The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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Child-to-parent violence cases on the rise - Domestic Violence Commissioner

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 17 September 2023, 09:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

In an interview with the Malta Independent on Sunday, newly appointed Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Commissioner Samantha Pace Gasan, delves into the critical mission and impactful initiatives undertaken by the commission. Pace Gasan sheds light on their commitment to implementing the Istanbul Convention, raising awareness on gender-based and domestic violence, and fostering collaboration among national stakeholders and NGOs.

The Commission on Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence aims to coordinate, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, more generally known as the Istanbul Convention.

Our main functions relate to awareness-raising on gender-based violence and domestic violence, coordination between various national stakeholders, entities and NGOs providing services and support, as well as developing and monitoring policy recommendations to improve on the status quo. It is through a collective effort that the journey of a victim can be turned into that of a survivor.


Can you provide an overview of the current state of domestic violence in our community, including statistics and trends?

Latest statistics published by the NSO, reflecting the year 2021, show that there was an increase of 12.9% of victims who made use of domestic violence services across Malta and Gozo, adding up to 3,295 individuals, when compared to the previous year. When it comes to perpetrator programmes, 171 persons made use of these services in 2021. The increase in numbers reflects increase in reporting and service users, rather than increase in domestic violence.

The majority of service users are still women. Nonetheless, new trends emerge as the prevalence of domestic violence within same-sex relationships is similar to that within heterosexual relationships. Another phenomenon which seems to be on the increase is that of child-to-parent violence.


What programmes and initiatives has the Commission implemented to prevent domestic violence and support survivors?

The Commission also monitors the National Strategy for Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence. Through this strategy, collaboration with various governmental entities, national stakeholders and NGOs, ensures that the strategy has been implemented. The measures within the strategy reflect the four pillars of the Istanbul Convention; integrated policies and amendments in legislation, prevention, protection and support, and prosecution. As the national coordinating body in line with Article 10 of the Istanbul Convention, the Commission is also tasked with monitoring the recommendations put forth by GREVIO following the country evaluation report published in 2020. 

The majority of measures emerging from these essential documents have been implemented, such as the introduction of MARAM and a system which enables individuals to check whether  their partner was previously found guilty of domestic violence, Standard Operating Procedures for enforcement officers to follow when dealing with cases of gender-based and domestic violence; various awareness raising efforts through training and public campaigns to highlight different forms of violence and abuse that may be experienced by different social groups. In fact, when I was Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability, we collaborated with the Commission for Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence to raise awareness amongst persons with disability on violence and abuse. As part of Euro Pride 2023, the CGBVDV will also be hosting a panel discussion about intimate partner violence and family violence within the LGBTIQ+ community.


During your short time in the new role what are the key areas you have identified that need improvement?

I really believe in the importance of a fluent customer journey. When we are dealing with clients who are already experiencing trauma, we need to facilitate the process, prevent re-victimisation and provide the necessary support in the most efficient and effective way possible. We are aware that clients using these services tend to take a prolonged period to report the abuse, go back and forth into the relationship, and in cases when the abusive relationship ends, they may very well end up in another violent relationship. It is our responsibility to break the cycle of violence. Hence, why we need to address not only those who are currently experiencing any form of abuse, but also those who still carry the traumas of being direct or indirect victims of violence.


How does the commission collaborate with law enforcement, social services, and other organizations to address domestic violence?

As previously mentioned, this is one of our primary roles. In fact, Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) meetings are held on a monthly basis. These meetings bring together entities that are involved in the different stages and aspects, including support services, law enforcement, education, health and justice. Our scope is not to address case by case issues, that is being done through MARAM, where high-risk cases are discussed to ensure that an adequate action plan is being followed. The role of the IMC is to discuss progress in the implementation of the National Strategy for Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence and to address any challenges that may arise.


What resources are available for individuals who are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, and how can they access help?

There are ample. The first point of contact would be the domestic violence services within Aġenzija Appoġġ, and the Victim Support Agency; that is if the client is not yet ready to make a police report. Other services include those of NGOs, such as SOAR and Women for Women Foundation. These service providers would guide the individual and provide the necessary support for the victim to take the next step.

