Domestic violence is an ex officio offence. Will repeat it till we are blue in the face.
The resignation of Assistant Commissioner Mario Tonna has brought much discussion about the reaction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security, however we feel that as wrong as the Ministry’s reaction was in trying to justify his actions, it is even more worrying that both the police and the Ministry have no qualms in publicly stating that the report made against Assistant Commissioner has been withdrawn.
Perhaps we need to refresh our memories on the offence of domestic violence. Firstly, according to Annual Crime Review 2016, domestic violence reports continue to increase, keeping its place as the 2nd most reported crime in Malta, having majority of its victims women and the perpetrators being men. Secondly with the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2006, the offence of domestic violence became ‘ex officio’ i.e. any report of domestic violence has to be prosecuted. So one can imagine how perplexed we were to see that both the police and the ministry did not remotely hesitate to publicly declare that the victim withdrew her complaint, thus implying that no criminal action will ensue. This shows that even at the highest level of governance, there is no understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.
Going back to the resignation of Assistant Commissioner Tonna, one cannot but wonder if this was done voluntarily or was he asked to do so by his superiors as an excuse to have him removed. This gets one wondering whether same approach and attitude will follow suit for the number of other police officers and public officials whose partners reported them for domestic violence. Will the need for resignation become standard policy?
As an organisation providing legal services to female victims of domestic violence, we have advised and represented a number of female survivors whose partners were police officers. Just recently, we have assisted clients to file complaints against their husbands who are policemen. The courage it took these women is something that we can never cease to admire and are truly humbled by it. Yet to date, we have not heard of their resignation or even suspension pending investigation by internal affairs and/or action of criminal proceedings. Of course not to mention that we have also come across declarations issued by the police stating that the victim is wilfully withdrawing her complaint and hence no criminal charge were issued. When brought to the attention of the respective police officials, we were received with the reply ‘Dott mhux hi riedet thassar ir-rapport’… will not comment any further.
Complaints as to the manner in which police handle cases domestic violence have not changed much for the last 11 years. From a cursory look at the annual report of the Commission on Domestic Violence of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 all indicate that more needs to be done by the police. According to the report issued by the social parliamentary committee of 2012 on domestic violence, it was found that albeit the police having a set of guide lines to assist them in dealing with reports of domestic violence, very few officers were aware of their existence. I am certain that if the same research had to be conducted now, the figures will be far less. A subsequent report of the social parliamentary committee published July 2014 further found that many women had lost trust in reporting to the police due to lack of support they were given, victim blaming and even because they eventually realised that their reports were never actually taken and thus no subsequent charges were issued.
So really we can scream all we want that we have ratified international treaties by which Malta has voluntarily committed itself to combat violence against women and domestic violence; we can boast that the police have expanded their services to deal with domestic violence (which services we are perplexed to hear since we are not aware of their existence at all and have been working in the field for quite a number of years now); that government has embarked on prevention and training programmes - nothing will change unless there is serious commitment and change of attitude by the ones that are meant to protect and the ones that are meant to legislate for it.
Disappointment does not begin to describe how wrong this injustice is to the very ones that need protection and support. So yes, we are angry and frustrated that in 2018 we have outright regressed with now having the very authorities that are meant to protect us to nonchalantly claim that complaint has been withdrawn and that’s apparently where the issue ends.
It is wrong to the core.
Dr. Lara Dimitrijevic