The increase in the number of recorded cases of gender-based and domestic violence in time of quarantine restrictions has become a widely spread phenomenon. Civil society organizations around the world have repeatedly emphasized the particular vulnerability of women locked up at home. The team of the Right to Protection Charitable Foundation decided to find out whether similar trends are observed in the territory along the demarcation line.
The study was conducted in Bakhmut, Volnovakha, Yasynuvata and Toretsk districts Civil-military administrations of Donetsk region and in Popasna district in Luhansk region. Our monitoring unit provided information from five police stations, six social service centers (hereinafter referred to as the SSC or the center) and five mobile social and psychological support teams (hereinafter referred to as the MSPST or the brigade). In addition, statistics obtained through requests for public information were analyzed. The primary description of the informants’ activities was their own interpretation, which, if necessary, was expanded or clarified by normative documents.
Of course, statistics may not reflect the real situation, as not all cases become known. In addition, the dynamics may be affected by a large-scale information campaign recently conducted in the region. However, the data may indicate certain trends, especially in law enforcement. The current reporting in Ukraine is mostly about domestic violence, so we will use this term later.
According to the Department of Family, Youth and Mass Events in Donetsk region, the number of complaints in the first nine months of 2020 has already significantly exceeded the figures for the whole 12 month of 2019. A similar situation, according to the Department of Social Protection, was observed in the Luhansk region. It is noteworthy that the share of appeals from women in the Luhansk region is lower (78–82% vs. 91–92% in the neighboring region), while men complain more often (16–21% vs. 7–9%).
Regions have a well-developed institutional system for combating and preventing domestic and gender-based violence: from policy specialists at the local community level to regional coordinating bodies. We have focused on only a few of them. The most important source was the National Police of Ukraine, which receives the vast majority of complaints and has a number of tools at its disposal, including:
a) drawing up a report on an administrative offense under Article 173-2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses with a sanction in the form of a fine, community service or administrative arrest;
b) issuance of urgent injunctions for 10 days (for longer restriction in court);
c) taking offenders for preventive registration;
d) opening a criminal case (for example, after three violations of the prohibition order).
Comparative statistics (see Table 1) not only illustrate the general upward trend, but also the specifics of police practices. In particular, the Toretsk branch attracts attention with an extraordinary increase in all indicators. It can also be observed that in the Donetsk region police officers are becoming more and more accustomed to drafting prohibitive orders, sometimes with a 23-fold increase, while in the Luhansk region they continue to ignore this tool.
As for the centers of social services, they formulate their activities as such, which includes prevention (including relapses), outreach, psychological, primary legal and social counseling, as well as social support for families in difficult life circumstances. Mobile social and psychological support teams, in addition to the above, carry out scheduled visits and emergency interventions in case of threat to life or health of victims. The brigades serving the territories of the Toretsk Civil-military administration, Bakhmut and Volnovakha districts operate with the support of international donors, the other two are affiliated with social service centers. Although the number of appeals to centers and teams is lower than to the police, these organizations can still expand their understanding of the problem with their perspective on it.
Victims of domestic violence can also turn to secondary legal aid centers, which, however, do not seem to be popular, day care centers and shelters (Slovyansk, Druzhkivka, Rubizhne, Mariupol, etc.), and emergency anonymous medical care offices, which are usually deployed on the basis of gynecological departments of hospitals.
According to the respondents, the most common type of violence they face is psychological (humiliation, harassment, blackmail and manipulation). Physical violence was also mentioned, but almost never first. As explained by one of the respondents, people are not inclined to report such cases, or withdraw statements later. In some cases, they also referred to economic violence, explaining it as concealment of earnings or individual financial decisions.
Among the main factors of domestic violence, informants called high unemployment and alcohol abuse. Quarantine restrictions have added to the escalation of domestic conflicts. In addition, during the pandemic, victims were more likely to continue to live with offenders. Another factor in abuse is low awareness of one’s rights and protection mechanisms. The Toretsk Civil-military administration also pointed to the prevalence of violence in families with ATO/ JFO veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Typically, social service centers and mobile teams report cases of domestic violence to the police if (1) the victim is a minor or incapacitated, if (2) the violence is criminal in nature, or (3) with the consent of the victim. For example, a mobile team in Popasna reports all cases of physical violence. The police may also involve mobile teams and centers if necessary.
Mobile crews make trips in case of threat to life or health, the response time varies from 20 minutes in Bakhmut city and district, to 3 hours in Popasna district. During the monitoring, only the crews in Bakhmut and Volnovakha continued to visit.
According to police, they react faster: within 15 minutes in the city and up to 45 minutes in rural areas. Patrol police units, representatives of the operative-investigative department or precinct officers usually go to the appeal.
Features of National Police law enforcement
The number of messages, as expected, does not match the number of compiled protocols. This is explained by the refusals of the victims to write statements. Some sources in police believe that legal sanctions are not an effective way to solve the problem, so they focus on resolving the conflict through conversations with the parties. They also find it a dead end to fine violators who are unable to pay due to lack of funds, thus committing another offense. The issue of unregulated location of the offender during the validity of the injunction was raised, which in some cases may raise doubts about the feasibility of its preparation. In Avdiivka, they noted: the fact that the offender has nowhere to go may well play in his favor, because the victims are more likely to forgive him and allow him to return. Police in the Volnovakha department complain about opposition from the prosecutor’s office, which requires them to conduct criminal investigations, while the nearest center is located in Slovyansk.
Impact of quarantine
Social service centers recorded a jump in the number of appeals and services provided: more consultations in Bakhmut and it’s district, increased attention to social support, focus on information and prevention programs in Bakhmut and Yasynuvata district. For the most part, the centers have switched to telephone or online counseling. Although the Toretsk Center has stopped receiving visits, in Volnovakha consultations are held in the open air.
Similarly, quarantine has affected the functioning of mobile teams: most of them work online or by phone. At the same time, not all cases of violence can be identified, because (1) some people prefer “live” communication, (2) temporarily suspended monitoring visits.
The police did not indicate any significant changes in their work, except for greater attention to preventive measures in Avdiivka and an increase in the number of appeals and urgent instructions issued in the Bakhmut department.
Alleged obstacles to countering and preventing violence
- Lack of a crisis center for women (shelter) in Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
- Lack of a mother and child center in Toretsk.
- Lack of staff: psychologist (Toretsk SSC), lawyer (Bakhmut district brigade), police officers in Volnovakha department and Toretsky department.
- Absence or lack of vehicles and fuel (Toretsk, Volnovakha, Popasna SSC; Bakhmut district brigade; Volnovakha department of NPU).
- Lack of means of self-defense in mobile teams in cases of collision with aggressive or drugged offenders.
- Low police awareness of the use of restraining orders.
- Lack of effective means and tools to work with malicious offenders in centers and teams.
- Lack of transport connection between Avdiivka and the court in Selydove.
This material was made possible by the significant support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Responsibility for the content rests on Right to Protection CF and does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the Government of the United States.
It is important for us to receive feedback on this material, especially from government officials and NGOs. Please fill out this short form. It will take less than a minute of your time. Thank you!