by Anna Miklya
One of the most shocking news items last week was the case of a man in Kemecse, who gravely abused his 22-year-old girlfriend and blinded her for life. The cruelty of the deed is unmatched, though at least the woman survived. Almost weekly we can read of attacks against women that ended with death, and most of these cases reveal that something is seriously wrong with the Hungarian victim protection system.
What happened in Kemecse?
Attila Gy. From Hencida gravely abused and blinded his girlfriend, who was about to break up with him. She is in hospital but will never regain her sight. The man escaped, the police arrested him last Thursday in a house in Hencida. He is in preliminary arrest. Two years ago, the woman had reported him to the police for kidnapping and gravely abusing her, but then withdrew the report as a result of threats coming from him.
In most cases, the victims are women
Most commonly it is women who suffer abuse within the family. This is a fact that is confirmed by statistics and originates in our culture, which does not mean that we should not stand up against it.
- Most abusers are men, because men are the ones who are conditioned by society to become aggressors and masculine, while women are socialized to become victims and martyrs.
- Also, men tend to be physically stronger.
- Women are also socially more vulnerable, as in many families the breadwinner is still the man, so the girlfriend, wife or mother is existentially as well as emotionally dependent on her partner.
- We should also remember that in Hungary, women have been individual legal persons only for the last 150 years; before that, they were under the guardianship of a man (their fathers or their husbands).
These factors are deeply embedded in society and help us understand why the victims of domestic violence are most often women. NANE Association claims there are 52 victims a year in Hungary, but this is just an estimate. What is the real number of women and men abused by their partners in Hungary?
Data from the police
It is surprisingly difficult to find up-to-date and reliable statistics on domestic violence. Statistics on the website of the Central Statistics Office date from 2011, and some investigation had to be conducted to find valid and up-to-date data. Last year, as we have also reported, independent MP Bernadett Szél managed to acquire some relevant statistics about the past few years. It took the police 3 months (!) to respond to her and send her the data, which she uploaded into her website. So, these are public data from an official police document, which are accessible to anyone – however, they are rather hard to interpret and often contradict one another.
On the basis of police data:
- In 2020, 47 people were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 35 of them were women. In 2019, 32 people were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 22 of them were women. In 2018, 38 people were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 26 of them were women. In 2017, 49 people were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 30 of them were women. In 2016, 38 people were killed by their partner or ex-partner, 26 of them were women.
These are the manslaughter cases. There is even more difference in other types of cases reported to the police, such as kidnapping, coercion, robbery or physical attack.
- In 2020, 984 people were victims of a violent crime committed by their partner or ex-partner, 782 of them were women.
- In 2019, 771 people were victims of a violent crime committed by their partner or ex-partner, 696 of them were women.
- In 2018, 911 people were victims of a violent crime committed by their partner or ex-partner, 799 of them were women.
- In 2017, 1482 people were victims of a violent crime committed by their partner or ex-partner, 1300 of them were women.
- In 2016, 1605 people were victims of a violent crime committed by their partner or ex-partner, 1415 of them were women.
These statistics show how exposed women are to intimate partner violence – and these are only the cases when the victim gets to the police and makes a report there. However, there is a huge latency in the case of domestic and intimate partner violence; estimates say only about 30% of cases get to the authorities.
We could notice it in time
In most cases domestic/intimate partner violence is not an isolated event but a “habit” that gets repeated and escalates over time. First there are just small warning signs: “just” verbal abuse and humiliation, then the abuser hits the abused for the first time etc. The story of the woman in Kemecse did not start with the torture; that was only the final point of a process that had been going on for years.
We learn that she was first “enchanted by the man’s kindness”, as he obviously did not start courting her with abuse. Over time, however, signs of aggression appeared. The survivor’s cousin says the perpetrator had kidnapped her once already, and she could only escape with luck, after having broken several bones. Why didn’t she report the case to the police?
She did, but then she withdrew it, because the man had threatened her and her family.
It is quite common that women report the abuse and then back out. This might be due to several reasons:
- The woman is emotionally dependent on the abuser; after all, he is her love, the father of her child etc.
- She feels sorry for the abuser;
- She is afraid of him;
- She is financially dependent on him.
From an evaluation of police reports, it is clear that the police are also aware of this.
“Cases of violence against partners and family members take place within complicated emotional relationships. Violent partnerships usually follow a cyclical pattern, within which the violence applied by the abuser is getting gradually graver.
