Perspectives: FEMICIDE

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03.03.2022

Interview | Diotima: How do the Greek authorities respond to gender-based violence incidents?

Tags: femicide

On the 11th July 2021 at night, a woman from the Dafni area in Athens called the Police in order to report a domestic violence incident in a neighbouring flat.

A few hours later, she wrote on her personal Facebook page that the Police arrived 25 minutes later and, according to her testimony, the only thing they did was to lower the patrol car’s window to check what was going on.

“The police car came 25 minutes later. They didn’t even bother to get out of the car. They just rolled down the windows and then left!”, she wrote.

Just 19 days after her initial post, the woman posted an update on the matter: “He ended up killing her. That’s all I have to say”.

Indeed, her husband stabbed her to death inside the flat where they were living with their underage child, and then turned himself in to the Police. The femicide in Dafni wasn’t the last one for the year 2021. Nor was it the only case for which the Authorities had received calls for help in the past, either by the women who needed it or by third parties.

A similar case was that of the 47-year-old woman who was killed inside her shop by a man with a hunting rifle. In the past the victim had told the Police that she was receiving threats by the offender.

The same went for the 55-year-old woman from Eastern Thessaloniki, who just a few days before she was killed by her husband, she had called the Police so they would remove him from their flat.

The above indicative cases raise questions regarding the Authorities’ response to cases of gender-based violence, when women -or occasionally people belonging to their extended social network- make the important step to report abusive behaviours.

We asked Maria Apostolaki, lawyer at the Legal Service of Diotima Centre, regarding the increase in incidents of domestic violence, the due process after one reports such an event and the possible shortcomings of the law enforcement authorities.

During the first lockdown, incidents of domestic violence in Greece increased significantly. For example, in April 2020 there were 227,4% more reported incidents than in March 2020. What’s the current situation, two years down the line?

It is a fact that during the first confinement period due to the covid pandemic, in Spring of 2020, there has been a huge increase in incidents of gender-based and domestic violence, according to the available records of abuse reports (physical, verbal and/ or emotional) submitted either at the SOS helpline 15900 or at the Consulting Centres. The General Secretariat for Demography and Family Policy and Gender Equality (GSDFPGE) and the Greek Police’s records also depict a spike of such incidents in the summer of 2020.

In addition to the above, between 1.5.21 and 31.7.21, there have been 1666 calls at the SOS helpline 15900 regarding violent incidents, as per the latest report by the Equality Observatory of GSDFPGE. We don’t have official records regarding the current period yet , but judging from the number of requests for legal and psychological support that we receive daily at Diotima Centre by survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, I’d say that things are critical and the need for support is huge.

Could you describe the process that the authorities need to follow after receiving an accusation regarding domestic violence? 1

The offences that are described in the article 3500/2006 regarding domestic violence, are ex officio prosecuted and therefore, any report of such actions in the Authorities constitutes a lawsuit. If a survivor of domestic violence or any other third party reports an abuse to the Authorities (the police or the district attorney), they need to open a criminal brief in order to investigate the offences and proceed with prosecuting the offender. If the acts were committed within the timeframe of “flagrante delicto”, according to the relevant sections of the Penal Code, the offender needs to be seeked out immediately so that he can be arrested and brought to trial.

At the same time, the grieved party should be sent for a thorough examination by a coroner as soon as possible. At the same time, the survivor should be informed in detail of all her legal rights and the available ways to seek justice, as well as of the organisations where she can receive legal aid, psychological support and general assistance (e.g. healthcare, housing etc.)

Many women hesitate to report incidents of gender-based violence. Why is that, in your opinion? 

Despite the fact that in recent years this phenomenon has become a lot more visible, a large number of women still hesitate to report acts of violence against them. In our experience, this is due to a number of reasons. First of all, in terms of domestic violence in particular, the lack of a supportive network combined with a possible financial dependency from the offender, are two factors that sometimes stop women from abandoning their abusive partners and reporting them to the Authorities.

But also, as we at Diotima Centre have pointed out several times, it is well known that many survivors of gender-based violence had to face reluctance, lack of empathy or even discouragement, when they tried to report abusive behaviours to the Authorities (the Police etc.). This is due to a lack of the specific knowledge on how to handle such cases by the Authorities and to the reproduction of gender stereotypes, that lead to a secondary victimisation of the survivors. Such conducts and behaviours have become widely known which leads to a lack of trust towards the Authorities, and finally, it hinders the victims of violence’s capacity to claim their legal rights.

What are your observations regarding the way the Authorities dealt with the femicides that took place in Greece during 2021? Have you found indications of insufficiencies or negligence in their operations?

Even without going into those particular cases, what we can say for sure based on our many years of experience in supporting survivors of gender-based violence, is that the Authorities’ problematic response to such incidents can eventually lead to an increase in the number of femicides committed. Diotima Centre has pointed out numerous times the existing gaps in the Police’s operation, both in terms of the survivors’ protection, as well as the offenders’ prosecution.

