A seminar which is discussing rape and other violence against women this morning heard harrowing stories of abuse suffered by women in Malta, with a number of speakers also confirming the view expressed earlier by Public Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli that rape cases are under-reported.

Marisa Russo from the domestic violence unit of Appogg spoke of several cases where the unit supported women who were beaten up by their husbands or partners.

In one case, a woman was beaten up and raped twice by her husband while she was unconscious. 

There were several cases of objects being abusively inserted into the victims.

In another case a husband forced his wife to have sex with other men, while he watched.

Another was so distrustful of his wife, he repeatedly forced her to take tests in his presence to prove she had not been seeing someone else.

There were cases where husbands forced their wives to sleep on the floor, or withheld money, if they refused sex.

Ms Russo said there were  several reasons why women did not speak up, or did not speak up immediately, including feelings of shame. Some women felt their dignity had been shattered and felt degraded.

Some women simply did not realise that this was abuse, and that forced sex even by their own husbands was rape. They believed their husbands had needs and they felt they were doing something wrong when they refused to have sex. Religious values as interpreted by some, also played a role

Ms Russo agreed that there is under-reporting and said one reason was a  lack of privacy at police stations and an absence of women officers.  

Lara Dimitrijevic from the Women's Rights Foundation called for specific legislation against sexual offences. There was also need for greater sensitivity and easier access to legal aid.

Police Inspector Sylvana Briffa from Vice Squad said that some people reported abuse immediately but other only did so after suffering for years. For investigation purposes, the sooner a crime was reported, the better as that made it easier for the police to gather evidence.

The police, she said, tried to ensure that women were safe after filing a report. However the law did not empower the police to remove the aggressor from the home.

Superintendent Paul Vassallo, who heads the vice squad, said that for the past 17 years, the police had women photographers who took photos of rape victims. There were women officers on every police shift - they might not be in a particular police station but they were on call.

POLICE ARE 'DOING THEIR BEST BUT NEED SUPPORT'

He also said that it was frustrating to see fingers pointed at the police because they were going their best with their resources.

He said that a police officer who dealt with a rape case had to be both investigator and support worker. It was not their job to be a social worker and psychologist - more support was needed and he was sometimes led to wonder where the NGOs were. 

"With all due respect, the police have no support services after 5pm. The support services are conveniently packaged until 5pm. Where are victim support and Appogg?," he said ,adding that the police officer had to decide what to do with the victim while tackling other crime that day.

He described the family court as a "market" where lawyers used reports of violence to get leverage in civil cases such as separations. There was a need for more sensitivity also by lawyers and members of the judiciary, he said.

The seminar was organised by the Malta Confederation of Women's Organisations.

See also http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131126/local/minister-believes-rape-cases-being-under-reported-in-malta-structure-to-deal-with-them-is-lacking.496336#.UpSGkhAixOQ

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