The Issue of Domestic Violence in the Republic of Moldova

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The problem of domestic violence is a global concern and a gross violation of human rights and freedoms. As this issue affects society as a whole, with a major impact on women and children, it is necessary for all nations to take steps to prevent family violence, prosecute perpetrators, and protect the victims. The Republic of Moldova has taken steps to enhance protection for victims of domestic violence and broaden their rights. However, despite significant legislative measures to combat this phenomenon, there are still shortcomings and gaps in the practical implementation of certain laws. According to recent statistics, 40% of women have reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from a partner or non-partner since the age of 15.1 This blog post aims to shed light on the problem of domestic violence in the Republic of Moldova, including its various forms, its widespread occurrence, and the relevant legislative developments in this regard.

 

Types and Forms of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence refers to abusive behavior by one person towards another within the confines of an intimate relationship, such as a marriage, cohabitation, or dating. It encompasses a range of abusive behavior, including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, as well as economic abuse. Domestic violence is a widespread and complex issue that affects individuals of all genders, ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

This pattern of behavior used to exert power and control over an intimate partner can take various forms. The following are the most common types of domestic violence:

  1. Physical violence that involves the use of physical force, such as hitting, kicking, or pushing, to cause injury to the victim

  2. Sexual violence includes acts such as sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment.

  3. Psychological violence encompasses emotional and psychological abuse, including the use of verbal insults, humiliation, and manipulation.

  4. Economic violence involves the use of financial control and manipulation to restrict the victim’s ability to access resources or support systems.

  5. Stalking consists of persistent and unwanted attention or contact that causes fear or distress to the victim.

The consequences of domestic violence are far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting not only the victims but also their families, communities, and society as a whole. It is a major public health issue that requires a coordinated and comprehensive response from multiple sectors, including law enforcement, healthcare, and social services.

 

Domestic Violence Statistic in The Republic of Moldova

Domestic violence is a prevalent issue in the Republic of Moldova as well, affecting a significant number of women in the country. Nearly three-quarters of women (76%) consider violence against women to be a widespread problem, with 28% of them viewing it as very frequent. A third of all women surveyed have personally known someone, either from their family or friends, who has suffered from domestic violence, and a similar number are aware of someone in their community who has experienced violence. While many women are aware of the support services available to victims, few actually seek help. 40% of women have reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from their partner or non-partner since the age of 15. The prevalence of violence varies based on the perpetrator, with 37% of women who had a prior partner reporting violence from that partner, compared to 25% of women who experienced violence from their current partner and 17% of women who reported violence from non-partners.2

Despite some knowledge and data available, the root causes of domestic violence and the impact of gender inequality, as well as the consequences on the health and well-being of victims, are not fully understood. This issue is compounded by the high levels of poverty, political instability, and weak legal systems in the country.

Women face violence in various forms. A recent study collected information on psychological, economic, physical, and sexual violence.3 Of the women surveyed, 60% reported experiencing some form of psychological violence, and half reported social isolation and control by their husband, often manifested through demands for whereabouts or anger when speaking to other men. According to the same study, 63.4% of women in the Republic of Moldova have experienced violence from their husband or partner at some point in their lives. The data shows that the likelihood of experiencing partner violence is higher for women living in rural areas, as well as for women who are older. The highest percentage of women who have suffered from partner violence is among those aged 45-54 (70.3%) followed by women aged 55-59 (69.1%) and 60-65 (64.3%). However, the data also reveals that over half of younger women have reported cases of psychological, physical, or sexual violence.4

The prevalence of repeated incidents of psychological violence in a woman’s lifetime suggests that two thirds of women who experience psychological violence endure it frequently and continuously. Only a small percentage of women reported a single instance of psychological violence. This highlights the cultural and social acceptance of such behavior as a means of controlling women. The effects on a woman’s psychological health and well-being must be closely analysed and efforts made to challenge traditional gender norms in order to gain a better understanding of relationships between partners. These findings reinforce the existence of a persistent pattern of psychological and verbal abuse used by a current or previous partner against their spouse or partner.5

When considering the specific forms of violence, the results prove that 33% of women were slapped at least once in their lives and that other forms of physical violence, such as being pushed or punched, also occur frequently. Studies have also shown that factors such as income, social class, and compatibility between partners are correlated with experiences of physical violence. On average, every third woman has been slapped, every fourth woman has been pushed or otherwise assaulted, every fifth woman punched or hit, every tenth woman beaten or kicked, and 5% have suffered from strangulation or attempted strangling. Most victims of physical violence have been slapped (87.9%), followed by being pushed or pulled by the hair (59.9%), punched (49.3%), kicked (27.3%), threatened with a weapon (16.1%), and strangled (13.7%). Women aged 55-59 are most likely to be threatened with a weapon, while women aged 45 and over are more likely to be subjected to sudden assaults. The forms of physical violence experienced over a 12-month period were largely similar to those experienced over a lifetime, although women aged 55-59 were more likely to be threatened with a weapon. Physical violence occurs across all age groups, with the exception of women aged 15-24 who did not report any experience of being threatened with a weapon.

