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Violence against Women: Coronavirus Delays Stricter Rules While Cases Reportedly Rise

Fanni Kaszás 2020.11.26.

In May, Hungary’s parliament adopted a political declaration on rejecting the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. While Minister of Justice Judit Varga promised stricter rules and laws in domestic violence cases, co-operation with women’s right movements and activists, and new support centers, opposition politicians claim that it is just an “empty balloon” and came up with a joint proposal of a 7-point package to reduce and eventually eliminate violence against women. What does domestic violence and the steps to eliminate it look in Hungary today, a day after International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women? Analysis.

Why did the Parliament rejected the Istanbul convention? 

In May, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a political declaration initiated by the Christian Democrats, to reject the Istanbul Convention. The declaration said that the Council of Europe document takes an unacceptable approach to defining gender, and  Parliament should not incorporate this approach into national law. Also, the declaration claimed that the convention’s gender-based rules on asylum are not consistent with Hungary’s legal environment, which seeks to take effective action against illegal migration. However, the Istanbul Convention also contains important points concerning the protection of children and taking action to counter violence against women – but according to the government, these are already properly embedded in Hungary’s legal system.

Why is the Istanbul Convention important?

Before and after the rejection of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, many activists and women’s rights groups voiced their concerns, as violence against women is a global phenomenon that is deeply rooted in gender inequalities and stereotypes. It is present in every country, culture, and community, and it knows no socioeconomic boundaries. It is still the everyday reality of many women – according to surveys, more than a third of European women and girls – causing them severe physical, sexual, and mental injuries. EU politicians who are still campaigning for the Istanbul Convention to be ratified in every EU country, believe that significant progress has been made in protecting victims in those countries where the convention was signed, as it contains binding commitments.

What happened since then?

Back in May, Justice Minister Judit Varga said that the Hungarian government made domestic violence a criminal offense a year before the Istanbul Convention, and all required legislation was transposed into the Hungarian legal system. What is more, according to the Minister, in this respect, Hungarian law provides women with stricter and more prominent protection than EU practices in general. She added that “according to statistics, we have this form of violence well below the European average.” Varga also emphasized several times that the ministry and the institutional system will take strong action against domestic and intimate partner violence and effectively protect victims with the help of women’s right groups, activists, and by setting up helplines, more support centers, and awareness-raising campaigns. However, recently, at the international online press conference of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, she admitted that because of the coronavirus epidemic, these steps have unfortunately halted.

At the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Justice announced the Year of Victim Assistance program, where victims are assisted with free legal and psychological counseling. Justice Minister Varga said on Facebook that under the plan, the number of victim support centers have doubled. Victim support help lines received 9,693 calls in the first ten months of this year and 1,723 visits were made to the centers for help, she said.

Government offices also offer a victim support service which has been used by 1,042 clients this year so far, she added. Yesterday, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Justice Minister Judit Varga announced that two new victim support centers will open in December in Szeged and Kecskemét, increasing the total number of such centers in Hungary to six.

Fact

The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The premise of the day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence; furthermore, one of the aims of the day is to highlight that the scale and true nature of the issue is often hidden. For 2020, the official theme framed by the UN is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!” The date of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women also marks the start of the “16 Days of Activism” that precedes Human Rights Day on December 10th each year.

Meanwhile, in the epidemic situation and the quarantine period following the coronavirus epidemic, the number of people seeking help due to domestic violence increased exponentially. Éva Horváth, President of the Women Against Violence Association, told ATV that the number of reports of domestic violence cases doubled since the start of the epidemic and the measures. The Christmas holidays are also now approaching, which usually sees an increase in domestic violence cases, mostly because isolation always favors the abuser. Horváth believes that abusers have a sense of legitimacy and they think that if they are frustrated or nervous, they can scream at their partners and beat them. And confinement, especially around holidays and in quarantine and home office, can even strengthen that sense of legitimacy, making victims even more vulnerable to abuse, she added.

Opposition parties came up with joint proposal against violence

Judit Varga’s recent announcement of the two new support centers was called an “empty balloon” by Tímea Szabó, co-chair of the PM. Dialogue, MSZP, DK, Jobbik, LMP, and Momentum have also come up with a joint seven-point package of proposals aimed at reducing and eliminating violence against women. They would like the government to create a special fund to end violence against women and for the police to be proactive in detecting crimes related to domestic violence. They also urge the government to increase the number of school psychologists and provide adequate professional training for law enforcement personnel.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony also spoke on the matter, saying that “the Orbán government has made-up objections, but the pain of the victims left alone is real. There should not be ideological debates, but action.” In the spring, at a demonstration organized on the occasion of Women’s Day, the mayor announced a series of measures aimed at helping domestic violence victims and survivors, including the construction of shelters and the support of helplines.

A tizenötödik kerület önkormányzatának, és Cserdiné Németh Angéla polgármesternek óriás kalaplengetés, amiért ilyen…

Posted by Nem tehetsz róla, tehetsz ellene on Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Meanwhile, the local government of the fifteenth district and mayor Angéla Cserdi Németh, is actively participating in the 16 action days, in the framework of which, among other things, a publication was produced with the message:

Violence is not a private matter.

Examples show that there is a need for effective counter actions

As many women’s rights organizations also point out, regardless of political affiliation, it is important to take a stand against violence, and to stand up for the victims. It is important to provide information and shape public discourse, because many people are left completely alone by the system. Authorities often say that domestic violence is a private matter; many people are even discouraged from reporting domestic violence and unfortunately, it is not uncommon for important evidence to disappear or authorities not to act before “blood is flowing.” Although the European Victim Protection Directive has been transposed into Hungarian law, these rights often exist only on paper due to the unwillingness of the authorities to act.

An important example of the problem was the case of Bernadett Orosz, who was beaten by her partner a year ago. Although the woman filed a complaint, first she had to appear at a trial in another lawsuit – against her, as her former partner, who had beaten her, reported her for disclosing his name and personal information. A demonstration was also organized in protection of the woman and her rights.

Another example is the case referred to as the “lye doctor case,” where the victim filed a lawsuit in 2017 for damages against her attacker, a former hospital director who burnt her genitalia with lye, but the civil case was suspended until the criminal case was closed in 2018. Finally, just yesterday, after almost four years of litigation, the Metropolitan Court delivered a verdict at first instance and the attacker has to pay HUF 25 million in compensation for violating the woman’s right to physical integrity and health. The expert opinion also mentioned that the victim has suffered more and more trauma in recent years, as the prosecutor’s office wanted to close the investigation, then that the victim had to talk about her urination, menstrual problems, genital condition, and changed sex life mainly in front of men during lengthy court trials, and thus, became a victim of institutional abuse.

Police information campaign paves the way for changes

This is one of the reasons why women’s rights organizations are fighting to end institutional abuse and urge law enforcement personnel to receive appropriate professional training and awareness-raising training to deal with these situations as effectively as possible and to avoid victimization.

Fortunately, the police are doing more and more to inform Hungarians as widely as possible. Yesterday, they started an effective campaign timed for World Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, saying that “abuse is not a private matter.” They also call on people not to be silent witnesses, and “look behind the smile, look under the makeup.”

They also provide information for victims: “If you need help, call 112, or you can file a report at any police office. Today, on the day of Elimination of Violence against Women, or any of the 365 days of the year.”

featured photo: the yellow rose is the international symbol of the fight against domestic violence. (Márton Mónus/MTI)