Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Male Violence, Our Silence

VIENNA – As many as 12 women are killed by their partners or family members every day in Europe alone. In 2008, more than one-third of all murders of women in Europe were carried out by the victim’s spouse or former spouse, and an additional 17% by a relative. (In the same year, only 5% of male homicides were committed by the victim’s spouse or former spouse.) These figures represent only a tiny fraction of the relentless assault on women occurring worldwide – one that is not confined by boundaries of wealth, culture, age, race, or geography.

Such violence is happening everywhere: at home, on the street, and in the workplace. In fact, the United Nations estimates that up to seven in ten women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence – or both – during their lifetime.

But violence against women can be difficult to detect. Even those who are aware of it may choose to ignore it, believing that it is none of their business or too widespread for them to make a difference, or because they are too busy to get involved. Clearly, a global shift is needed in gender-related attitudes and standards.

To this end, national governments have a responsibility to develop policies and practices that are sensitive to gender – policies that effectively discourage gender-based discrimination, while preventing violence, including by punishing its perpetrators. A shift in how governments address gender-based crimes could go a long way toward overcoming deep-rooted discriminatory mindsets and behaviors.

To be sure, some progress is already being made, with governments increasingly passing laws aimed at protecting women. But the impact of such laws is frequently undermined by inadequate enforcement – and it is often too little too late.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (of which I am Executive Director) is working to improve the situation for women worldwide, approaching gender-based violence from the vantage point of crime prevention and criminal justice. In particular, we aim to augment the support that justice systems provide to victims of such crimes. In South Africa, for example, the UNODC has established three centers (in Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, and the Northern Cape) that offer legal counsel and medical care to women, and that work with men to help break the cycle of domestic violence.

Moreover, because more needs to be done to improve the world’s understanding of gender-based violence, the UNODC is working with the international community to develop a more detailed and accurate picture of the problem. This includes examining the causes of male-on-female violence and assessing the associated risk factors, such as the incidence of drug and alcohol use.

But gathering information is only one step toward closing loopholes in criminal laws and overcoming gaps in prevention policies. Decisive policy action, supported by more rigorous enforcement of relevant laws, is needed to improve reporting and prosecution rates, which remain low in many countries.

Furthermore, victims must be informed of their rights and, if needed, protected during high-risk periods – for example, during or after a divorce. Every woman should have access to legal, medical, and psychological support – even if she is experiencing economic hardship. This means offering victims protection, compensation, free legal aid, and, where appropriate, interpretation services.

Ultimately, however, genuine progress depends on our collective determination to change patterns of behavior and attitudes toward gender-based crime. To achieve this, all men and women must work constantly to instill respect and advance equality for women and girls. Silence is not an option.

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  1. CommentedIsabel Maria Frihetsdóttir

    Thanks for the lovely text.

    As a victim of domestic violence, for well over 10 years now, I am used to read a lot of pretty texts but unfortunately all these translate into very little.
    There is a lot of money being thrown at campaigns and all these ONG bodies for relieving the general public conscience.
    I guess all these pretty texts, fancy boxes and orgs ..so full of good intentions are a good vibe buffer for all those who pay for it but never landed on the situation themselves.

    The solution to domestic violence comes with action and support of competent courts of law and mechanisms to protect the victims from further abuse.

    If by an odd chance you land on a situation that the abuser is a rich man, then it really does not matter how weak the victim is .. because in corrupt countries, the victim will actually face the penalty for trying to escape the loop of abuse. After seeking refuge in Portugal, I have found that not only had I kept being target of more domestic abuse from my swedish partner, as have I found institutional abuse. Money can turn an abuser into a victiom, and the total lack of resources, easily turns a victim as the offender.

    Tried to reach out for the swedish authorities to no avail. The lack of resources cuts our legs from anything except mailing them. After 7 years of hell in Portugal, I asked for help to all bodies that could be of possible help, including EU bodies and this UN companies .. I have contacted politicians and even asked for asylum to embassys. All to no avail.
    Sometimes my story feels taken out of a movie of creeps. It's just amazing how useless and uncolaborative all these pretty orgs are. Even to get an email is sometimes an impossible task. All these pretty orgs push forward beautiful messages, but once you contact them, there is nobody home.

    Its also nice to read how all these orgs intend to help women outside Europe ... when they cannot sort it out inside borders. Hypocrisy comes to mind ... but then again, I accept these orgs need to propagate some kind of message, if nothing else, to keep their jobs safe.

    Victims need help bringing abusers to justice ... not pretty words.

    The path to hell is paved with good intentions and as far my experience goes, all these orgs are useless and hypocrite.

    Best regards
    Isabel Maria da Palma

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