In case where one wants to leave the violent home, then emergency shelters, such as Dar Merħba Bik and Fondazzjoni Sebħ – il-Milja, can accommodate the individual, and again support them to start the process. Legal Aid Malta and Victim Support Agency also provide legal support.


Can you explain the commission's efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence and promote education in the community?

The Commission conducted quarterly public awareness-raising campaigns over the past few years. These targeted different social groups and themes, including same-sex intimate partner violence, the different forms of abuse, and engaging men and boys in preventing and combating gender-based violence and domestic violence. Additionally, the Commission organizes multi-agency training where it targets awareness-raising amongst professionals working in the field, based on a training needs analysis which is conducted every year.


How does the Commission work to engage and involve survivors of domestic violence in its decision-making processes?

Civil society organisations are consulted and involved in multiple initiatives – including policy development and as well as training initiatives. In the near future, the CGBVDV will also be reaching out to victims and survivors, to ensure that their experiences are also reflected in advocacy and lobbying efforts undertaken by the Commission. NGOs are also given the opportunity to speak with the various entities through the IMC and advocate for their clients, themselves.


Are there any recent success stories or notable achievements of the commission in reducing domestic violence rates?

Statistics continue to reflect an increase in the number of services users benefitting from domestic violence services. While some may perceive this number as a general increase in domestic violence, the Commission considers this to be a success story. It is a known fact that domestic violence is an underreported crime. By coming forward, victims seem to be responding to the efforts undertaken by the various entities in the past few years. Domestic violence will persist, but stronger legislation and better services will ensure that clients trust the system to protect them.


What role can individuals, organizations, and businesses play in supporting the Commission's mission to combat domestic violence?

‘Domestic Violence is Everybody’s Business’. That was the message the Commission sent as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women in November and December last year. Everyone can be a victim or perpetrator if they are not aware of their behaviour; if they do not realize how their behaviours trigger others’ traumas.

Whether in the workplace, at school, or in a relationship, a spear of the moment aggressive response could result in triggering experiences of domestic violence in the past. Ultimately, organisations and businesses are made of people; but it is through the integration of effective policies, for instance those related to sexual harassment and bullying, followed by disciplinary action, that we can protect employees and clients in our organisations.


What policies or legislative changes is the commission advocating and working on to improve the response to domestic violence at a systemic level?

The Commission is currently working on the Third National Strategy for Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence. There is a holistic approach towards addressing ongoing challenges with the system will be factored in. Ultimately, it is through a collective effort and person-centred approaches that we can prevent, protect and support gender-based and domestic violence.


How does the commission ensure that underserved or marginalized communities have access to the same level of support and resources?

There are different needs within different communities. It is therefore essential to ensure that civil society organisations are participatory in the policy development and implementation phases, to ensure accessibility of services and programmes amongst all social groups.


What proportionate of complaints received by the commission come from men? Does the commission employ different methods in dealing with men who complain of domestic violence?

To engage men and boys in violence prevention, the Commission developed and organised an awareness-raising campaign addressing the important contribution of men and boys in challenging gender stereotypes and norms. This campaign involved featuring local public figures in a series of video clips to highlight the role of men and boys in violence prevention. Posters reimagining discriminatory proverbs relating to gender stereotypes were also promoted online.

In March 2022, the Commission also hosted a conference, in collaboration with Men Against Violence, to generate discussions by academics, professionals and representatives from organisations in Sweden and the Netherlands on how to engage men and boys in challenging patriarchal norms. In December 2022, the Commission held a roundtable discussion with experts in the field to generate policy recommendations on how we can elevate the contribution of men and boys in preventing violence.

Throughout the World Cup 2022 tournament, the Commission took the opportunity to target men and boys in an awareness-raising campaign which involved the dissemination of football-themed posters on gender-based violence and domestic violence in local bars and pubs where the matches were broadcasted.  

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