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Domestic violence – is there a way out in conditions of forced isolation

Photo: iStock

Bulgaria is one of the countries where no official statistics are kept on victims of domestic violence. Only the Ministry of Interior maintains a database of signals submitted to the system. According to this data, a total of 3,057 restraining orders were issued, 2,500 of which for violence against women, 898 for violence against children and 349 for violence against men.

In 2020, based on data of civilian monitoring, there were 15 women killed in a close partnership, with media reports reporting at least 5 more deaths. Reports to NGOs of systemic harassment at home have almost doubled in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Psychologists warn that the problem is much more widespread, as victims often keep silent and refuse to talk about what they are subjected to. The issue comes to the surface only when there are casualties, direct or indirect.

The issue of domestic violence has been on the agenda more than once, and now, in the context of the global pandemic, it has reached alarming proportions. Unfortunately, according to Bulgarian law, the penalties for abusers are not severe enough.

"At this point, in order for a perpetrator to be punished more severely, they must have three registered acts of violence," explained Bulgaria’s Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva during a recent online discussion on domestic violence.

This is not always possible. Sometimes an act of violence can take a human life from the very first instance or lead to mutilation of the victim. I believe that all forms of domestic violence should be criminalized in the country’s Criminal Code. They should be defined so that those who break the law are effectively punished and there are actually sanctioned people because psychological and economic violence is very difficult to prove."

On the other hand, the crisis centres in Sofia for accommodation of women and children who became victims of domestic violence are only 30. According to experts in the field, this is extremely insufficient. Professional intervention with the abusers is also needed so they can cope with aggression and anger. Children who have witnessed and been victims of violence, as well as all victims, also need specialized care.

The amendments to the Domestic Violence Protection Act, which have been published for public discussion, provide for the creation of a special register in which the perpetrators and victims of domestic violence will be entered. The aim is to completely restrict the perpetrators' access to the victims, including through SMS and telephone calls. It also provides for the protection of pregnant women and children, the opening of new social services such as a telephone line for victims and sheltered housing for victims of violence.

"The new changes expand the circle of victims of domestic violence who can seek protection”,Bulgaria’s Minister of Justice Desislava Ahladova pointed out during the online discussion.

“The protection measures imposed by the competent authorities are also increasing. A very important change is the proposal to establish a National Authority for Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation of Policies and Measures for Prevention of Domestic Violence.The project also regulates programmes for prevention and protection from domestic violence. Also court proceedings for imposing protection measures are made more efficient."

It is envisaged that the National Commission for Prevention and Protection from Domestic Violence will be an interdepartmental body that will be able to propose protection strategies in specific cases. The Commission will guide victims to participate in a variety of rehabilitation programmes.

Another important point in the envisaged legislative changes is the imposition of a ban on the possession of firearms in order to avoid killing the victim with a legally possessed weapon.

English version: Rositsa Petkova

Photos: BGNES
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