The abused is often unsure whether they want the ‘intervention’ of the authorities, because they are afraid of the potential consequences (they might remain without financial support, fear retaliation or experience the police procedure as a burden) (…)
It is indispensable that responding police patrols be able to decide, considering all the circumstances, whether a preventive restraining order can be issued against the perpetrator”, says the 2020 report of the Crime Prevention Department of the National Police Headquarters Criminal Directorate.
What can the police do?
The responding officer can issue a temporary preventive restraining order, which bans the abuser from approaching the abused for 72 hours. After this has expired, the court can issue another, 60-day restraining order. If the abuser breaches this, they face serious legal consequences.
This sounds all good, but there are four basic problems with it.
- It has hardly any restraining power. Intimate partner violence is very often about “punishing” the victim, and the perpetrator does not care about the consequences, because they are in a highly upset emotional state, all that matters to them is to hurt the other. It happens often that the perpetrator “punishes” the victim and then commits suicide.
- It also happens often that the victim herself changes her mind and contacts her former partner, trying to “make peace”. This could be avoided with proper emotional support by professionals.
- The restraining order in itself is just a piece of paper: an appropriate system of experts and institutions would be necessary so the state could take care of both parties. To put it very simply: both should have a place to live and something to eat, so separating the two parties would not be undermined by the fact that they are financially dependent on each other.
- Often extensive physical protection would be necessary against the abuser, not only for the survivor but also for her whole family. In the Kemecse case, the victim would not have felt safe with a restraining order either, as the man had made very clear threats against both her and her family (!).
From the concise report of the Crime Prevention Department, it seems that the police try to do their job as well as they can and protect the victims of intimate partner violence, though the number of officers participating in the relevant trainings is decreasing. However, the problem seems to be much deeper, as in all likelihood these trainings should also be modified.
Clearly, if we want change, it is not enough to rely on the existing procedures and protocols of the authorities; in order for survivors to really survive unharmed, foundational and radical changes are needed in victim protection. This demand is true not only for Hungary but for all the countries of the European Union, and this led to the drafting of the 2011 Istanbul Convention, which Hungary signed in 2014 but never ratified it, that is, it never implemented the measures outlined in the Convention.
After a motion by KDNP (the Christian Democratic Party), in 2020 the Hungarian parliament voted not to ratify the Istanbul Convention for two basic reasons:
- Because refugees entering the country would also be protected;
- And the other reason is the use of the word gender (which basically implies that victim protection extends to trans* people too).
The Istanbul Convention underlines that, although violence against women is a society-wide phenomenon, it is important to extend victim protection measures to everyone, including men, women and children, regardless of their religion, ethnicity etc.
It also lays down principles that should be observed more in victim protection:
“ Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to protect all victims from any further acts of violence. (…) The provision of services shall not depend on the victim’s willingness to press charges or testify against any perpetrator.“
The Convention elaborates in detail that in such cases, the financial independence and personal safety of the victim must be ensured, more shelters must be created, a hotline must be set up, adequate information must be provided to the population etc.
That is: once the authorities have sighted an abuser, the Convention helps them actively and efficiently prevent a tragedy.
If the provisions of the Istanbul Convention had been implemented,
- The victim and her family would have had more trust in the authorities,
- She would have had more opportunity to disappear from the abuser’s sight,
- She would have received expert support to make her understand why there is no point in “making peace” or hoping that the man would change,
- The abuser would also have received expert support,
- The police and prosecution, better trained, could act faster, more efficiently and with a wider competence.
And a 22-year-old woman would not have been made disabled for life, physically and emotionally.
If not the Istanbul Convention, then something else.
In 2020, both Minister of Justice Judit Varga and the Christian Democrats justified the refusal to ratify the Convention by saying that Hungarian legislation already provides enough protection for women. Women’s rights organizations almost immediately refuted this, and crime statistics also clearly show that though positive changes have certainly taken place, we still have a long way to go.
I do not wish to debate or comment on the criticisms regarding the Istanbul Convention. What I do not understand, however: if NOT within the framework of the Istanbul Convention, why can’t we simply drastically reform Hungarian victim protection, the relevant legislation and system of institutions in a way that it would really protect women (and anyone else) from becoming victims like it should in a European country in the 21st century?
It would be a lot of work and would probably cost a lot of money, but the lives of 10-20-30-50 citizens per year would be worth the investment.
(Translated by Rita Béres-Deák)