Almost every fifth woman aged 15-24 has been hit at least once in the past year and every tenth woman in this group has been pushed, shoved, or punched. This is a concerning issue and highlights the problem of physical violence starting from a young age. Women in the 60-65 age group are also at risk, with 92% of female victims in this category reporting that they have been slapped. This highlights an increased vulnerability in older women, which can be linked to their socio-economic status.

Economic and psychological violence is most prevalent when the victim has no source of income. Severe physical violence occurs when the victim has a higher income than average. The aggressor’s manipulation causes the victim to overlook their financial contributions to the family and think they can’t manage on their own, even if they support the family.6

 

Victim’s and Aggressor’s Profile

In 2011 a Comprehensive analysis of domestic violence from the perspective of incoming calls to the Trust Line for Women has been conducted by the International Center for Women Rights Protection and Promotion „La Strada”, which addressed information on the demographics of callers, the types of violence they face, their needs, the psychological profile and the level of concern from professional groups and the community. The report was followed by a study from 2021 entitled “Evaluating the response of the criminal justice system to domestic violence cases. Criuleni, Soroca, Cimișlia and Comrat regions” which addressed the dynamic of domestic violence cases commencing with 2012 to 2020.

Victims of domestic violence can have a wide range of psychological profiles, but some common characteristics include: low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, and fear. They may also have experienced trauma or have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the abuse. They may also experience difficulties seeking help and feel that they are trapped in the abusive relationship. It’s important to note that these characteristics are not universal, and some victims may not exhibit any of these symptoms, while others may display different symptoms. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that victims are not responsible for the abuse they have experienced and should not be blamed for their situation.

Over the years a rise in the number of domestic violence cases has been reported. The IGP’s statistical report shows that in 2020, there were 12,970 reported incidents of family violence, compared to the 11,840 reported cases in 2019 and 11,026 in 2018.

It has been recorded that the 699 calls the Trust Line received from victims of domestic violence came from diverse backgrounds in terms of age, location, origin, and social status, but they all had common reasons for seeking help, such as being a victim themselves or witnessing abuse in their family. The characteristics all the victims had in common were low self-esteem, feeling guilty, being emotionally dependent on the abuser, and being unable to make changes in their life. Lack of resources, support from relatives and authorities, and lack of a home can trap women in a victim role.

Victims aged 18-26 who are in the early stages of a relationship often experience signs of violence but typically view it as something temporary and keep it private. In this age range, 2% of cases involve violence inflicted by parents, boyfriends, and life-partners. Many victims are on maternity leave, which can be a source of frustration for the aggressor due to the focus on caring and educating the children. Women may also turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, which can lead to increased violence. Additionally, when extended family members take control of the new couple, they may impose their own views, be hostile towards the son-in-law/daughter-in-law, and interfere with the children’s education, potentially resulting in further violence.7

The psychological profile of the abusive partner can vary and is often complex, but some common traits can include: low self-esteem, a need for control and power, a history of abuse in their own childhood, impulsiveness and poor anger management, substance abuse, and a distorted view of relationships and superiority over their partner. However, it is important to note that not everyone with these traits will become an abusive partner, and many other factors can contribute to abusive behavior. It’s important to note that these traits are not exclusive to abusive partners and many individuals may display some of these traits without being abusive. Additionally, abuse is a learned behavior and early exposure to such conduct is not an excuse for abusive behavior.8

It has been noted that most of the time, male aggressors in domestic violence situations are aware of their abusive behavior, but they justify it as “natural” and consider themselves the victims. It has been observed that aggressors blame the victims for provoking the conflict through factors such as alcohol consumption, adultery, focusing too much on children, impulsive behavior, or attempting to control the family. Despite being the aggressors, they contact the Trust Line seeking help for their spouse, believing their spouse is the one with problems. If the victims manage to leave the relationship and break the cycle of violence, the aggressors experience intense anger and view themselves as the victims, reaching out to the Trust Line to try to bring their spouse back.9

