Istanbul Convention would ensure that tackling domestic violence will stay a priority, says expert

Police statistics indicate a year-on-year increase in reported cases of domestic and sexual violence in Czechia. The police registered 430 cases of domestic violence last year, while this year, there were 274 cases in the first six months alone. I spoke to Branislava Marvánová Vargová, head of the government committee for the prevention of domestic violence, to find out what is behind the statistics.

What do these figures actually mean? Do they mean that domestic and sexual violence is on the rise, and if so, why? Or is it just that more people are reporting it?

Branislava Marvánová-Vargová | Photo: ČT24

“That’s a good question, because if we’re talking about administrative data, like police data, for example, we know that the number of cases which are reported is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of prevalence of domestic violence. So it’s difficult from these numbers to say that the number of cases is rising.

“I would say that there are more cases being reported, or that a higher number of cases being reported are qualifying as a crime of abuse of a person living in the same dwelling. Because there might be a higher number of reported incidents, but they may not necessarily be classified as a criminal act.”

In the news report from the Czech News Agency after yesterday’s press conference, you were quoted as saying that in the last two to three years, murders of women and children followed by the suicide of the perpetrator have increased, and that in such cases the perpetrator often threatens suicide earlier, which increases the risk of murder. Could you explain what you meant?

“What we see from police statistics is that there is a rising number of murders where the victim and perpetrator are in a relationship. From the experience of the advocacy centre for the victims of domestic violence, we know that in many cases, the perpetrator of domestic violence also threatens to commit suicide.

“This is a risk factor in that if the perpetrator is already thinking of committing suicide, then there may be a higher risk that he will, so to speak, also take the victim or the children together with him, so he may commit murder and then suicide. So the threat of suicide may be a risk factor for future murders.”

So that means that for victims of domestic violence, if their partner is threatening suicide, then they should really take it very seriously?

“Yes – also from the point of view of their own risk. Of course, we don’t know from the statistics from the last two or three years in how many cases that threat was made. But we know from studies from abroad and from practice that this might be a risk factor.

Photo: Tumisu,  Pixabay / CC0

“What we would need to improve in the Czech Republic would be data collection about femicide and murders resulting from domestic violence, and to analyse these cases to see if the victim had been in contact with the authorities before, if she had reported any incidents earlier, and if there had been any interventions or not. This data would be very useful for us to see whether there is some space to improve protection for victims.”

If we could turn to the Istanbul Convention now – at the moment, it looks like it’s unlikely that it will be ratified by the parliament as it’s received a lot of opposition from the Senate. But if it were adopted, how would it help victims of domestic violence?

“It would help to improve and secure the system for the whole approach of dealing with this topic. It brings many options with it for improvement – it’s not only about legislation, it’s also about the commitment of the Czech Republic that this topic will stay a priority, no matter which party is in government. It’s a commitment that this is a serious topic that the Czech Republic wants to deal with.

“The Convention is essentially a checklist on what to improve and check – whether we are already implementing certain things, or if we need to develop some mechanism to fulfil the Convention. So on the one hand, it can influence practical changes in legislation or methodologies or approaches, and on the other hand, it’s also really a long-term commitment that there will be enough services for victims, sufficient financing for these services, and training for professionals who are in contact with victims. So it’s very important also in terms of prevention of violence.”

Finally – the government presented an action plan yesterday for the prevention of domestic and gender-based violence for the next three years. In your opinion, is it sufficient?

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“Well, it’s the best we can get right now and the best we’ve had so far. From our experience with previous action plans, it is certainly beneficial to have such plans, because they are tools to improve things.

“However, we also know that this action plan is a government paper, and through it we can’t reach municipalities or regional governments, for example, who it is also important to include in prevention and tacking domestic violence.

“So the action plan is an important piece of the puzzle, but the ratification of the Istanbul Convention would be another important piece that would make the picture of help and support for victims of domestic violence whole.”