On the 4th December 2019, Associate Avv. Maria Camilleri attended a Training Session for Lawyers on Domestic Violence and Gender Based Violence delivered by: Ms. Maria Mangion (Family Services Manager at Fondazzjoni Sebh) and Dr. Clarissa Sammut Scerri (Head Dept. of Family Studies, Faculty of Social Wellbeing)
This training session took place during the 16 Days of Activism which is an annual international campaign that kicks off on the 25th November the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women, and runs until the 10th December, Human Rights Day, aimed at promoting action to end violence against women and girls. ‘No excuse for abuse’.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence under Article 3(d) defines ‘Gender-based violence against women’ as: ‘violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately;
Article 3(a) defines ‘Violence against women’ as ‘a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life;
One is to note that generally violence starts when one of the parties in a relationship starts exerting subtle elements of control towards the other.
Women’s Aid defines ‘Domestic Abuse’ as ‘an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member of carer. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and perpetrated by men.’
Abuse is not only perpetrated by an intimate partner but also by any family member towards another, such as towards the elderly, or by a child towards his/her parents. Sometimes culture comes into play; such as the way boys are brought up. Not allowing them to express their emotions because that is not manly.
Chapter 581 of the Laws of Malta, Gender Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act lists types of domestic violence relationships:
(a) current or former spouses, civil union partners or cohabitants;
(b) persons living in the same household as the offender or who had lived with the offender within a period of three years preceding the offence;
(c) persons whose marriage has been dissolved or declared null;
(d) an ascendant or descendant;
(e) other adults sharing the same household;
(f) persons in an informal relationship, who are or were dating;
(g) persons who are, or have been, formally or informally engaged with a view to get married or enter into a civil union;
(h) persons who are related to each other either by consanguinity or affinity up to the third degree inclusively;
(i) persons having or having had a child in common;
In recent years, there has been an increase in cases of domestic violence due to the flat-sharing phenomena, where a family shares its residence with another family.
Ms. Maria Mangion emphasised that even though the law stipulates that the perpetrator loses the right to live in the matrimonial home, highly dangerous perpetrators would keep tormenting the victim even after leaving the matrimonial home. It was recommended that for specific high-risk cases, it would be best if the victim lives in a shelter for a while.
Domestic Violence Shelters in Malta:
- Agenzija Appogg, FSWS Domestic Violence Unit
- Dar Merhba Bik Foundation – first stage shelter
- Ghabex Emergency Shelter – first stage shelter
- Fondazzjoni Sebh – second stage shelter
- Dar Emmaus (Gozo Shelter)
There are two types of shelters:
- First stage: dealing with cases needing immediate help and provide shelter for a short period of time
- Second stage: for victims who require longer and further support
Ms. Mangion entered into the difficulties victims of domestic violence face outside the Court room. This information was gathered following an interview with a victim of domestic violence.
Victims are expected to; keep providing care for their children, apply for services such as child care, deal with the impact of abuse (on the children and on themselves), respond to the emotional needs of the children, ensure suitable and affordable housing, provide good education for children as well as access to extra-curricular activities, provide documents necessary for court, attend meetings with professionals, in addition to further control for the perpetrator particularly in relation maintenance and access to the children.
In addition to these day-to-day struggles, victims would further face the need and expense of filing court applications, testifying in a convincing and confident manner, dealing with the lengthy proceedings.
All this was described by an interviewee who was a victim of domestic violence as being ‘expected to run smoothly with both legs injured’.
Research shows that victims are afraid of the Judicial System. Due to this they would need reassurance that the proceedings are fair, that their details will be protected, that the offender is taken care of, that when the offender is eventually released, they will still be protected, as well as reassurance on issues relating to their children.
It is therefore important that victims receive all information in what to expect when in Court. Legal professionals should empower their clients as well as refrain from down-playing their sentiments.
The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children
According to the EU Survey held in 2011 which was later confirmed in 2014, 1 in 4 Maltese women experience Domestic Violence abuse in the home. One must factor in what children experience and how this impacts their life. Unfortunately, we do not have a national survey specifically on children.
One domestic violence victim who was questioned by Dr. Clarissa Sammut Scerri recalled episodes of violence as young as when she was 3 years old. Witnessing domestic violence as a toddler can lead to intergenerational transmission of violence. There is greater risk of becoming violent in adulthood.
When speaking to children it is important to ask what goes on during fights. Do they intervene on their own free will or are they coerced to takes sides?
One must note that where there is Domestic Violence there is a high risk of child abuse. A fact worth noting is that if the family pet is being abused, then probably the children are too.
It is a very difficult situation for children to be in a violent environment. They are placed in a dilemma of not wanting to be hated by their parents so they prefer not to report. One must keep in mind that for a child, even one episode of violence can have traumatic effects.
The affects of witnessing Domestic Violence on children:
Children suffer long-standing issues when exposed to domestic violence such as becoming more depressed, anxious, suffer from PTSD, aggression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, cheating and bullying. There is also the issue of ‘triangulation’ where children feel they are drawn into their parents’ conflict by for example being coerced to take sides. This effects children even post-separation of their parents relationship, where they would still feel obliged to please both parents leading to the children being incapable of taking care of themselves and their psychological well-being.
A turning point in the child’s life can help surpass the effects of domestic violence. This can occur with the help of either of an individual who shows interest and care in the child’s life such as a teacher or grandparent, or through therapy.
- A positive school climate where children have a good relationship with teachers
- Warm and supportive relationship with non-offensive parent
- Positive parental involvement in adolescent life
- Being accepted by peers
Dr. Sammut Scerri encouraged us as professionals to engage with children, give them importance and identify a safe place for them. When the mothers and children use services available, this generates successful psychosocial recovery for both. It is important that as professionals we work for the prevention of violence, and support repair as oppose to adversity.
Whilst dealing with domestic violence cases as professionals we ought to pay attention to secondary traumatization on a personal and professional level. It is important for legal professionals to seek help and therapy in the event that this occurs.
When legal professionals require further information or assistance in a particular case one can resort to the aid of Appogg, 179 or Victim Support Unit.
For more information you can contact one of our Team Members at Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates.