BEIRUT: As activists held yet another rally calling for greater protections for victims of domestic violence Wednesday, both activists and analysts say that deficiencies in the system are stifling progress on the issue, with tragic results for those affected. Last year, Law No. 293, known as the bill for the Protection of Women and Family from Domestic Violence, was passed by the Parliament. Last week, Sara al-Amin was shot dead by her husband, the latest victim in an ongoing epidemic of violence against women.
Amin’s murder has sparked outrage and anger in Lebanon, which has seen numerous crimes against women in recent years, prompting the Lebanese Women’s Democratic Gathering to organize the demonstration. The incident has forced people to consider hard questions about why such violence continues to happen.
Activists say there is need for a reform, as the current system has a number of deficiencies in the way it handles cases of domestic abuse.
There are numerous factors that contribute to the recurrence of such violence, and they begin with the police, explained Lamia Rustom Shehadeh, a former professor and a founding member ofThe National Committee for the Follow-up of Women’s Issues.
The police lack the know-how to help and treat the women that resort to them for protection, according to Shehadeh. “Most often they turn them back; they don’t take them seriously. The police are very bad in these cases, they would laugh at her.”
Although afraid to go to the police, victims must sometimes go to hospital for treatment due to the severity of the abuse. Shehadeh said that in such cases, doctors in emergency rooms should be legally required to report cases of suspected abuse to the authorities.
She said that usually physicians are able to identify what has caused the injuries, even when victims refuse to say what happened or offer an alternate explanation.
“Once there’s such a law, and doctors start reporting these abuses, things will become much better,” Shehadeh said, adding that doctors who treat abused women should not wait for a law to come into effect to begin their reporting. “There’s no law that says doctors shouldn’t do it.”
In addition to these factors, experts say the law itself suffers from a number of shortcomings.
Brigitte Chelebian, lawyer and president of Justice Without Frontiers, explained that gaps in the law that prevent it from attaining its stated goals.
Although it is considered to be a good start, Chelebian explained that the law doesn’t stipulate the necessary mechanisms to protect women before and after a protection order is given.
“In order to [properly implement] this law, work must be done to amend it,” she said. “There should be a role for the Lebanese government; protecting women doesn’t happen just by issuing a protection order.”
Chelebian also said that trials in domestic violence cases must be dealt with quickly, and abusers must not be able to shield themselves from prosecution by claiming mental illness.
“They see women as objects they own that they can do whatever they want with; this is how they were raised and this is how they will continue,” she said.
“This is why the judiciary must decide quickly in these cases, must not be lenient, [and must not allow] excuses and reasons to decrease the punishment … when these verdicts start to be issued without excuses, people will start to see deterrence.”
Chelebian explained that there must also be more awareness among the judges themselves on how to deal with cases of domestic violence and that they must educate themselves on the issue and its implications.
Despite the myriad problems that affect the protection of women, activists and experts try to remain positive.
They say the media exposure and the reaction by the public in these cases keeps them optimistic.
“This never happened before,” Shehadeh said. “I feel I am quite satisfied, there’s now admission that there are such cases.”