Stronger Support for Serbian Victims of Domestic Violence

Stronger Support for Victims of Domestic Violence
Campaign poster
Counseling Against Family Violence
Finding courage and hope with legal aid, social services
“As they obtain proper legal advice, most of the victims feel empowered to break the vicious circle of violence and file charges against abusers.”

Aug. 2014—Statistics are grim for the victims of domestic violence in Serbia. In 2013, 76 people died in cases of domestic violence—45 of those were women and five were children. Since the beginning of 2014, 11 women have been killed and as many as 1,883 have contacted the helpline of the Counseling Against Family Violence, a civil society organization that provides support for victims.

Recognizing the importance of victim safety and the need for a well-coordinated community response to domestic abuse, USAID’s Judicial Reform and Government Accountability (JRGA) project partners with civil society organizations throughout Serbia.

The Association of Public Prosecutors received grant funds from USAID in March 2012 to create a successful inter-agency model for handling cases of domestic and family violence that provides for close cooperation between the judiciary, the police and social and health care centers. Initiated in Zrenjanin in 2007 and circulated in the misdemeanor courts through USAID’s Partner Court activities, the model has led to cooperative agreements in 10 other towns.

Thanks to the grant, prosecutors in these towns were able to file requests for protective measures for victims prior to the determination of the final verdict, greatly safeguarding their well-being during the proceedings. In Leskovac, the prosecutor’s office, the police and social services agreed on a psychosocial therapy protocol that requires perpetrators of domestic/family violence to undergo six months of psychosocial therapy.

In 2013, USAID worked with another civil society organization, Counseling Against Family Violence, to develop an easy-to-read handbook that guides victims through their rights and roles in the judicial process. It also provides information on victim services and protection organizations throughout Serbia.

Another project in 2014 established a network of free legal aid for the victims of domestic/family violence. Forty trained lawyers provide pro bono and low-cost legal services to family violence victims in 22 towns.

“I believe this project has already shown multiple benefits primarily because this is the first time that victims in smaller communities in Serbia have access to free legal aid,” said Tijana Kostic, an experienced legal aid provider in the safe house in Belgrade points out. “It is an encouraging fact that, as they obtain proper legal advice, most of the victims feel empowered to break the vicious circle of violence and file charges against abusers.”

The project also strives to improve the often poor financial situation of victims. Women residing in three safe houses will receive vocational training to help increase their employment potential and create economic independence from their abusers.

One of the women currently residing in a safe house operated by Counseling Against Family Violence shared the following story:

“Ever since I was 18, I suffered abuse from my husband, who is an alcoholic. When our children also became victims of his aggressive behavior, I wanted to break away from the agony that we were living in. However, I had no support. It is only through this project … and with the help of expert lawyers, I was able to seek protection from violence and was given an opportunity to start a fight to protect those rights that I was denied my whole life, putting up with beating, insults and humiliations every day. Now I know that with the right advice and support from the experts, I have become strong enough to last through the court proceedings, fully aware that I must not blame myself for the violence I have suffered.”

Also encouraging is the fact that the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence was ratified by Serbia in November 2013 and entered into force on Aug.1, 2014. It aims to prevent violent acts against women and prosecute those who commit such acts. The Convention also establishes a monitoring mechanism, including the collection of statistical data, to ensure effective use of its provisions by all parties.

The I Sign Campaign, led by the Autonomous Women Center, with support from USAID and the Institute for Sustainable Communities, helped achieve national consensus for the ratification of this important convention and will continue to advocate for its full implementation.

Launched in 2011, USAID’s JRGA project is scheduled to end in May 2016. USAID’s Civil Society Forward program, implemented in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Communities, is planned to end in October 2014.

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Last updated: September 05, 2014

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