 

Existing Laws and Legal Perspective

Protecting victims of domestic violence should be a top priority in all domestic violence cases. According to the Istanbul Convention, all relevant authorities, not just the police, are required to assess the risks of violence through a standard procedure and in cooperation with each other. Abusers often threaten their victims with serious acts of violence and have a history of violence. It is crucial that any risk assessment accurately evaluates the situation and considers the possibility of repeat violence, especially if it could lead to the victim’s death. Moldova’s national legislation also contains similar provisions. Article 153 of Law No. 45 of 01.03.2007 regarding the prevention and combating of domestic violence requires that measures be taken to protect the victim or potential victim from further harm by the aggressor through prompt and appropriate assessment and management of the risks of repeat violence in the family.10

Law 45 provides a foundation for increased access to justice and safety for domestic violence victims by making all forms of domestic violence a criminal offense under Criminal Code Article 201. The law also allows victims to request ten protective measures from their aggressor, including temporary eviction, stay away orders, no contact, child support, and prohibiting the possession of firearms. The court is required to issue protective orders within 24 hours and they are effective for up to three months with the possibility of extension. This law makes Moldova one of the first countries in the region to address domestic violence with specific legislation and a multi-sectoral response.11

The National Referral System (NRS) in Moldova was expanded to include domestic violence victims as potential victims of trafficking. The NRS is a country-wide system of partnerships between local and national authorities, civil society organizations, and multi-disciplinary teams of police, social workers, teachers, and health care professionals. Its purpose is to provide coordinated support to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. The extension of the NRS is in line with international best practices which suggest that a coordinated response among agencies is the most effective way to address domestic violence.

According to Mary Ellingen of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Women’s Human Rights Program, 68 interviews were conducted in nine cities and regions with various groups such as police, government officials, NGOs, health care professionals, and lawyers to gather information about domestic violence in Moldova. The interviews indicated that the current domestic violence legislation, Law 45, needs to be reformed to provide better protection for victims. Law 45 only criminalizes violations of protective orders if they occur after a first offense, putting victims at risk of future harm. Additionally, health professionals are required to report all cases of domestic violence to the police, which may deter victims from seeking medical or social assistance. 12

The number of protective orders issued is low. Nevertheless, in 2020 the police gave out 4,939 restraining orders towards domestic abusers, which was higher than the 4,250 that were issued the year before, showing an increase of 16.21%.13

The lack of funding and support is another issue that hinders the effective implementation of reforms, as there is no dedicated funding source for victim services and very few shelters available. NGOs and maternal centers, which provide crucial services to victims, must rely on inadequate governmental support and private donations to fund their efforts.

Victims of domestic violence are often aided by multi-disciplinary teams, but the government response still needs improvement, particularly in police training. Police often dismiss low-level violence and do not enforce protective orders or sanctions for violations. Domestic violence cases are often pursued as administrative offenses, leading to lack of accountability for aggressors and continued vulnerability for victims. The use of fines for aggressors causes victims to refrain from seeking help. It has also been noticed that women often choose not to contact the police due to various reasons, such as lack of trust in law enforcement, belief that police intervention will only worsen the situation, viewing the problem as a personal matter, fear, and shame. There are instances where the aggressor is a police officer or has connections to the police, causing the victim to hesitate. In some cases, the victim only contacts the police for record-keeping purposes.14

The study found that both police and prosecutors have been slow to enforce Article 201 of the Criminal Code in cases of low-level injuries, and often exhibit attitudes that blame victims or downplay the severity of the crime, resulting in fewer prosecutions. Prosecutors frequently decline to pursue cases or drop them when victims refuse to testify, even in severe cases. Judges and prosecutors use questionable “settlement” techniques to determine a victim’s willingness to reconcile. The judiciary is also a hindrance to domestic violence victims’ access to justice. Many judges do not grant protective orders due to misconceptions about victims, and some even fail to issue them within the required 24-hour timeframe. Judges also often lack specificity in their protective orders, making victims less secure and allowing aggressors to test the limits of the order. The effectiveness of protective orders is further diminished by judges who do not promptly inform all parties of the order’s issuance.15 At the national level, there has been an increase in the number of denied applications, indicating that the procedure for submitting applications was not adhered to. This suggests that the victims of domestic violence are not in a state of crisis.16

 

Central Issues

Overall, several issues can be highlighted when addressing the problem of domestic violence in the Republic of Moldova. Despite the recognition of domestic violence as a serious issue, many victims still face a multitude of challenges when seeking help. These challenges can range from lack of knowledge about their rights and available resources, to cultural norms and gender biases that prevent them from reporting the abuse. Furthermore, many victims may lack trust in the institutions that are meant to provide them with assistance, further complicating their efforts to find help. In light of these challenges, it is crucial that efforts are made to ensure that all victims of domestic violence have access to legal representation and support services, so that their safety and well-being can be protected.

