• It takes a community to end violence against women

    05 Mar 2014

    We are increasingly aware that prevention and effective protection of survivors of violence requires the involvement of the entire society. Neighbors, friends and family, school system, media professionals are all responsible for publically condemning the violence against women, detecting and denouncing it. On a reverse side, the institutions in charge for protection of victims have the obligation to demonstrate power in stopping the perpetrators of violence, while supporting and empowering the survivor. An African proverb says: “It takes a village to raise a child”. Or, to rephrase:”It takes a community to end violence against women”.

    “A battered woman requested medical assistance for injuries several times in a local healthcare center. The healthcare workers “suspected” she’s been abused by her partner, but she “never admitted” they said. Police intervened to stop violence in three occasions: the first time during the wedding party when he battered her to blood and kicked their daughter in the stomach in front of more than 100 persons. The second time, the police stopped him while he was knocking down the door of her parents’ house, where she escaped to seek shelter. The third time, it was when they arrested her son who was violent against another boy in the school. Each time she would withdraw the complaint and appealed to her right not to testify against her husband. Charges against him would be dropped due to the lack of other evidence and she would come back to the healthcare center soon enough”.

    This is one of the stories that UNDP collected during the series of seminars aimed at enhancing multisecotral cooperation of service providers and creation of integrated service delivery model at the local level. It illustrates the institutional inability to respond to a perceived injustice and human rights violation because of the limits posed by the single-sector approach in service provision.

    Over the past six years UNDP efforts were directed towards breaking the boundaries of the single-sector service provision approach to survivors of violence and setting the new policy framework that recognizes the essential need for integrated service delivery, because:

    • The institutions are responsible for stopping the violence against women. Institutions have the power and authority to sanction the perpetrator, to send the clear message that the violence is not tolerated and that life without violence is a basic human right.
    • Each sector (healthcare, social protection, police, judiciary, education, civil society) is capable of providing a standalone support, but only the coordinated action of institutions with different mandates can adequately respond to survivor needs.
    • It is not up to the survivor to chase the system. It is up to the system to meet the survivor’s needs. When a survivor asks for assistance, she is, in most of the cases, in a very advanced situation of violence, exposed to medium-high risk, already disempowered by the years of bearing with the problem in isolation. Thus, mobilizing the resources in her favour is in the most important task of the institutions.
    • If we don’t stop the violence now it will escalate tomorrow. The violence is transferable from home to public space, from one generation to another.

    UNDP and its NGO partners are currently providing specialized trainings to service providers on how to implement the protocols for multisectoral cooperation. Each community has a chance to discuss a specific burning issues and the locally perceived challenges which are seen as the major obstacle to the implementation of the integrated service delivery approach in assisting survivors of violence against women.

    As an example, the professional service providers form one southwest Serbia city, raised the issue of stereotypes and prejudice that negatively shaped the professional responses and the subsequent choices of interventions. It’s been explicitly revealed that some service providers face challenges in empathizing with the survivors of violence who do “not fit” in their idea of “victims” (e.g. survivors who do not have visible bruises, do not seem depressed, are emotionally flat or seem too angry, do not have low socio-economic status, are well dressed, are perpetrators of criminal offences such as robbery, theft etc.). These service providers tend to use their personal, rather than professional “value system” in assessing the survivor’s needs of assistance regardless of the survivor’s testimony. Such attitude potentially exposes the survivor to major risks and creates conflict among service providers who have diverse understandings of the survivor’s position. It may impede the joint action in integrated service delivery model because of the unwillingness of the service provider to take necessary steps and play the role in multisectoral cooperation assigned by the mandate of the institution where he or she works. The case conference in which all the sectors should take part in discussing specific case of VaW should become an open space for addressing the issue of personal prism limitations, how these may negatively affect adequate service provision and eventually make a plan to overcome it by a proper joint plan for action with the clear goal to stop the violence and secure safety for the survivor, based on the protocol’s guidelines.

    During the training, one social worker admitted that she sometimes acted based on prejudices. It was the case of an abusive husband who had tortured his wife both physically and psychologically for years and then started to sexually abuse their daughter as well. In that scenario, the mother, victim herself, started to be violent against her daughter and failed to protect her from sexual abuse. The social worker said: “We (colleagues who worked on the case) struggled with the idea that this wife/mother was a “victim” herself. Personally, I couldn’t accept that idea and couldn’t help judging her for having failed to protect her own child. Among us, we discussed a lot about her responsibility. She wasn’t in such a bad position, she had some resources, the family apartment she inherited from her parents, she had some form of power, we thought at the time. I have to admit that only today I figured out how destroyed she was. She was actually so disempowered by her long term condition, that she became a dysfunctional parent. Having been exposed to intimate partner violence transformed her in a bad way and we had to assist her in recovering. Now I see that we prejudged her without proper understanding of her position. But, you know it isn’t easy.”

    On the other hand, police officers expressed their worries on the efficiency of prosecution, indicating that “It happens that the survivor drops charges against the perpetrator and sometimes the police officer is called to respond why the case was brought to the prosecutor’s attention in the first place. It may result in police officers refraining from sending the next case in further procedure” and the Public Prosecutor Office stressed the necessity to have “much more consistent body of evidence provided by the institutional service providers, including centers for social work, healthcare institutions and police, those who have direct contacts with the victim in order to build a strong case in pre-trial proceedings, so that the complaint should not rely only on the victim’s statement”.

    I believe that all service providers who passed the training understood that the survivor is not a person who should “admit to be a victim” and bear the entire process on her shoulders. They gained the understanding that it was crucial to act in coordinated manner in order to arrive to efficient sanctioning of perpetrators based on body of evidence produced by the institutions, which seems to be the weakest point of the institutions at the moment.


About the author
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Ms. Vesna Jaric is a gender equality expert and coordinator of UNCT Joint Project “Integrated Response to VaW in Serbia”. Feminist, author of numerous articles, publications and books related to women’s human rights. She holds MA in Philology and is a PhD candidate in International Relations.