We are increasingly aware that preventing gender-based violence and protecting survivors requires the involvement of the entire society. Neighbors, friends and family, school systems and media professionals are all responsible for detecting, denouncing and publically condemning violence against women.
An African proverb says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” To paraphrase: “It takes a community to end violence against women.”
In Serbia, UN organizations supported the introduction of a multisectoral service delivery model in 21 towns and sponsored specialized training so that police, healthcare and social workers, judicial officials and civil society groups could understand their roles and better work together in assisting survivors of violence.
“A battered woman requested medical assistance for injuries several times in a local healthcare center,” explained a participant in the training. “We suspected she’d been abused by her partner, but she never admitted to it. Police intervened to stop violence on three occasions, but each time she would appeal to her right not to testify against her husband. Charges against him would be dropped and she would come back to the healthcare center soon enough.”
This illustrates the institutional inability to respond to a perceived injustice and human rights violation.
During the trainings, some social workers admitted to being prejudiced and having a hard time empathizing with survivors of violence who did not fit their idea of “victims” (e.g., survivors who do not have visible bruises, do not seem depressed, are well dressed, are perpetrators of criminal offences such as robbery, theft, etc.). These service providers tend to use their personal, rather than professional value system in assessing the survivor’s needs of assistance.
Police officers expressed their worries about the efficiency of prosecution, indicating that they were sometimes called upon to explain why the case was brought to the prosecutor’s attention in the first place, and that it was preventing them from filing other cases for procedure. The Public Prosecutor Office stressed the necessity to have “a more consistent body of evidence provided by the institutional service providers, including centers for social work, healthcare institutions and police, so that the complaint should not rely on the victim’s statement only.”
Over the past six years our efforts have been directed towards breaking these boundaries, so that:
• Institutions have the power and authority to sanction the perpetrator, to send the clear message that the violence is not tolerated and that life without violence is a basic human right.
• Each sector (healthcare, social protection, police, judiciary, education, civil society) can not only provide standalone support, but also coordinate action with other institutions to offer an adequate response.
I believe that all service providers who went through the training understood that the survivor is not a person who should “admit to be a victim” and bear the entire process on her shoulders. It is not up to the survivor to chase the system. It is up to the system to meet the survivor’s needs.
A full version of this blog was originally published here.