Combating domestic violence in Malta -- one step forward, two steps back

A court ruling allowed an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence to continue serving in the army. Meanwhile, the Maltese government backtracks on women's rights.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Combating domestic violence in Malta -- one step forward, two steps back - NewsMavens
Woman hiding her face. Pexels

Why this story matters:

A soldier was upset that his wife was enjoying the beach and documented her enjoyment on her Instagram account, so he beat her, fractured her leg, threatened to kill her and their children. What did the court rule? It imposed mediation, blamed social networks, diagnosed the victim's injuries as 'slight', conditionally discharged the convict, and allowed him to keep his job in the army.

What signal does this send to other victims who consider reporting abusive behavior at home?

According to the Women's Rights Foundation, the situation is likely to get worse, as tabled legal amendments to the Criminal Code could increase the burden on the victims.

Malta had initially aligned its legislation with the Istanbul Convention, with an updated legal definition of rape and violence against a partner or ex-partner as an aggravating circumstance in some cases. Yet soon after adopting these laws, a number of planned amendments to the legislation will create add to the administrative burden and time pressure in cases of domestic violence. Meanwhile, numerous discriminatory laws are lurking without review in Malta (see a NewsMavens special report on this).

Few doubt that domestic violence is widespread. In 2018, there were 1,341 cases reported, up from 1,257 reports in 2017. Between 2010 and 2018, 8,160 women suffered. Even the leader of the opposition has been accused, and we are nowhere closer to finding out the truth as the news has been buried by other political storms. Research found that almost a quarter of Maltese women have experienced violence before they turn 15, but an estimated 70% of the cases of domestic violence go unreported, because even the victims' own family often fail to take domestic violence seriously -- and police officers often talk survivors out of filing a formal report.

Newspapers frequently consider gender-based violence reporting to be a space where they can joke, trivialize and get creative with their language and illustrations (see a NewsMavens special report on this). Recently the country's largest newspaper ran a stand-alone story on the gossip spread by the family of a rape survivor before the perpetrator was sentenced.

The new amendments will leave the cases of alleged domestic violence at the discretion of the resource-strained police force and the courts -- and the soldier's abuse against his wife is a clear example of how seriously courts will treat allegations of domestic violence.

Details from the story:

  • The Women's Rights Foundation, a women's rights lobby in Malta, filed a judicial protest against the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality over proposed amendments to temporary protection orders.
  • The amendments would require police investigations within 12 hours of a domestic violence risk assessment. The police would not be compelled to carry out a criminal investigation.
  • The police would be free to decide whether to ask the court for a temporary protection order for the victim. As these orders would be valid only 30 days, they may expire without the victim's knowledge.
  • When a protection order is issued by the court, at its discretion, the victim would be given temporary accommodation rather than immediately removing the alleged perpetrator from the shared accommodation.
  • The aim of protection orders is to ensure immediate protection for victims in cases of alleged domestic violence, as well as their dependents.
  • The Ministry has not responded to the Maltese media's requests to explain.
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