ombudswoman Visnja Ljubicic has said on the occasion of the National Day of Combating Violence Against Women, observed on 22 September.
She welcomed the latest amendments to the criminal code and the law on protection against domestic violence, which eliminated some key shortcomings in the effective suppression of gender-based violence, but said the key was to keep educating those applying laws and regulations, rather than in frequently changing legislation.
Serious acts of gender-based violence are often tried as misdemeanours and serious cases of sexual, domestic and gender-based violence are recognised too late, when we witness femicide, Ljubicic said a statement.
Since 2015, when it was reinstated into the criminal code, domestic violence has been continuously and significantly increasing while misdemeanour complaints have been continuously decreasing since 2009, she said.
The number of misdemeanour domestic violence complaints dropped from over 18,000 in 2009 to a little over 9,000 in 2020, while the number of criminal complaints surged from 400 to over 4,000.
The conclusion is that, in the long term, our system of combating violence against women and domestic violence deters victims from reporting lighter forms of violence until the situation escalates and enters the sphere of criminal law, when violence can no longer be suffered or hidden as the outcome is often tragic, Ljubicic said.
Such a misdemeanour system is not preventative and does not provide an effective and prompt response to violence, she added.
There is a lack of effective and systematic prevention outside the legal system as well as of investment in resocialisation programmes for perpetrators, she said, adding that prevention boiled down to fining or giving them suspended sentences, instead of the harshest ones.
Ljubičić said such a system of combating gender-based and domestic violence showed its weaknesses especially in crises, such as the ongoing pandemic, adding that the number of crimes of domestic violence jumped 40% from 2019.
According to Interior Ministry figures for this year through 31 August, there were 5,522 registered perpetrators of misdemeanour domestic violence, with men making up 77%, as well s 6,333 victims, with women making up 63.8%. There were also 1,153 registered victims of domestic violence crimes, of whom 86% were women.
Ljubicic said the figures were potentially mildly up from 2020, but that the rise in rapes in the first seven months of 2021 was worrisome.
Everything points to the need to effect the necessary changes in the whole system, notably in the prevention and suppression of violence against women, she added.