A woman was forced to live with her husband after she had reported him for domestic violence because police took six months to press charges. 

The police had failed to charge a man – a police sergeant – with domestic violence within the standard period of his wife requesting a protection order, it emerged in court earlier this week.

“It took six months for the case to go to court, during which time the woman had no choice but to live with the accused, putting her at heightened risk of an attack,” Krista Tabone from Victim Support Malta told Times of Malta.

She said that once a report had been made to the police of domestic violence, it usually meant the victim was petrified of her alleged aggressor. 

“Research shows that as soon as the victim takes action they are at extremely heightened mortal risk. So it’s extremely shocking to hear that this has happened,” said Ms Tabone. 

Six months after having filed the report, the alleged victim had to ask for a protection order, a situation that Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, who was presiding over the case on Tuesday, found difficult to understand.

Research shows that as soon as the victim takes action they are at extremely heightened mortal risk.- Krista Tabone, Victim Support Malta

The prosecution, led by inspector Hubert Cini, claimed the lag had been caused by bureaucracy, but the magistrate, exhibiting limited patience, stressed it was nonsensical to have taken so long to press charges.

The woman filed the police report two days after an altercation with her husband had resulted in minor grazes to her face and throat.

She alleged that her husband had threatened her against going to the police, so she put reporting him off for two days before finally deciding to go ahead.

During the court case, the victim reported that she and her children had suffered years of mental abuse by the accused who pleaded not guilty to domestic violence. 

The court heard that following the report filed by the woman, the couple continued to live under the same roof and no further incidents were reported. 

The magistrate turned down the request for protection saying that under the circumstances, this was not necessary. 

There was a ban on all names.

Fewer cases now fall through the cracks

Ms Tabone called the case “surprising”. Recent changes in legislation, she said, had increased the expediency with which victims were given protection orders and her agency had witnessed fewer cases of domestic abuse victims falling through the cracks.

The procedure now is that if a person files a report of domestic abuse at the police station, they are met with social workers who conduct a risk assessment to gauge the severity of the case.

The woman had no choice but to live with the accused, putting her at heightened risk of attack

The risk assessment takes the form of questions. If the score indicates that the person is at high risk, the police have six hours to request the duty magistrate to issue a temporary protection order.

This temporary protection is issued by the magistrate if sufficient grounds are found and is valid until the alleged aggressor is taken to court or may be extended if the case so requires.

If the victim sees reason to apply for a more permanent protection order – which would remain in force for up to five years – they would do so through the civil or criminal court, which would appoint a hearing within a few days. 

When asked, Ruth Sciberras, director of the government’s social welfare agency Appoġġ, said the details of the case made public so far pointed to a high-risk situation for the victim.

In 2018, domestic violence increased to 8.4 per cent of all offences, reaching 1,341 cases, according to an annual report by Crime Malta. 

Protests in the same year sparked by the death of 35-year-old Lourdes Agius, whose partner was later charged for her murder, called for more to be done to combat violence against women. 

The protesters, led by director of Women’s Rights Foundation Lara Dimitrijevic, carried the names of 32 women and girls killed in the past 20 years by their partners. 

Protesters stained their necks with symbolic blood stains.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us