In Romania, domestic violence is a complex social issue, which deeply affects the lives of all family members, especially those of women and children. From a legal point of view, domestic violence is defined by Law 217/2003 on the prevention and combating of domestic violence, as “any intentional action or inaction, except for self-defense or defensive actions, physically or verbally committed, committed by a family member against another member of the same family, which causes or can cause harm or physical, mental, sexual, emotional or psychological harm, including threatening such acts, arbitrary restraint or deprivation of liberty. Preventing women from exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms also constitutes violence in the family. “
The law divides domestic violence into several types: verbal violence, physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, social violence, economic violence, spiritual violence.
The Fundamental Rights Report 2016 (FRA) issued by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reveals that in Romania, 1 in 4 women was physically or sexually assaulted by a partner or former partner. Also, Eurobarometer 449 focused on gender-based violence published in 2017 shows that 55% of Romanians believe that rape is justified in certain situations.
According to the data provided by the Romanian Police, in 2017 a number of 20,531 beatings and other acts of domestic violence were reported to the police. Most of the abusers are men – 18,835 (93%), compared to 1,558 women (7.7%), and most of the victims are women – 15,584 (76%), but also minors: 538 girls and 466 boys. At the same time, most of the acts of violence occurred at home.
According to another statistic issued by the Romanian Police for the first 11 months of 2018, nearly 100 cases of violence were reported each day last year. Of the 35,623 complaints, over half (52.3%) came from urban areas and 47.7% from rural areas. The highest proportion of acts of violence is represented by hitting or other violence (58.6%), followed by family abandonment (21.33%), threat (7.25%) and failure to comply with the protection orders ( 3.71%). The total number of offenses increased in 2018 compared to 2017 with 2,200 cases. Only 2,647 victims out of 23,001 are more distant relatives, which means that 88% of the victims are spouses, partners, daughters / sons or parents. According to international specialized studies, the increase in the number of cases reflects only an increase in the visibility of the phenomenon as a result of awareness of situations, access to information on existing solutions and trust in institutions.
How can we support victims?
In order to support the victims, amendments and additions to Law 217/2003 on the prevention and combating of domestic violence (through Law no. 174 of July 13, 2018) were made. They regulated the way of intervention of the police in the cases of domestic violence and the issuance by police of the provisional protection order. At the end of last year, the Order of the Minister of Internal Affairs and of the Minister of Labor and Social Justice no. 146/2578/2018 regarding the handling the cases of domestic violence by the police was approved and published.
As of December 28, 2018, police officers may issue provisional protective orders. They are issued on the spot, are enforceable and are valid for 5 days, but can be extended by any amount of time, until a protection order is issued by a judge. Through the provisional protection order, measures are taken to remove the causes underlying the threat to the life, physical integrity or freedom of the victim. Moreover, the new drafted law introduced the obligation for the aggressor to permanently wear an electronic surveillance system (electronic bracelet).
The law’s enforcement. Issuing provisional protection orders
The existence of the legal framework and the rules of law enforcement are only the first steps for victims of domestic violence. The implementation and monitoring are equally important steps. It is insufficient for the rules to exist only on paper. For this reason, we have formulated and addressed a request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Justice regarding the issuance and implementation of provisional protection orders, in March (2019). The questions addressed refer to the number of protection orders issued since the law came into force, how many of them were taken over and confirmed by prosecutors and how the situations encountered were resolved. The full text of the questioning can be read here.
Both institutions offered answers, but for now, only the Ministry of Internal Affairs has sent data. The Ministry of Justice announced that it has sent the request to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice. The response received from the MIA therefore covers only part of the data requested for the period of December 2018-February 2019, as follows: the total of the provisional protection orders issued at national level, distributed by residence area, the total number of provisional protection orders issued at national level transformed into protection orders, as well as figures regarding the applicants of the provisional protection orders (victims, other persons, NGOs, other authorized institutions). County information is available in the answer to the questionnaire which can be accessed here.
According to the response communicated by the Ministry of Defense, between December 2018 and February 2019, 1,327 provisional protection orders were issued at a national level, 1,298 being issued at the request of the victim, 1 at the request of another person, 28 at the request of the authorized institutions and no order at the request of NGOs. Only 484 of the 1,327 issued provisional protection orders were transformed into protection orders. According to the law, after obtaining the provisional protection order, the victim must turn to the court within 6 months, in order to obtain a definitive protection order, which can only be given by the court. The large gap between the number of provisional and final protective orders issued is, most of the times, a consequence of the victim’s reconciliation with the aggressor. Thus, the state of danger is perpetuated, and in most cases, the consequences are serious. In 2017, 84 people were killed as a result of domestic violence, according to official Romanian Police data.
Regarding the urban / rural distribution, during the mentioned period, 902 provisional protection orders were issued in the urban area and 425 in the rural area. The numerical gap can be influenced by a lower awareness of the situations, a lower degree of information on the existing solutions and trust in institutions, as well as the prevalence of traditionalist principles and ideas in the rural environment. Those who requested temporary protection orders in the urban environment were: victims (883), other people (1) or other authorized institutions (18). In the rural area, 415 provisional protection orders were issued at the victim’s request, 10 at the request of other authorized institutions. In both cases, the protection orders were not requested by the NGOs.
We can also compare the number of provisional protection orders transformed into protection orders at urban and rural level: 325 out of 902 provisional protection orders, issued in urban areas and 159 out of 425 provisional protection orders issued in rural areas.
From the perspective of distribution by counties, most of the provisional protection orders were issued in Bucharest (193), followed by Brașov (72). The county that issued the most provisional protection orders in the rural area is Buzău (34), followed by Vaslui (31) and Neamţ (30).
From the total of provisional protection order issued at a national level (1,327), 359 criminal acts were reported constituting offenses provided by Law 217/2003 for the prevention and combating of domestic violence, 265 of them regarding art. 32, para. 1, and 94 of them, art. 32, para. 2, both facts related to the violation of a protection order. The most reported criminal acts were registered in Bucharest, followed by Vaslui (23), Iași (21) and Buzău (21) counties.
Domestic violence creates victims every second in Romania. Most of the time, its effects are dramatic, and the authorities’ intervention comes in too late. Thus, it becomes essential to identify solutions for the purpose of informing, raising awareness, and monitoring domestic violence acts, as well as monitoring the measures taken in this regard. That way, legislative changes will be really effective. I trust that the prompt intervention of the authorities, as well as the continuation of an institutional dialogue for proposing new preventive measures, can help us take important steps in reducing and eliminating domestic violence.