The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
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Chronicles of murders foretold

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 29 November 2022, 07:01 Last update: about 3 months ago

In the last 40 years more than 30 women have been murdered in Malta, the last one Bernice Cassar, who was shot in her face and chest a week ago as she was driving to work. Police investigators say her husband killed her. The day before she had reported him to the police as she had already done before. Her sister has said: "She reported and cried for help but the authorities never really cared. She was sad yesterday because Christmas was around the corner and she was fighting for her safety and that of her kids."


After the murder of another woman, Josette Scicluna, in 2003, I wrote a piece asking: “How many other ‘Josettes’ are suffering in silence?” I wrote: “She has now disappeared from the headlines and the attention of the media. For a few days most of the country was discussing and gossiping about the murder of Josette Scicluna who was murdered and mauled by 47 stab wounds by her former male friend in front of their traumatized child.”
It could have been all avoided if the social worker’s recommendation to make him return to jail had been followed. A friend of mine had told me: “How can our justice system fail society so badly. Something must be very wrong if society allows a defenceless woman to be tortured in that way notwithstanding the repeated reports to the police. Makes you wonder how many more women are out there suffering in silence with no one to defend them. It's too late now for Josette Scicluna but can't something be done to make it safer for the many other "Josettes" suffering in silence before it is too late? She had the courage to leave him but still it didn't save her because we as part of society failed her. I'm so sorry Josette.”

19 years and 23 murdered women later, my friend’s remarks are still very relevant. She had sent me this poem by Paulette Kelly:

I got flowers today.
I got flowers today.
It wasn’t my birthday
or any special day.
We had our first argument last night,
and he said a lot of cruel things
that really hurt me.
I know he is sorry
and didn’t mean the things he said
because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today.
It wasn’t our anniversary
or any other special day.
Last night, he threw me into a wall
and started to choke me.
It seemed like a nightmare.
I couldn’t believe it was real.
I know he must be sorry
because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today,
and it wasn’t Mother’s Day
or any other special day.
Last night, he beat me up again.
If I leave him, what will I do?
How will I take care of my kids?
What about money?
I’m afraid of him and scared to leave.
But I know he must be sorry
because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today.
Today was a very special day.
It was the day of my funeral.
Last night, he finally killed me.
If only I had gathered enough courage
and strength to leave him,
I would not have gotten flowers today.

I remember one of the most painful house visits I have had in my 30 years as a parliamentarian was to a woman who was married to a policeman. He had physically attacked her and she ended up in hospital. I had persuaded her to let me talk to the Commissioner of the day. But two days later her father called me from her bedside in hospital not to do anything as “it would make things worse”. She continued to suffer in silence, her husband with his mind at rest, that he was untouchable.

We still fall short when it comes to supporting and saving women like Bernice and Josette from their violent partners.

What sense does it make to organize media campaigns encouraging women to 'come for help, you don't need to be going through this, you deserve better' and then not translating this into tangible support that would save their lives? In order to combat and eliminate domestic violence and femicide we need to have the political will to do so, every day, not just for a few days, when another woman is murdered.

I remember 16 years ago when the Commission on Domestic Violence was launched Minister Dolores Cristina said: ““Domestic violence is a scourge which hits all societies, across all social fabric. Nobody is immune. From now on Malta has solid legislation in place which protects against this grievous act. The launching of the Commission on Domestic Violence here today is a concrete step towards the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act and a commitment on Government’s behalf towards a bettering of policies, legislation and services.”

Following Bernice’s murder, government has set up an inquiry to look into whether state entities failed her. This inquiry needs to be comprehensive and investigate all the different structures, from ‘Appogg’ to the police, whose duty is to support and protect people like Bernice and Josette. We have failed them all too often. When the stories of such murders come out they read like chronicles of murders foretold. Most of these murders could have been prevented, if the cries for help had been listened to and followed up with all the necessary support and protection.

All those responsible to provide such support and protection must be held to account. We all need to stand up and do all we can to give violence against women all the priority it deserves. Why should we wait till women are killed before people start to take notice? Hundreds, thousands of women out there are being abused every day. We can encourage them to come out of 'hiding' but then we need to be able to give them the help they need otherwise it is the cruellest form of deception.



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