Proposed law to provide early help to abuse victims

Imagine the frustration Czech domestic violence victims must feel if what advocates say is true. They may endure abuse for years because they can't expect help from police until it's too late. That's because Czech police can only intervene in severe cases. But this is an obstacle that a victims' help group and high profile politicians hope to remove with a proposed law.

The Alliance against Domestic Violence, which includes MP Jan Kasal and Prime Minister Stanislav Gross among its members, believes its proposal will help victims well before they are in Ina Ciegl's situation. Ms. Ciegl says her husband beat her repeatedly during their three-year marriage. She moved out only after he tried to strangle her.

"I was very ashamed of the situation, so I didn't go anywhere. I hit bottom when there was another attack and I went to the hospital. At that moment I realized that I have a son and I can't die. ... I asked the police for help, but they took it rather easy and didn't solve anything, because there is no existing law dealing with this problem."

The new law being proposed by the Alliance against Domestic Violence would give police better training to handle domestic violence cases early and put victims' help groups like the White Ring of Safety in close contact with police. The White Ring is an alliance member that runs a domestic abuse hotline.

And like the Austrian law that is the model for the proposal, the law would give police the power to order an abuser out of his home for ten days, according to the alliance.

Albin Dearing was the Austrian Interior Ministry official who authored that country's domestic violence law. He says the situation here is similar to Austria's before the law was implemented, because many victims' only option is to leave their home. But he says the Austrian law gives them alternatives.

"After some time we found this new consensus that indeed it's wrong to ask the victim not to provoke further violence or to live at another place so she could be safe, but to make the perpetrator responsible by asking him to do something, in particular, him to leave. It should not be the victim. It should be the perpetrator who has to leave if anyone has to."

Domestic violence statistics have not been updated in the Czech Republic since 2001. That's when a Stem agency poll revealed that 16 percent of Czechs had experienced domestic violence in their life.

And in Austria there are no reliable numbers showing whether that country's law has decreased domestic violence. But Mr. Dearing says there are signs that the law is working.

"The most significant change we found is that now victims of violence are much more content with the state's reaction. This is really - as I see - it the fundamental change.

"There was one inquiry into the situation, particularly in Vienna, and this showed that within four years period, the murder cases in the domestic sphere were reduced by more than a third, so it seems that particularly when it comes to this most severe form of domestic violence there is a very significant reduction."

The Alliance against Domestic Violence hopes the proposed law will reach parliament by year's end.