I will mention a few indicative examples, such as the lack of a cohesive guide on the procedure that needs to be followed (other than the service orders), the sporadic and on a voluntary basis only education of just a few police officers, the limited understanding of the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon of gender-based violence, the rather common efforts to discourage the survivors to denounce abusive behaviours in order to maintain “domestic stability”, the different ways that different police stations deal with similar incidents etc.

And, of course, we can’t set aside the fact that in several recent cases of femicides, there have been prior lawsuits for domestic violence in police stations, but the Authorities haven’t followed through as they should. On the other hand, we’d like to point out once more, so it never gets forgotten, that several people who committed femicide then rushed to turn themselves in, after an unacceptable such urge by a police unionist.

Some jurists have pointed out that there is no link between records available to the Police and the Justice system, in terms of people who have been accused of abusive behaviour in the past. What is your stance on the matter?

In terms of the records keeping, according to article 8 paragraph 4 of the Istanbul Convention, the institution in charge would be the Sex Equality Observatory of the GSDFPGE. The Justice system doesn’t have an information system regarding domestic violence offences. Therefore, the relevant evidence is gathered as follows: The Observatory sends a request to the Supreme Court DA, then this DA forwards the request to the 63 regional district attorneys across the country. The regional offices search the court files of the past years and then send the relevant statistics.

The Greek Police, on the other hand, modified their domestic violence register system in 2020 and they forward the relevant data directly to the Observatory to be published. The data is kept for research purposes and it’s true that there’s a gap in the accurate depiction of the situation. Plus, it is indeed an issue that there isn’t a direct link between the Police and Justice, but there are numerous obstacles and challenges that render such a connection difficult. The most important of said obstacles is any defendant’s sacred right to the presumption of innocence, even if such a treatment might seem problematic in our case, when we’re dealing with consistent and continuous abusive behaviours rather than with first-time offenders.

How does the Police usually respond to calls for help or to third party accusations?

Despite the fact that, as previously stated, all ex officio offences can be reported by anybody who realises that such an offence is being committed, and while Greek Police’s own relevant awareness campaign urged victims and third parties to “Break the Silence”, in reality there have been numerous occasions when third parties went to the Police to report abusive acts and no criminal investigation was initiated because the authorities state that the grieved party should be the one to report the offence.

In the case of anonymous reports, it is even less likely that any investigation will take place. In case of an emergency call to the Police even by a third party, anonymously, if the necessary details are provided, such as the address etc, the Police should go and investigate the case. Still, they wouldn’t be able to proceed to any further action, unless the grieved party confirms in some way that she’s been harmed or unless the Officers themselves witness abusive actions.

What could be done on an institutional level in order to improve the protection framework for women?

Our country would have to adhere to all its obligations as agreed upon in the Istanbul Convention. Greece has agreed to those terms and has incorporated them in its state legislature since 2018. This should be our starting point. A complete and integral plan of preventive measures should be applied, to deal with the issue from its very early stages both in the private and the public sphere.

There should be more available “tools”, not just the relevant penal code articles such as social measures and actions to stop the current increase in gender-based violence and ensure women’s protection in every possible setting and relationship, in their interpersonal relations, their family setting, at school, at work etc. And of course, the State should in any case ensure that the relevant authorities (the Police, the district attorneys and the judges) act upon the existing legal framework.

Could the legal recognition of the term “femicide” contribute in a) the improvement of the due process when one wants to report such an act to the authorities and b) empowering women in going forward with denouncing abuse?

It is necessary to legally recognise the phenomenon of femicide – both on a symbolic and on a practical level – so that the offenders can be punished to a proportionate degree. To give this act a separate mention in the Penal Code, is to semantically include all its social and gender dimensions along with the crime against the ultimate right to one’s life. Other than that, though, we believe that there’s a lot more to be done in order to improve the process of reporting gender-based violence crimes to the Authorities: There should be relevant training and reinforcement of police officers, also there should be an independent oversight authority that could hold the Police accountable in case of arbitrariness while conducting their duties and finally, reinforcement of the understaffed coronary offices, so that all the necessary evidence can be gathered immediately and accurately.

And, of course, in order to empower the survivors and help them be able to report abusive behaviours easier, we should ensure they’re better informed regarding their rights and also we should ensure more funding in order to be able to provide them free legal aid, psychosocial support and decent housing for them and their children, since after a lawsuit, it’s often a long hard road to their final vindication.

Do you think it’d be useful to create a central organisation that would gather data and statistics regarding femicides and if so, why?

It is very important to gather data from the relevant authorities (police/ courts) but at the same time, the State victims’ support services (such as residences, counselling centres etc) and the NGOs that work in this sector, also play a very important role and can help us better understand the issue of femicides, especially since many femicide victims had asked for help in the past, without making an official lawsuit against the offenders, either because they didn’t want to at the time, or because the crimes only reached the level of intention, or for other reasons. Therefore we believe that the creation of a central database that can draw information from the above-mentioned institutions, services and organisations, would shed light on the risk factors observed in cases of femicides and would allow us to push for more efficient counter measures.


Footnotes

  1. Τhis goes for any type of partner violence – not just between married couples []