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Are victims of domestic abuse protected in Ukraine?

Author : Ksenia Tsyvirko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Find out how domestic social services help victims of domestic violence
12:00, 20 August 2020

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The prevention of domestic violence has been carried out in Ukraine for 20 years, but in recent years, work in this direction has intensified: "POLINA" special mobile police brigades, psychosocial assistance centers were created, specialized bills were adopted, a National Hotline was launched, and "domestic violence" as an act itself became criminally punishable (earlier, it was limited only to administrative responsibility).

Related: Two Ukrainian ministries create educational series on domestic violence

According to the official statistics, more than 100,000 Ukrainians annually report various forms of domestic violence: 85-88% of complaints come from women, 10-13% - from men, and 1.5-2% from children. At the same time, studies of public organizations show that in reality, the number of victims of domestic violence is ten times higher: on the one hand, not everyone is informed that in such situations one can generally count on state assistance; on the other hand, our society is not yet accustomed to “washing dirty linen in public” and often justifies the actions of the aggressor. However, the doors of social services for “victims of domestic violence” are always open, and over time the list of services is expanding.

In Kyiv, for example, “Shelter for Women Victims of Domestic Violence” has been operating for 22 years, and three months ago “crisis response rooms” were opened, which, by the way, are also available for men. For security reasons, the exact address of these places is not disclosed anywhere. Our journalists visited several “secret hideouts” and learned how specialists are helping to break the vicious circle of domestic violence.

An unusual two-story mansion in the park named after Kotlyarevsky fascinates the pedestrians. Here you can meet the same women that seek to receive some social assistance. The city Center for Work with Women has been functioning in this building for the third decade already, which a few months ago received a new, more "tolerant" name - "Kyiv City Center for Gender Equality, Prevention, and Counteraction to Violence."

Related: Statistics of domestic violence did not increase during lockdown in Kyiv, - city hall

"Usually they come to us here by appointment: you can turn to the center for advice from a lawyer and a psychologist. And here we have employees who work on the round-the-clock hotline," says Tetiana Zotova, director of the Center, giving a short excursion on the building.

“I have been working here for only eight months. When I came here, there were only three psychologists. We launched a hotline, launched an information campaign in this direction - and the first calls began to arrive. Sometimes they call just to talk out or out of boredom, but sometimes there are very difficult cases, supplemented by manifestations of mental illness. The work was very intense. Apparently, unable to withstand the new format, those psychologists quit, and a new team of 10 people came to replace them. They work in shifts and support the hotline around the clock,” Tetiana Zotova tells.

In practice, those people who are faced with the physical or sexual manifestation of domestic violence most often call the police: according to official data, the National Police receives about 1,500-1,600 such calls all over the country every day. However, law enforcement officers are often in no hurry to notify a family member of the assault, protecting the tyrant from problems with the law, and call social services with complaints. Call center operators at the City Gender Equality Center have a direct connection with local police, so in such situations, they can offer to call the "POLINA" brigade (Ukrainian abbreviation for "Police Against Violence") to the scene.

The first such special police crews began to work in pilot mode back in 2017, and then there were only three brigades. Last year, 45 brigades went to cases of domestic violence, working in a regular, fully approved mode, and expanded the "zone of influence" to all regional centers of the country.

Related: Police received 42, 000 calls about domestic violence since beginning of lockdown in Ukraine

10 days of respite

There are only two crisis response rooms in the capital, and even those opened recently - on May 26. The Center for Gender Equality rents these premises from a social service utility located in one of the dormitory districts of the capital. The exact address of the crisis rooms is kept secret: even clients sign a special nondisclosure agreement. But the safety of residents is not limited to this.

A two-story brick building is protected with a high wrought-iron fence, and numerous cameras are set around the perimeter: only employees, police, and residents whom they know by sight can enter the territory. Right at the entrance on the ground floor, there is a "reception:" in a small office, remotely resembling a first-aid post, there is a social worker's workplace and a soft sofa. The police crew delivers victims of domestic violence here 24 hours daily.

Related: Guterres calls for measures to stop domestic violence against women amidst Covid-19

“Usually these are women with children, pregnant women. Recently, there has been an increase in requests from elderly parents who have faced violence from their own children. Recently, a grandmother, who was already under 80, called us: her daughter regularly beat her and kept her locked up in her apartment. So the old woman lived here for ten days - that is how long you can stay here, although in exceptional cases this period might be extended to 20 days - and then her grandson came and took her. Now a woman with two children lives one of our rooms: she moves from her husband to another city. Crisis response rooms are also available for men, but they are in no hurry to take advantage of this opportunity. Even by phone, when they turn to the hotline for help, they are often not ready to call their name,” Tetiana Zotova explains. Crisis rooms are designed for a simultaneous stay of eight people: there are places for four adults, two teenagers, and two babies. However, these "rooms" look more like smart apartments.

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During their stay in the crisis room, the victims can (with the help of a lawyer) prepare appropriate statements to the court (for example, on divorce and division of property; on a "restrictive order" against the offender, which is issued for a period of 1 to 6 months), receive psychological advice and, if necessary, collect a package of documents for moving to the shelter.

