• Tuesday, September 2, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    ROMANIA: Media Spotlight on Domestic Violence

    By Claudia Ciobanu
    BUCHAREST, Apr 11 (IPS) Campaigners in Romania have very effectively used
    the media to break the public silence around the issue of domestic
    violence against women, and lobby for changes in laws.

    Over many weeks, public interest ads featuring celebrities, both male and
    female, from the world of music and the electronic media, with artificial
    bruises and scars, have been telecast on many TV channels and discussed in
    the press and on blogs.

    The images, created to shock audiences into understanding that this
    aggression is not &com;normal&com;, were from a photo exhibition
    that opened in Bucharest on Mar. 25 and closed on Apr. 8. The main
    organiser was Foundation Sensiblu, a charity.

    In another well-publicised effort, the Center for Independent Journalism
    in Bucharest, with financial help from private companies and charities,
    organised public debates on domestic violence.

    &com;The campaigns against domestic violence run by civil society and
    the public sector have been going on for longer but they only became
    visible to the public recently,&com; remarks Cristina Horia, executive
    director of the Sensiblu Foundation.

    In an interview with IPS, she explains: &com;What is happening now is
    the media has started to pay attention to the campaigns, and this is
    partly because activist organisations have refined their techniques to
    attract coverage and raise awareness.&com;

    &com;Unfortunately, the involvement of state institutions with these
    campaigns remains limited,&com; she adds. &com;They play the role
    of either supporters or partners, but do not really initiate
    campaigns.&com;

    In many Romanian families, violence against women is still seen as
    &com;normal&com;.

    A study conducted last year in spring by the Centre for Urban and Regional
    Sociology (CURS), in Bucharest, revealed that over 21 percent of women
    have faced assault, either in their current relationships or in the past.

    A staggering 63 percent of women abused at home said the violence took
    place regularly and in multiple forms, from physical abuse and even sexual
    violence, to denigration and verbal humiliation.

    The study showed that 55 percent of the women who are victims of domestic
    violence continue to live with their aggressive partners, and the main
    reason for this is that women consider domestic violence as
    &com;normal problems for a family&com; (the justification given by
    26 percent of the women who continue in abusive relationships).

    A law to counter domestic violence was passed by Romanian parliament in
    2003, but the National Coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations
    Involved in Programmes Against Domestic Violence is now lobbying to have
    it amended in several areas.

    &com;The law is there, but it does not help either victims or
    organisations active in the field too much,&com; says Horia.
    &com;The most serious problem is related to its implementation. Since
    2003, we have seen only one case where the provisions of the law were
    applied fully against the aggressor.&com;

    A serious legal loophole, according to activists, is the lack of a
    restraining order against abusers. The police, as a result, cannot
    intervene. They have no authority to enter a home without the approval of
    its owner, which in most cases in Romania is the abusive man.

    According to information provided by Foundation Sensiblu, a proposal to
    provide for restraining orders was included in the 2003 law, but it was
    shot down by the legislative, which claimed, &com;Romanian society is
    not ready for this&com;.

    Under the law, victims of domestic abuse and their children are entitled
    to reside in shelters between 7 and 60 days, and, during this time,
    receive counselling and legal help. Both state and private institutions
    have run several pilot projects for shelters.

    NGOs have been campaigning for more shelters, and that these be located in
    both rural and urban areas.

    Yet another stumbling block is the cumbersome process of obtaining a
    medical-legal certificate to prove the holder is a victim of domestic
    abuse. At present, the document costs close to 50 lei, almost 20 euros in
    a country where average incomes barely go over 300 euros per month.

    A survey of 400 female victims of domestic violence, conducted in October
    2008 by the National Institute for Legal Medicine Mina Minovici in
    Bucharest, revealed that only half were willing to admit to abuse; a mere
    50 had persevered to complete the necessary formalities to claim shelter
    and counselling, and just one of the 400 cases had taken legal action
    against the aggressor.

    &com;The procedure of getting the certificate is (just) the last
    hurdle …,&com; family therapist Crenguta Vlas, who works with
    abused women and their children in Brasov county, says. &com;The
    biggest obstacles are psychological … fear of the aggressor and the
    shame the victim feels,&com; she told IPS in an interview.

    Vlas wants to see a simpler legal process that leaves the victim with more
    time and energy to deal with the trauma.

    Still, activists are hopeful that 2009 may turn out to be a breakthrough
    year for their struggle. The planned amendments to the 2003 law are coming
    up for discussion in parliament this year.

    In the southern municipality Olt, the local council started last fall to
    reimburse women for the costs of the medical-legal certificates. With
    local governments in charge of domestic violence cases under the 2003 law,
    other municipalities are being urged to replicate the Olt model.

    The best news so far: Romanian media has assertively exposed the public to
    the taboo issue of domestic violence.

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