“Many times, people ask why women in domestic violence situations do not simply pick up their belongs and leave. There is so much more than just this,” Jane said.
She explained that many women find it very difficult to take the first steps to file a report. For many, the situation is more complicated; the partner does not start with physical abuse but by trying control their partner and fill them with doubts.
“It is difficult to leave the man with whom you built a life, with whom you have children, a home. You try to do everything to fix the problems you face.”
The physical abuse comes after and, even then, women do not usually file a report after the first physical assault. “You try to understand the how, the why, and the reason behind our husband’s actions and, once you do pluck up the courage to report him, things are not that easy.”
She recalled the time when she went to report her husband and one policeman told her to “go home and fix things” with her husband.
“There are other police officers who write the report but leave extremely important details out. All this is only making the situation harder for those women who are trying to report abuse and violence.”
She highlighted that many women encounter police officers who do not understand the seriousness of the matter, and she herself has been mocked by police time and time again. “There were times when I went to report my husband and the police would mockingly ask, ‘have you not decided whether you are leaving or staying with him?’ It is as if they do not understand the difficulty of the situation.”
It took almost four months for the court case to start after Jane filed the report. Even then, one must be careful that everything is in order and the reports and contain all the details and specifics. During this time, the victims do not feel secure.
Jane recalled how difficult it was to pack up and move into the shelter with her children. She was petrified. “What am I doing to my children? Where am I taking them?” These were the questions going through her mind. She said she was confused, lost, and unsure of what was going on. She wanted to be strong for her children whilst having to oversee court case details.
“I am so grateful that therapists and social workers helped me. I first went to an emergency shelter and, after five months, I moved to Dar Qalb ta’ Gesu. I was so happy that there was no age limit for children and I was able to take them all with me. I had been worried that I would have to leave one child behind because he was not young.”
At the shelter, the women can slowly find their dignity and build up their confidence again through learning new skills and attending courses in order to integrate back into ‘normality’ and be employable.
Jane said that, whilst the law has improved, many times it still favours the perpetrator.
She explained how, if her partner failed to see the children at his given time, he was not sent to court unless she filed a police report against him herself.
On the other hand, if he wanted to see the children when she was unavailable he could have filed a court case against her. She said that the Courts must be mindful of the dynamics of domestic violence victims, to ensure that the decisions taken reflect the best interest of the children and the safety and wellbeing of the women and children concerned.
“Even though it is the perpetrator who has put the woman in such a vulnerable situation, he seems to get away with more than she does.”
The court process takes time, Jane said, and reports should be acted on immediately. She explained that today the law has changed and there should be an immediate risk assessment every time a woman files a report. However, she knows situations where this is not done. This adds more problems to the victim.
She explained that it was frustrating for a woman who has to book leave for every court case only for the perpetrator to fail to show up. Then, she would need to book another day of leave, which only brings more frustration and hardship for the victim. She explained that some lawyers also need to have a better understanding of the complexity of domestic abuse.
Jane said that her own children suffered their own battles, as she saw them facing difficult times and alcohol abuse too. “It is difficult seeing them go through this, but I had to be strong for them and make sure that they did not make the same mistakes,” Jane explained. “I just want them to have a better life.”
With the help of Dar Qalb Gesu, social workers and determination, Jane is now employed and has moved out of the shelter. Although she is more independent, she is still going through the court proceedings in relation to the reports she had made against her former partner.
*names have been changed to protect the identity of the woman.