  1. Victims lack access to legal assistance.

It has been noted that victims of domestic violence may be aware that the law criminalizes such acts and that they have the right to ask for protective measures, but they do not realize that they can be represented by a lawyer appointed or provided by the state at no cost, regardless of their income. Without this legal knowledge, they cannot compose official pleadings or petitions in terms of seeking protection from domestic violence. In these criminal and misdemeanor proceedings, victims are usually not represented by a lawyer, which compromises the safety of victims and the accountability of the abuser.17

Police officers, prosecutors, and judges must be encouraged to request the appointment of a lawyer, who will provide legal assistance to victims. This will ensure that victims have access to legal representation, which is essential in navigating the criminal justice system. It would as well be recommended to expand the network of paralegals, particularly in localities where there are difficulties in accessing legal services. Paralegals can play an important role in providing legal aid to victims, especially in areas where the number of legal professionals is limited.18

Next to that, informational materials on how to access family violence victims’ services of AJGS offline and online should be developed and made accessible to people with a basic education level, as well as to victims with multiple vulnerabilities, such as those with mental and psychosocial disabilities, sensory disabilities, and illiterates. These materials should be developed with the use of icons and graphic representations, making them accessible to all.19

  1. Victims lack information on reporting process

Victims of domestic violence are not given enough information on how to report the violence and access support services. Those who live in urban areas with high levels of education and income tend to have a better understanding of the protective mechanisms and support services available. However, in rural areas, victims often lack legal information and rely on mass media sources. Most victims only report violence to the police as they are not aware of other support services offered by the government or NGOs. Those who have access to television, radio, or the internet have an easier time obtaining information. On the other hand, those from socially disadvantaged families without electronic means of communication face limited access to information and may not even know of the laws protecting them or how to access services for victims of domestic violence. The findings are backed up by a national study, “Men and Gender Equality,” which found that 62.4% of women are aware of laws on violence against women, 9.1% deny their existence, and 28.4% do not know about their existence.20

  1. Traditions and cultural norms

Traditions, cultural norms, and gender biases cause women to endure domestic violence and refrain from reporting it to the authorities. This issue is particularly pronounced in communities with strong patriarchal values. For instance, in the Soroca district, the interviews revealed that cases of domestic violence reported by Roma women have not been addressed in recent years despite having a significant Roma community. The respondents mentioned the Roma traditions and cultural norms that advocate resolving family conflicts within the Roma community as one of the possible reasons. Similar situations have also been observed in the Comrat region.21

Victims of domestic violence are often hesitant to report cases to the authorities due to misconceptions about the issue. Only a small number of women have reported the most severe cases of violence, with half of the women surveyed believing that it should be handled as a private family matter.22

The 2019 OSCE report results indicate that half of the women surveyed believe that their friends would agree that a good wife should submit to her husband, even if he doesn’t agree. Meanwhile, 55% of women believe that domestic violence is a private matter: this is almost four times higher than the corresponding number in the EU. Additionally, 45% of women believe that violence against women is often provoked by the victim, compared to 15% of women in the EU, and 40% believe that allegations of abuse or rape are exaggerated or made up, compared to 20% in the EU.

The research findings revealed that societal expectations for women to fulfill the role of primary caregiver and perform household chores persist. Psychological and sexual violence from an intimate partner are considered normal, with physical violence being the least accepted. This is not the case for Roma women, who reported that physical violence is considered normal in their community and is accepted in intimate partner relationships. Sexual violence in intimate relationships is a taboo subject that is rarely discussed in public, and is supported by the legally defined focus on coercion rather than consent. The study also reported that there is no specific law on domestic violence or gender-based violence in the Transnistrian region, and victims receive little support.23

