All domestic violence complaints will soon start to be processed in the same way and in a coordinated manner, under a new policy to be launched later this month.

This will eliminate the risk of some reports going unnoticed and ensure that all victims are protected.

Today, a victim who goes to the police and another to the emergency room are likely to get different responses, explained Silvan Agius, director of the government’s Human Rights and Integration Directorate.

 “A social worker might decide a specific case is very serious while a police officer could conclude the same matter is not so serious and send the victim away.” The aim now is to have a standard approach.

Besides the new policy, a new law on domestic violence will also ensure that all complaints are investigated irrespective of whether the victim withdraws a report or not.

 “There have been instances where a victim drops the charges because the perpetrator was her husband or her son.

“But just because the attacker is the husband or the son, that does not mean they should be able to get away with abusing of the victim because they have been forgiven,” said Mr Agius. 

“We have to acknowledge that something against the law has taken place and it is in the State’s interest to proceed with investigations.”

Mr Agius spoke to The Sunday Times of Malta ahead of the launch of the first-ever strategy specifically addressing domestic violence. The Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Strategy, which will be published on November 25, offers a holistic plan to help victims. 

READ: No place at home for domestic violence abusers

It will make sure all reports filed against any perpetrator are investigated in a timely manner. To achieve this, a multi-agency risk assessment meeting (Maram) will be held regularly, with all reports from all entities involved coming under discussion and a plan for each case drawn up. 

Just because the attacker is the husband or the son, that does not mean they can get away with abusing the victim because they have been forgiven

Under the new law, it is the perpetrators who will be made to leave the home in the case of an unsafe situation, and not the victims. The latter are currently the ones rushed off to shelters if it is deemed dangerous for them to stay at home.  

The law will also see “archaic” terms being removed, such as a reference to the dishonour that rape brings to the family, as well as articles on the abduction of “a woman by a man”. 

Mr Aguis is expecting an increase in the number of domestic violence reports as a result of the new approach. He is hopeful more victims will come forward as they start believing that the law will give them adequate protection. 

He admitted substantial investment by the government is needed to ensure that adequate resources are available to deal with them. 

“The changes we’re talking about don’t merely involve the policy makers. We are now talking about changing society. That won’t be easy, but by starting to implement such measures, we hope the change will come,” he said. 

The policy is in line with European obligations that Malta signed up for when ratifying the Council of Europe convention on preventing and fighting violence against women in 2014, known as the Istanbul Convention. 

It will be further strengthened once the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill, in its second reading in Parliament tomorrow, is approved and the law is amended. The Bill seeks to strengthen existing definitions, introduce new obligations and make punishments harsher. 

While the Istanbul Convention focuses a lot more on victims who are women, Malta’s policy and bill are more gender-neutral. Mr Agius acknowledged the potential of criticism from those who work with victims, since the majority of the abused tend to be women. But he said all policy measures were designed to bring about “balance in society”. 

“By designing both the Bill and the policy in such a way, we wanted to somehow also balance society’s attitudes towards violence and hopefully we will no longer have to talk of one in every three women being a victim of some form of abuse.”

Once the changes to the law come into force, Mr Aguis said, domestic violence will become a societal concern and not just a burden to be carried by victims. 

In a report in this newspaper earlier this week, Victims Support Malta director Krista Tabone expressed concern that abuse victims are facing increasingly vicious attacks, as perpetrators continue to be treated with impunity.

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