"The center can provide various assistance, but often people refuse it, do not believe in its effectiveness and try to rely on their own strength. It happens that they stay here only for the night: not wanting to bother their relatives at an inconvenient time, they leave in the morning," Tetiana Zotova explains. According to the social workers, sometimes homeless people or drug addicts try to use the hospitality of the center, but such attempts are immediately stopped.

Love and nurture

Another secret shelter for victims of domestic violence is located in the back streets of the Holosiyivsky district, lost among the same type of five-story student dormitories. Neither the signboard nor passers-by will tell you that the city "Shelter for women victims of domestic and / or gender-based violence" is located here. Behind the gloomy metal entrance door, from the threshold, a very warm, homely atmosphere unexpectedly meets us. A good-natured woman with a short blonde haircut immediately gives instructions: put on shoe covers and wash your hands. In such orders, at first, one can suspect an unhealthy craving for sterile cleanliness and a feverish fear of bringing the coronavirus, but after a short conversation, everything falls into place: they are very careful about maintaining order.

Related: 700 domestic violence cases considered in Ukraine since beginning of 2019

Nonna Andriyivna has been holding the position of the head of the orphanage for 11 years, but she considers her duties not as work, but as her hobby. Funds from the city budget are barely enough for basic needs, so employees themselves are involved in the process of solving economic issues, without waiting for help from outside.

The shelter is designed for 12 people: three rooms of the same type are equipped with two bunk beds and bedside tables. As a rule, all the places are occupied, but this time there was only one woman here. Nadia in her declining years became "undesirable" in the life of her own son, who is strongly addicted to alcohol, used to often beat her mother. Nadia is not for the first time here. According to her, the family conflict has been dragging on for more than ten years, and law enforcement officers cannot evict the offender from the common one-room apartment. Despite the fact that since last year, for systematic domestic violence, the offender can be imprisoned for up to 2 years, the woman sees the solution to her problem in a completely different direction.

 “Absolutely different people come to us: both the rich and the poor, and models, and the wives of the MPs, public servants... In recent years, the problem of elderly parents and adult children has become very noticeable. Servicemen began to return from Donbas; they are often crippled, they cannot find adequate support here, they are angry with their parents for their unsettled life... It's a shame that often there is a mercantile interest in everything,” says Nonna Andriyivna, and after a short pause, continues. “Several years ago we hosted an elderly woman, the wife of a Kyiv deputy. She invested her savings in husband’s business. Together they lived quite a long time and quite amicably. But suddenly his son from a previous marriage returned, and, apparently, managed to turn against his father’s new wife. Once she turned back home with her daughter and found out that the locks of the apartment were changed. So she was left completely with nothing. Common friends turned away and gave false testimony in court, not wanting to spoil relations with an influential official. The police were also bribed. She came to us in a terribly traumatized state. So angry that she was even going to hire a hitman! When I heard this, I was shocked. Killer! Not here, please,” Nonna Andriyivna told us.

Related: Domestic violence response teams to appear in Ukraine

Social slim jim

Over the centuries, social research does not get tired of confirming the same dogma: the family is the basic unit of society, therefore the health of society directly depends on maintaining a favorable climate for the development of all family members. However, transferring this problem from the plane of abstract reasoning to the plane of concrete decisions, it turns out that in the modern world such ideas sound like a utopia.

Experts note that in recent years, the issue of domestic violence has become more topical, although the grounds were laid long ago. Thus, in Ukraine, back in 2001, a law "On the Prevention of Domestic Violence" was adopted, and in 2003, administrative responsibility for such acts was introduced. However, these measures have not been effective enough in the face of deeper problems that cannot be described by law.

Related: Law on criminal liability for domestic violence comes into force in Ukraine

The psyche of the Ukrainians of previous generations became subjected to real metamorphoses: on the one hand, the state machine of the former Soviet Union took under its wing the "base unit of society" and controlled family relations; on the other hand, because of this, a culture of opposition developed, when society began to wear the mask of a "happy family", and "washing dirty linen in public" was considered shameful. However, there are many more reasons behind domestic violence: economic dependence, limited psychological practice, lack of the necessary tools and experience from law enforcement agencies. In 2016, MPs initiated a new round of solving the problem by preparing specialized bills - "On Preventing and Countering Domestic Violence" and "On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine in Connection with the Ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence." These measures helped to react more flexibly and quickly to such acts. Thus, police officers and judges can restrict the offender and the victim from cohabitation and contacts for a certain period; the offender can be put on a preventive record at a police station and ordered to undergo a special psycho-correction program. In addition, the long-awaited criminal liability was introduced for the systematic manifestation of various types of domestic violence. Social scientists point to many aspects that need to be worked out.

  • First of all, this is an information campaign so that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians have a clear idea of ​​where to turn in case of domestic violence.
  • Secondly, the small size of administrative fines for domestic violence – 6-12 USD – does not stop a perpetrator from unlawful actions.
  • Thirdly, the issue of providing social assistance for especially vulnerable categories of citizens remains open.
  • Fourthly, there is the problem of timely psychiatric diagnosis and treatment: according to the statements of practicing psychologists, the aggressors are usually people with a pronounced or latent form of psychopathology.

However, despite these clear directions for countering domestic violence, which should be dealt with by public services, each of us is able to make a much more significant contribution to the common cause.

Related: Ukraine's law against domestic violence would not punish the perpetrators

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