  1. Lack of trust in the institutions that should provide assistance

The women who were subjected to violence reported short-term (71%) and long-term (82%) psychological reactions, as well as physical injuries, with one in five women who survived violence from a former partner reporting having suffered a concussion as a result of the violence they endured. Despite these serious consequences and the high prevalence of intimate partner violence against women in the country, nearly three-quarters (73%) of victims of current partner violence did not contact any organization for assistance. The women participating in the 2019 OSCE qualitative research reported that they did not believe that reporting their experiences would offer them protection. The number of women who report current partner violence cases to the police is low (11%), and the feedback is divided, with 42% of respondents being satisfied and 58% being unsatisfied with the contact they had.24

The recent amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure stipulates that women be encouraged to utilize mediation services prior to the resolution of a case in court. This practice contravenes the provisions of the Istanbul Convention and exposes the victim to the risk of secondary victimization as they are required to engage with the aggressor. Several of the women interviewed expressed their concern that some individuals within the justice system still hold the belief that intimate partner violence is only a result of the victim “provoking” it and that it is unfair for the man, even if he is the aggressor, to be evicted from his home.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the issue of domestic violence in the Republic of Moldova is a complex and multi-faceted problem that requires a comprehensive approach to address. Despite recognition of the issue as serious, many victims still face challenges in seeking help due to lack of knowledge, cultural norms, gender biases, and lack of trust in institutions. It is therefore crucial to increase awareness of the rights and available resources for victims of domestic violence and improve their access to legal representation and support services. The government and NGOs must work together to provide educational materials and expand the network of paralegals to help victims navigate the criminal justice system. Cultural norms and gender biases must also be addressed through increased awareness and public education campaigns to change attitudes towards domestic violence. Only with a concerted effort from all stakeholders can the issue of domestic violence be effectively addressed in the Republic of Moldova.

 

 

 

 

1 The Well-being and Safety of Women Study, carried out by the OSCE, Chisinau, 2019 https://egalitatedegen.md/mdocs-posts/studiul-realizat-de-osce-bunastarea-si-siguranta-femeilor/

2 The Well-being and Safety of Women Study, carried out by the OSCE, Chisinau, 2019 https://egalitatedegen.md/mdocs-posts/studiul-realizat-de-osce-bunastarea-si-siguranta-femeilor/

3 Trust Line for Women Activity Report, International Center for Women Rights Protection and Promotion „La Strada” , Chisinau 2012

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 Trust Line for Women Activity Report, International Center for Women Rights Protection and Promotion „La Strada” , Chisinau 2012

7 Ibid, 15

8 Romero, J. M. P., Manso, J. M. M., Alonso, M. B., & Sánchez, M. E. G. B. (2013). Socialized/subclinical psychopaths in intimate partner relationships: Profile, psychological abuse and risk factors. Papeles del Psicólogo, 34(1), 32-48.

9 Trust Line for Women Activity Report, International Center for Women Rights Protection and Promotion „La Strada” , Chisinau 2012

10 Law 45 Chapter II Article 8(5)b.

11 Trust Line for Women Activity Report, International Center for Women Rights Protection and Promotion „La Strada” , Chisinau 2012; 44

13 Assessing the Response of the Criminal Justice system to Domestic Violence Cases, Soroca, Criuleni, Cimislia and Comrat Districts, Arina Țurcan, Natalia Vilcu, O. „Centrul de Drept al Femeilor”, 2021

14 Trust Line for Women Activity Report, International Center for Women Rights Protection and Promotion „La Strada” , Chisinau 2012

16 ibid

17 Assessing the Response of the Criminal Justice system to Domestic Violence Cases, Soroca, Criuleni, Cimislia and Comrat Districts, Arina Țurcan, Natalia Vilcu, O. „Centrul de Drept al Femeilor”, 2021

18 Assessing the Response of the Criminal Justice system to Domestic Violence Cases, Soroca, Criuleni, Cimislia and Comrat Districts, Arina Țurcan, Natalia Vilcu, O. „Centrul de Drept al Femeilor”, 2021

20 Assessing the Response of the Criminal Justice system to Domestic Violence Cases, Soroca, Criuleni, Cimislia and Comrat Districts, Arina Țurcan, Natalia Vilcu, O. „Centrul de Drept al Femeilor”, 2021

21 Ibid

22 The Well-being and Safety of Women Study, carried out by the OSCE, Chisinau, 2019 https://egalitatedegen.md/mdocs-posts/studiul-realizat-de-osce-bunastarea-si-siguranta-femeilor/

23 Ibid

24 Ibid

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The Issue of Domestic Violence in the Republic of Moldova