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Domestic violence in Malta – a sorry state of affairs

domestic violence

In 2017 alone, there were 1,257 reports of domestic violence to the authorities in Malta. Various reputable international sources estimate that around 70% of cases go unreported which would allow us to assume that the actual number of cases is much higher than those reported.

Further statistics from the European Commission are even more worrying – 47% believe women make up or exaggerate claims of violence, 40% think violence is provoked by the victim, and a worrying 30% believe that at least one situation justifies having sexual intercourse without consent.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) states that while the severity of violence in Malta ranks as one of the worst in the EU, Maltese women are number one for coming forward and asking for help.

But what good is that if all of these women who come forward are not taken seriously by the authorities that are supposed to help them?

Over the years we have seen multiple cases of women being ignored by the police only for them to be assaulted again and again; cases being dismissed or handed paltry sentences, and even women being told not to call the police at all.

Add this to the incredible and continual failures by mainstream media in the responsible reporting of such crimes, and it is not hard to see why, quite honestly, our attitude stinks when it comes to this matter.

A case that has brought this issue to a head centres around one Sean Anthony McGahren who was fined just €700 for assaulting his partner, threatening her, breaking two window panes, firing a gun within the property, and not being in possession of a weapons license.

His partner – as many women do through fear and intimidation – withdrew her complaints and renounced all action against him.

In Malta, domestic violence is a crime for which the consent and testimony of the victim is not necessary to continue with criminal proceedings. This law was introduced as a way to protect victims from the threats of their partners and to ensure that justice could still be done, even if the victims were bullied into silence.

So why on earth was this violent criminal allowed to walk free with just a €700 fine?

Newspaper reports stated that as she withdrew her statement, he could only be charged with the unlicensed possession and use of a firearm, but this is just not true.

The magistrate had a responsibility as a woman, as a human, and as a legal professional to ensure that he was punished for the crimes he committed, and not let off with a fine equating to short change.

Undoubtedly there was no shortage of evidence pertaining to his crimes and any legal professional worth their salt should be well aware of the risks and the prevalence of victim intimidation.

In fact, many women who withdraw their complaints do so under duress and in a state of terror, instead of having faith that justice will prevail due to evidence such as witnesses and medical reports.

But this is not the case in Malta. One has to question, had this been a non-domestic issue such as a bar brawl or an argument in an office, would he have been punished with the full force of the law?

Sadly, the answer is “most probably, yes”. Had it been an argument between two men, or had the assailant been of a darker skin tone, I have no doubt that this individual would be rotting in prison for the foreseeable future.

On Friday, the news broke that a young woman had her throat slashed on the streets of Santa Venera. The circumstances are as yet unclear, but I just hope that justice is done. And I hope that her death was not the final incident in a string of incidents that the police and/or courts were already aware of, as is so often the case.

The truth is that being a woman in Malta is an uphill struggle – a fact that indisputably evident in every day life. Harassment on the street, sex pests on public transport, social media bullies, trolls that hunt down and abuse outspoken female commentators and the calls to kill women who advocate for abortion/gender equality.

When a man is allowed to beat and threaten his partner before shooting a gun, and is then permitted to walk free with a fine equivalent less than a month’s wage, we really have to stop and ask what is wrong with our legal system.

Is it plain ignorance or stupidity? Is it a lack of understanding of the complex dynamics that occur in interpersonal relationships? Is it a failure to grasp the concept of abuse and the many ways in which it manifests itself? Or is it a pungent dislike of women and a concerted effort to pass off their pain as nothing more than an inconvenience?

As far as I am concerned, it is the latter. A magistrate once told me that next time it happened, I should only call the police if it was serious. He then dismissed me from a court full of smirking bystanders without even glancing at my medical certificates and statement, and I know that both myself and this other poor woman are not the only ones.

The fact of the matter is that misogyny is so ingrained in Maltese society that even women in a position of power fail to recognise the dire need to deal with these offences in such a way that it sends a clear message to the perpetrator, the media and society as a whole.

This ignorance of such serious social issues just adds to the lack of trust that many have in the judicial system, and it sends a message to many that such acts are acceptable and that the victim probably did something to deserve it.

It really is a sad state of affairs when other European countries are looking at making catcalling a criminal offence, yet in Malta we cannot even adequately punish a gun-wielding maniac.

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