An Amnesty International report has recently criticised the way Portugal tackles domestic violence, stating that it is neglectful of the issue. Six women in every thousand die each year as a result of domestic violence in Portugal. This is higher than in Spain (2.6 per thousand), Britain (4.5), Poland (5.4) and Germany (5.5).
Last year, a total of 60 women died following mistreatment at the hands of their husband, partner, sons or brothers, usually in the privacy of their own homes – a figure Amnesty International has called “scandalously high”.
There were 14,000 domestic violence crimes reported during 2003. Fear of reprisals, economic dependency, the responsibility of children and lack of knowledge regarding victims’ rights are among the reasons cited as to why victims are reluctant to break their silence.
According to details supplied by the Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vitima (Portuguese Victim Support Association – APAV), in more than half of the cases, a complaint is not brought to the attention of the police and, when it is, 24 per cent then withdraw the allegation shortly afterwards. “In spite of legislation from 1991 that envisaged special police units specialising in combating domestic violence, these had still not been inaugurated by the end of 2003,” said João Lazaro, Secretary General of the APAV.
Speaking to The Resident, Lazaro expressed concern about some of these figures, describing them as “an estimated number”. However, he did concede that, irrespective of this, the figures were still far too high. “One of the reasons is the cultural background in Portugal and the place and role of men in society. It is a power question between men and women. Northern cultures tend to be more egalitarian in terms of social balance between the two genders. Iceland, for example, is one of the most egalitarian countries.”
But Lazaro believes that attitudes in Portugal are gradually changing for the better: “Domestic violence is becoming less acceptable. But there is still a worrying gap between written laws – no matter how worthy they may be – and actual practice. We want people to come forward and experience a new life without violence. We need not only greater public awareness – although this is a very big aim – but greater practical support for victims.”
Lazaro also explained that, in spite of the fact that women are usually considered to be the main victims, domestic violence also affects men. “The stigma in this area is very great and there is also the burden of public humiliation – hence it is very difficult for victims to come forward.” In 2003, of the 13,826 processes of domestic violence treated in the APAV, 944 involved men.
The repercussions of domestic violence, still mostly affecting women, can be devastating. One anonymous victim of domestic violence, a 58-year-old woman, has revealed that, seven years after her constant abuse ended, she still has to take anti-depressants in order to obliterate the memory of the mistreatment she suffered at the hands of her partner, who also abused their son.
Jails still inadequate, says report
As well as the problem of domestic violence, Amnesty’s report also attacked Portugal’s record of police violence and alleged safety shortfalls in the country’s prisons.
It criticised the disproportionate use of force in jails, inadequate security and the excessive length of time people spend in preventative detention. The measures taken to stop self-inflicted harm and violence between prisoners were also deemed to be insufficient. According to Amnesty International, the Portuguese authorities have failed to safeguard the rights and safety of prisoners and have been unable to provide adequate sanitary conditions. As of February 2002, according to the report, 17 per cent of those detained were still using buckets in place of lavatories.
The use of firearms by police forces also “continues to be worrying”. Amnesty cites a report from the Inspector General of Internal Administration from November, pinpointing six fatal shootings by police officers since the beginning of 2003.
Racism and discrimination are also other accusations directed at Portugal. “There were reports of persecution and discriminatory treatment involving gypsies on the part of security forces,” says the report. Cases of attempted intimidation of gypsy groups by the local population are also cited in this damning report.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or wish to talk about the subject in the strictest of confidence, call APAV on 218 874 369. Or alternatively contact your local GNR.