“This is not all right, this area is clearly not well-managed, there is no coordinated action” MP Bernadett Szél summarizes data on domestic and gender-based violence in Hungary

Oszd meg!


As we have reported, liberal MP Bernadett Szél has repeatedly requested data about gender-based and domestic violence in Hungary. She finally managed to get hold of the data and summarized it in a Facebook post as follows.

 

“We finally made it: we have managed to obtain data and analyze data on domestic violence during the pandemic. These data shows that last year, in the year of the pandemic, all numbers went up, and especially due to crimes committed against women. But before I give the concrete data, I would like to reveal a huge challenge we have faced. This work was just as hard as finding data about how infected old people’s homes were or how many hospital patients had been sent home, with one important difference: there is no systemic statistical data collection in the field of domestic violence. Thus, we are far behind not only in terms of measures but also in terms of recording data. This Facebook post is basically a report: it was hard to get the data, also hard to analyze it, but it is now ready.

 

About the context: during the pandemic, the police created maps showing how the number of crimes in public spaces has decreased. When I asked them about the situation regarding domestic violence during the lockdown, they made me wait for 90 days and then sent a useless answer. But I did not give up: I requested comprehensive data from the police, which they eventually answered.

 

The big problem is, I had to navigate a huge amount of disorganized data. This illustrates that we have no useable, organized statistics on domestic violence, though this would be crucial in order to fight it efficiently. Good statistics is the foundation of all successful measures – I say this as a former statistician but also as a politician. It is worth looking at the response: at several points they say there is no data, but sometimes I could dig it out from another chart they sent me, so there is data, they just cannot find it.

What is lacking, though, is real-time databases that would show how many domestic violence events took place in a year. As a concrete example: in Austria nowadays the issue of domestic violence and femicide is widely discussed, and their Women’s Affairs Minister (yes, they do have one) has worked out a package to tackle it. I was looking for such numbers in Hungary but could not find them, as the police maintains no central registry for them. This also lessens the chance of social dialogue on the subject.

 

The Ministry of Interior does have a database, though, which registers crimes not when they are committed but when the police procedure is closed. This means that a given year’s data may include cases from the previous year. There is a so-called national evaluation report on police interventions in cases of violence against family members and that contains the murders committed in the given year; I asked to look at it, but it is not public and does not segregate data on the basis of gender.

 

So, what could I work with? I had two types of statistics: the database on closed cases and the annual reports going back to 2018, which summarize the cases committed in the given year. What is clear at first sight is that all forms of violence affect women disproportionately and last year, in the year of the pandemic, all numbers increased, typically due to the increase in crimes committed against women. Here are the details:

 

The report says that in 2020, women were the victims in 89% of domestic violence cases.  The number of cases had grown by 88% compared to 2019 (472 vs 251 cases), and 86% of this growth is violence against women.

The report says that in 2020, women were the victims of 72% of crimes committed against family members (e.g. physical injury, harassment, domestic violence, vandalism etc.). Last year’s data show an 11% increase compared to 2019 (7522 vs. 6773 cases). 84% of this growth is due to crimes committed against women.

The Ministry of Interior database says that in 2020, 61% of the homicide and lethal injury cases in which the police completed the investigation were committed against women. Last year’s data show an increase of 33% compared to 2019 (93 vs. 70). 83% of this growth is due to crimes committed against women.

 

The same database says that from the closed cases of homicide committed against the perpetrator’s partner or ex-partner (including present or former cohabiting or non-cohabiting partner, registered partner, or spouse), 74% had a female victim. Last year’s data show a 47% increase compared to 2019 (47 vs. 32). Femicides account for 87% of this growth.

Closed cases of physical injury committed by the victim’s partner or ex-partner are also telling. Usually, 88-90% of the victims are women, in 2020 it was 88%. The number of cases had grown by 13%, and in 66% of the increase the crime was committed against a woman by her partner or ex-partner.

I was also interested in what happens to the cases after the police investigation. In only 61% of the cases was the perpetrator prosecuted; in 27% of the cases the report was rejected, or the investigation terminated because the victim did not make a private motion. Namely, in Hungary the victim is supposed to make a private motion for conducting a criminal procedure within 30 days, otherwise the case is dropped. Victims often do not make this private motion because they are not informed about this. This clearly shows that domestic violence should be prosecuted ex officio; requiring a private motion hinders efficient crime prevention.

I have also asked how many times the police passed a temporary preventive restraining order. The data show that the highest number of such measures ever were taken in 2020: 1842, 26% more than the previous year. The last time this number was so high was in 2014, but then it fell back drastically. Part of the explanation for last year’s data could be that in April 2019 a methodological guideline was published to enable coherent law enforcement, which was badly needed, as the passing of preliminary restraining orders had been rather incidental. This cannot be the only reason for the increase, however, as the number of registered domestic violence cases grew overall. The police, however, confidently conclude that the authorities “interpret the legislative intentions correctly”.

  • An important part of preventing violence is training authorities who come into contact with victims. Based on the data sent, we can see that fewer people participated in the mandatory annual training for those working with domestic violence in 2020 than before. Last year, only 6007 participants took part in such trainings, in contrast to 7294 in 2019 and 7861 in 2018. I have also asked what percentage of police officers received such trainings annually, but the National Police Headquarters could not answer this question.

In summary, if we want to get a comprehensive picture about domestic violence based on police data, we are certainly in trouble. The problem is not only that data are inaccessible, incomplete and hard to interpret, but also that I do not see intentions and plans to curtail violence through coordinated action and carefully implemented measures. The annual reports virtually lack any evaluation, data analysis, identification of problems or recommendations to make the work of authorities more efficient. Much depends on the dedication and initiative of regional authorities and on the person of the police officer on duty. This is not all right, this area is clearly not well-managed, there is no coordinated action.

 

Again, I could raise the example of Austria, where they plan to install at every police station a prevention officer responsible for preventing domestic violence. Case conferences and cooperation between affected authorities will be strengthened and qualitative research undertaken to explore the motives and background of crimes. Such and similar measures would be needed in Hungary, but as long as the government rejects all recommendations that apply a complex approach (e.g. The Istanbul Convention), we cannot expect any improvement.

 

And I keep repeating: behind the numbers there are PEOPLE, and in this case a huge amount of human suffering. Just today, a mother of three children on the run contacted me online, who has received practically no help in the past years. The reason I analyzed the data was to show that domestic violence is indeed a problem, and it has been worsening. We want change, help is needed.”

(The photo shows Ms. Szél protesting a declaration by Viktor Orbán that “he doesn’t deal with women’s affairs”)

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