A complicated stakeholder landscape
According to Valeria Spagnolo, Senior Project Officer and Legal Researcher at Siren, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) is traditionally on the front line in handling issues relating to abuse, which includes responding to domestic violence. It has a significant responsibility to ensure the survivor is treated with dignity, conducting proper preliminary investigations, implementing a standardised approach to case management and presenting the case accurately to the prosecutor in charge.
The ISF, however, operates under the orders of the public prosecution and cannot make decisions independently when it comes to investigating domestic violence cases. Other stakeholders in the case management ecosystem also introduce their own procedures and approaches, and may not necessarily have the training or capabilities to manage cases in accordance with best practice or in a gender-sensitive manner.
“Always under the supervision of the prosecutor, the ISF in reality conducts preliminary investigations into domestic violence complaints, and there are many stakeholders involved. The judiciary – which includes public prosecutors and judges of summary proceedings – has significant influence over whether a victim is awarded protection, and over the kind of protection received,” Spagnolo said.
She explained that judges may ask the survivor to provide additional proof of physical violence, or may not issue a protective order, despite signs of physical violence. Moral and financial violence are not always recognised, and if a protective order is issued, it can sometimes come months late or be so weak that it does not act as a deterrent for the abuser. If the case is before religious courts, judges of summary proceedings may abstain from looking into a case or offering protection.
“On top if this, there is the financial aspect – logistics, staff, etc. – that may hinder the ISF’s ability to respond, especially given the current crisis. All these factors hinder access to justice for women impacted by domestic violence,” Spagnolo said.