Amnesty International (AI) presented a report in London, UK, recently, about domestic abuse, which included results for Portugal in 2005. The figures were disturbing.
Thirty-three women died last year at the hands of men, who were supposed to care about them. Of the murdered women, 29 were killed by husbands, boyfriends and former partners. Sadly, the figures do not lie, as they were confirmed by the Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vitima (APAV), a victim support unit, which has subsidiaries throughout Portugal, called Gabinetes de Apoio à Vitima (GAV), or victim support offices. João Lázaro, the secretary general of APAV, corroborates AI’s figures against their own report, released in February of this year.
APAV revealed that, from their own cases, four out of every five victims are women. The report also revealed that 98 per cent of the victims knew their aggressors and cited that, out of the 14,371 cases last year, 12,600 of the victims were women. AI’s report sheds light on an extremely shameful aspect of human behaviour, and places Portugal in the hotspot. No longer can this be ignored and AI has made sure of that. The Portuguese government will now have to take more of a ‘no tolerance’ stance, especially if it wants to avoid heavy criticism from the EU and human rights activists. It will certainly need to launch a nationwide advertising campaign, like many governments around Europe have.
Funding will have to be allocated in order to provide centres, halfway houses and free legal, medical and psychological help. Extreme cases of abuse will have to be discussed, where the victim may need to be assigned a new identity for their protection. Start-up capital may be needed in some cases, where victims are unable to find jobs and care for the rest of their family. Any promise, given by the government, to improve this problem has to be taken very seriously.
Despite praising the measures taken by the government against domestic abuse since 1990, APAV still consider the figures to be “very serious”. Under the new penal code, the punishment for domestic abuse is one to five years. This length of time has been criticised for the simple reason that victims are unlikely to report abuse, because the prisoner will be released too soon. It would be all too easy to locate the victims again and expose them to further harm. The suggestion is that the minimum sentence should be more than a year. These types of crimes are always committed by people who are driven solely by their emotions, and this short period of time behind bars is not always enough to quell their rage.
The Resident’s Natasha Smith spoke to a spokesperson from the GAV based in Albufeira, who felt that the laws “have improved over the years in Portugal, but there is still more that can be done”.
There are five GAVs in the Algarve: Albufeira, Faro, Loulé, Portimão and Tavira. They each offer the utmost confidentiality and support in all cases. They are also able to find safe houses for individuals and families who desperately need them. They are confident that “victims are luckier than ever that organisations like ours exist. We offer a safer way out with protection and support”.
What may be even more horrifying is the amount of spousal abuse going unnoticed in homes in Portugal and all over the world. The figures published are only showing part of the problem. Fear and threats prevent so many people from telling anyone the truth.
We can no longer be naïve in society to assume that domestic abuse is gender specific; men can be victims too, as APAV have proved that in 12 per cent of their cases, the victims were male. Earlier this year, a men’s shelter was set up in Wales proving that abuse is no longer limited to women and is a positive move towards more men being able to fearlessly admit that they are victims of domestic violence.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, woman or man, or if you are aware of anyone who is, please call one of the following GAV centres.
Albufeira: 289 585 770
Faro: 289 803 701
Loulé: 289 422 832
Portimão: 282 484 407
Tavira: 281 320 592
For an English-speaking service, call 707 200 077 (general number).