The existence of laws and protocols in any field does not guarantee their effectiveness per se. Institution’s failure to act, tardiness and discrimination are some of the reasons why many women do not get an adequate protection from domestic violence in Croatia. On the 22nd of September – the Croatian National Day of the Struggle against Violence against Women, many organisations and activists warned about some specific impediments in the implementation of Acts against domestic violence. In this context, we will provide an overview of two research studies, and an overview of some recent changes in the legislation.
The Governmental Office for Gender Equality, together with the Autonomous Women’s House and ten other nongovernmental organizations, conducted the research “Experiences of Women Victims of Domestic Violence with the State Authorities Covered by the Protocol for Action in Cases of Domestic Violence” which was included in the report of the Ombudswoman for Gender Equality in 2010. It was conducted on a sample of 333 women victims of domestic violence and found high rates of all types of domestic violence, especially economic. The most striking founding was that a large number of the respondents, 54 per cent of them, made contact with an institution (mostly the police and the centres for social welfare) only after an average of ten years after the violence fist occurred. Also, the institutions commonly only start to deal with the problem after the violence escalates to the point of being life-threatening for the victim.
The respondents in this study were asked to describe concrete problems they experienced when turning to institutions for help. Almost half of them (n=156) reported facing problems in these situations, and since 43 women described two problems, the study gathered 199 problem descriptions, that were than organised in a few categories. The most frequent impediment was the institution’s failure to act which was experienced by 33 per cent of the respondents. The employees that dealt with the victims, usually justified not taking action by diminishing the problem and even blaming the victim. The second most frequent category was material status, experienced by 22 per cent of the respondents. It refers to various financial, material and property problems connected to the right to co-ownership, use of real estate for habitation, division of property, non-payment of the alimentation and unemployment. Furthermore, 16 per cent of the respondents experienced tardiness and various bureaucratic impediments. A number of respondents, 15 per cent of them, also faced problems connected with custody. Eight per cent of them were discriminated, and five per cent were victims of corruption when their abuser had influence on the institution due to his/hers private connections or high social status.
Another report relevant for this topic is the “Implementation of the Croatian Legislation Related to Intimate Partnership Violence. Report on Human Rights” published 2012 by the Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb, The Advocates for Human Rights Minneapolis and the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation. It reports on the implementation of the legislation in various sectors: the police force, the state Attorney’s Office, the judiciary, the medical system, the social welfare system and nongovernmental organizations.
It has identified the following potentially harmful practices:
- arrest of the victims in cases when the abuser claimed to be psychologically molested and in cases of necessary self-defence
- sanctioning of the victim with misdemeanour charges or loss of custody in cases when children witness the violence
- practice of questioning the victim in close proximity to the abuser
- rejection of criminal charges after conciliation and mediation
- non taking the protective measure that displaces the abuser from the house/flat
- non-existence of quick and strong sanctions for domestic violence as misdemeanour and offense
It was noticed that many instances responsible for the implementation of the legislation showed ignorance about the dynamics of domestic violence, as well as the legislation and the Protocol itself. For that reason, the report pointed to a need for further education in these sectors, gathering of more comprehensive statistical data about intimate partnership violence, monitoring of the laws and raising awareness about the problem among the victims and in the services offered to them.
On the 30th of May 2015, the new Act on Amendments to the Criminal Code came into force. It includes a new article, no. 179.a, that makes domestic violence a separate offense and prescribes more severe sanctions. It also extends the concept of ‘close persons’ to ex-spouses, ex-partners, ex-life-partners, ex-non-formal-life-partners, persons who have child/children together and persons who cohabitate. Furthermore, on the 16th of July 2015, the Croatian government started the procedure for the proposal of a new Act on Protection against Domestic Violence that should come to force on 1st of January 2016. It will include a new definition of the ‘victim’ and her/his rights, new protective measures, a directive of founding a commission for the monitoring of the implementation and so forth.
This new law should change the above listed practices and ensure promptly reactions of institution after the first report of a case of family violence, and not after the fourth as was so far the case.
 Pravobraniteljica za ravnopravnost spolova (2011) Istraživanje iskustva žena žrtava nasilja u obitelji s radom državnih tijela obuhvaćenih Protokolom o postupanju u slučaju nasilja u obitelji, Available at http://www.prs.hr/attachments/article/186/Istra%C5%BEivanje%20-%20Iskustva%20zena%20zrtava%20nasilja%20u%20obitelji%20s%20radom%20dr%C5%BEavnih%20tijela.pdf [Accessed 25.9.2015]
 Autonomna ženska kuća Zagreb (2012) Implementacija hrvatskog zakonodavstva vezanog uz partnersko nasilje Izvještaj o ljudskim pravima, Available at http://www.azkz.net/dokumenti/58aecd1b7d0b0ffc5ff321d34a3406e1.pdf [Accessed 25.9.2015]
 Kovačević, S. (2015) Nasilje nad ženama u Hrvatskoj: Kad se zakoni ne provode, a odgovorni pojma nemaju, Available at http://www.libela.org/sa-stavom/6609-nasilje-nad-zenama-u-hrvatskoj-kad-se-zakoni-ne-provode-a-odgovorni-pojma-nemaju/ [Accessed 25.9.2015]