Victims of domestic abuse have claimed they were ridiculed by the police, or their problem was dismissed, after resorting to a station for help.
The 10 female victims were interviewed as part of a report to be released in the coming days.
The research – which was carried out by Outlook Co-Op on behalf of YMCA Valletta – is aimed at putting together a toolkit for both professionals and victims about what to do when faced with domestic abuse.
But while compiling the study, several stories emerged of the apathetic or insensitive approach victims were faced with when dealing with police.
“Those in the report – who did speak about the police – did not talk favourably about their experience,” Lara Bezzina, a representative of Outlook Co-Op, told a room full of domestic abuse specialists in Naxxar, who were invited to help finalise the details of the upcoming study.
One woman said she was ridiculed when she related her experience to the police. Another said that when she told a police officer what was happening, he said “you should have known who you were choosing before you made your choice of partner”.
She added: “Other survivors felt there was an attitude of ‘oh, here she comes again relating the same story’ from some police officers and ‘why does she stay with him?’ There is this lack of understanding of survivors’ situations.”
Another woman, Dr Bezzina said, cited a total lack of privacy when she presented her case at a police station.
“She was not taken into a private room and found it very embarrassing to have to tell what she went through in a place where people are coming and going. She herself suggested that police need training on how to deal with domestic violence survivors.”
Despite the gravity of the accusations in the report, the researchers stress that it is based on a handful of women’s accounts and should not be seen as a generalisation of the entire police population.
However, when the findings were presented to the group who met at the Hilltop Gardens, many acknowledged they have heard of similar accusations.
One attendee said: “Some women I spoke to felt like there is no protection, even when they have a restraining order, as it takes time for the police to arrive. So, if your abusive partner is already there, anything can happen within that time.”
Another social worker from Caritas – who did not wish to be named – highlighted the lack of jurisdiction around internet stalking.
“We had a case where a perpetrator stalked a woman through her social media. He could see when she was on and offline, who she’s talking to. These women are driven crazy by their perpetrators,” she said.
“They put them in a hold and keep pushing them against a wall so that even the victims feel crazy. And you can imagine how this woman becomes. It’s very sad. You are seeing a woman walk to the precipice.”
All agreed that the police needed more training when it comes to dealing with domestic abuse victims and for those who do not confirm – punishment must be swift.
“Even when police get training, the reality is that there is a lack of enforcement and a lack of checks,” added another care worker.
“For example, if you report a police inspector to internal affairs today, you have no guarantee this inspector will be removed from your case. So, they might continue the investigation of which you are a victim and of which you require protection,” the care worker said.
“Some of our victims choose not to go to the police because they are concerned it might turn out worse for them.
“We need a system where victims can highlight issues without feeling they will be subjected to the repercussions.”
Police: “Training is given”
Reacting to the accusations, the police issued a statement to Times of Malta saying: “The police are not aware of these statements brought forward during the meeting.
The police always investigate every report logged and victims are always given their rights and assistance required upon lodging such report.
“They are also referred to the Victim Support Unit and are given specific attention to their needs and difficulties.”
The police also said that in order to proceed with further investigations regarding the allegations, they would need to know the particular officer’s name to be able to act accordingly as such statements are definitely not tolerated within the police force.
“All police officers are given continuous training with the new amendments in domestic violence law and our SOPs, and on how to best deal with victims of crime,” the police said.
According to a Crime Malta report released earlier this year, a total of 1,341 cases of domestic violence of both a physical and psychological nature were reported to the authorities in 2018.
Anyone in need of help is urged to contact Victims Support Malta on 2122 8333 email email@example.com.