Domestic violence – is it an issue in Abkhazia?
When planning the survey, we wanted to question people who were not pundits, parliamentarians or psychologists, but rather ordinary members of the public coming from different occupational backgrounds who have different salaries. We wanted to hear the broader society’s answer to the question: Is domestic violence a problem that needs to be urgently addressed in Abkhazia?
However, none of those we approached agreed to talk to the camera, nor could we convince them to share their opinions anonymously on a voice recorder.
So we ended up putting the question to pundits, parliamentarians and psychologists. But, the fact in itself that our respondents in the streets had refused to weigh in on this issue, speaks volumes.
The organization which put the greatest effort into studying the scale of domestic abuse in the republic is the Association of Women of Abkhazia. Its representatives say that their work is very challenging because statistics are hard to go by.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]“Interestingly, only women attended the discussions, as not a single man we had invited came.” [/su_pullquote]
Most recently, it has carried out a series of interviews with people who by virtue of their professions, have to deal with either victims or perpetrators of violence on a regular basis – policemen, doctors, lawyers, human rights activists and members of parliament. Additionally, in order to obtain a representative picture of the situation, it’s brought together people from various walks of life to discuss the issue.
The research concluded that domestic violence in Abkhazia was prevalent enough to be cause for concern.
Earlier this year the association set up a crisis centre to help victims of domestic abuse. Maia Shirokova, a lawyer at the centre, said that, with the Abkhaz mentality being as conservative as it is, seeking help from the centre is a great psychological stress for local women.
“Women are not protected here,” she said. “For instance, there’s no law to ensure that women are able to divorce a husband she does not want without it becoming a catastrophe for her. Securing alimony or a proper division of property during a divorce can be so hard that many women opt to continue to live under harrowing conditions rather than divorce.”
How to address the issue?
Lawyer Oleg Papaskiri said that, for starters, it would be useful to analyze Western countries’ experience dealing with the problem.
He further said that to emulate the experience, Abkhazia would have to adopt a special law that would introduce the notion of ‘domestic violence’ and determine legal remedies against it.
Why adopt a special law? In any given case of domestic violence, the victim and the aggressor share the same living space, and, unlike a street fight after which a person and their assaulter can part ways to go to their respective homes, a domestic violence victim remains within an arm’s length of their assailant. This does not only put them at risk of renewed physical attacks, but is also a source of constant psychological stress.
Many countries practice restraining orders mandating that perpetrators of domestic violence not come within a certain distance of their victims. This order has proved to be a very effective preventive measure.
“Abkhazia has no such law,” says Papaskiri. “[Adopting it] is not part of the parliament’s current plan, it’s not even a subject of public discourse, and, by all appearances, it won’t become one anytime soon.”
The Association of Women of Abkhazia drafted such a bill as far back as three years ago. “But the MPs said: ‘What do we need it for? We already have Apsuara [the traditional Abkhaz ‘code of honour’], don’t we?’ ” said Natella Akaba of the Association.
Her organization is set to put the issue on the table again soon. Its experts say there are four things that need to be done to drastically change the situation:
- Adopt a domestic violence law;
- Create a special police squad to respond to incidents of domestic violence;
- Create the position of special ombudsman for the rights of women and children;
- Set up shelters for women and children who’ve suffered abuse at the hands of their family members.