Opinion digest: Domestic violence is not a private matter ({{commentsTotal}})

Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt.
Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

In a recent opinion piece in Postimees, Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) pointed out the progress the police had made dealing with domestic violence, and the steps still to take by the state.

The president’s mention of domestic violence as one of Estonian society’s gravest issues in her Independence Day speech had touched and irritated plenty of people, Anvelt remarked in his opinion piece. A member of parliament and a former minister of social protection had afforded themselves a personal and insulting duel following Kaljulaid’s speech; his recommendation was to keep to a solid line fighting against domestic violence, and not attack each other.

What he couldn’t agree with was that the subject was treated as if nothing had been done in Estonia on the state level. Compared to ten years ago, the understanding was now that acts of violence committed against family members were not a family matter, which in itself represented a great change in the attitude of Estonians.

This had been helped along by the media, which had turned attention to the issue and supported the victims through confirming the importance of the issue to society, Anvelt wrote.

Changing people’s attitudes and habits wasn’t easy. People’s habit to shrug off the issue, or to treat it as something completely detached from their own lives needed to be replaced with the understanding that their looking away perpetuated the violence. Looking away could mean further escalation, and more violence eventually coming one’s own way anyway. Or it could mean that one’s own children might get beaten up by those of the other family, to whom violence was an everyday thing.

The police’s reaction to domestic issues and incidents of violence had become more professional and systematic, Anvelt wrote. From time to time it could occur that an officer was indifferent to the issue, but less and less so, as police officers knew that domestic violence wasn’t a private matter, and that sooner or later it would put others in danger as well.

A case in 2004 where a police officer along with her police dog had died when a man took her hostage and eventually blew himself and the officer up had had its beginnings in domestic violence, Anvelt wrote. In the United States, officers were injured or killed most often when called out to intervene in domestic fights. The problem could not be overestimated.

Anvelt also said in his piece that he finds these complicated cases need changes in people’s thinking as well as in the legal norms that apply. Instead of providing shelter for the victim, it would be more reasonable to arrest and detain the perpetrator for 48 hours. This topic needed serious work, as locking up the perpetrator for two days didn’t automatically mean they would change. What needed to be discussed was what to do with them, and to consider options to force them to change their behavior.

What was very good news was that Estonia was soon going to get 43 additional local constables. This was a visible positive change in an area of internal security that had been suffering under the police force’s lay-offs.

These additional officers and criminalists were needed because the local constable was precisely the officer to identify families at risk, to work with them and the community to prevent violence. This would help reduce the physical and psychological damage domestic violence caused, Anvelt wrote.

The immediate action and conversation with an officer in uniform made more sense than a two-year court case where there was no way back. He believed in the power of the word rather than that of the truncheon when interrupting fights, Anvelt wrote, even though from time to time the latter was necessary as well.

The legal defense of victims needed to improve as well, along with the counseling offered to them, Anvelt added. The government would hopefully get to a solution that could guarantee free legal help provided by the state if they should so request. Where shelters didn’t have the funding to help the victims the state also needed to take action.

Violence within the family and against women was all of society’s business, Anvelt stressed. Beyond the police, social workers, teachers, doctors, and the local governments needed to pay attention if something was off, and able to react quickly. The same applied to every member of society.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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