Tag Archives: Domestic Violence

The Draft Domestic Violence Bill is Dead

I’ve been holding back posting this until I found a little more explanation, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The Government of Armenia has rejected the draft Domestic Violence bill with the idea that different components of the law will be incorporated into current laws, negating the need for a full domestic violence law.

It’s infuriating when after years of effort, the corpus of the work is being rejected dismissively. Some parts of it will live on in other laws, like in the Code of Criminal Procedure, but many parts will be lost. Even if all the parts were incorporated into other laws, a piecemeal approach is simply not as effective as a comprehensive law.

The main issue is that this rejection pushes back acknowledgement of the problem of domestic violence for years, let alone action to resolve it. A huge component of the law was education: promoting gender equality and combating violent practices to both children and adults. I’m sure that part is gone.  The impact and normative value of having a law on domestic violence is gone if there is no such law. Without a law on domestic violence, it’s likely that people won’t learn about whatever specific mechanisms are put into place. If victims don’t know their rights and that they can call upon the police to protect them, they’ll continue to suffer in silence. If only we had a law to fund education programs for victims …. Finally, changes to the criminal code are estimated to take over a year; yet another year of nothing being done on this issue!

Armenia has been promising the international community a domestic violence law to combat the problem of domestic violence since 2010. This action will only be viewed negatively by the West.

I apologize for my rant. As I’ve mentioned before, I worked on developing recommendations for the draft law. To know that a good chunk of my work (as well as hundreds or thousands of hours of other people’s work) was wasted is very frustrating.

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The Rapid Response Unit: Protecting victims when the police won’t

The Society Without Violence NGO has a Rapid Response Unit (RRU) that deserves significant praise. The RRU’s mission is to quickly discover cases of domestic violence, protect the victim and raise public attention. As one can imagine, they operate with very few resources in a society that is against them or at least doesn’t see a need for them.

The RRU has a map of incidents of domestic violence and gender-based violence. The map was created in July, and while it still needs more data, it’s a great beginning to visualizing, tracking and publicizing these incidents.

The need for the RRU is obvious when looking at just a few of the recent incidents of domestic violence with a tragic end. If the victims had received support or protection, it’s possible they would still be alive.

If you’ve witnessed a domestic violence or gender-based violence case, please alert the Rapid Response Unit at http://rru.swv.am/. While not all instances of violence lead to murder, no violence should be tolerated in any society.

For those that missed it, my story of calling the police and their failure of doing anything is posted here.

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Review of Mariam Gevorgyan’s Struggle for Justice

The Society Without Violence NGO has put out a thorough review of Gevorgyan’s story from initial abuse to the final court verdict. It mentions some passing words from the defendant’s family that imply that the family called in favors to subvert the court case. There is no real evidence of that, but I would not be surprised if that happened.

In the mean time, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting recently wrote on the current status of the draft domestic violence law. A draft bill is out for public comment, but the progress is still quite slow.

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Legal Closure but no Solace

The trial against Mariam Gevorgyan’s abuser has come to an end. Gevorgyan was abused by her husband and mother-in-law before escaping and suing them in court. The husband was protected as part of the blanket amnesty by the President making the mother-in-law the only perpetrator Gevorgyan could go after in court. That case ended recently with a sentence of four years for the mother-in-law. Unfortunately, the President’s amnesty commutes the sentence down to one year.

Gevorgyan’s case was one of the first domestic violence cases where the victim fought for justice all the way through the court system and “won.” Even with her hollow victory, her case is the first of what will be many. When the domestic violence law is finished next year, undoubtedly more cases will be brought as victims will have more legal tools available to them.

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Domestic Violence Law is One Step Closer to Completion

Yesterday, the Human Rights Ombudsman delivered his recommendations to Parliament on the draft Domestic Violence Law. I don’t have a list of all the recommendations, but I know my work made a substantial impact on the recommendations provided. For instance, the “24 hour hotline” recommendation the article mentions was based on the draft law simply saying “a hotline” without giving any further details. Our worry was that the hotline would run only during working hours and thus be useless to victims at night when they are more likely to be abused by a spouse coming home from work.

Go Armenia!

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Calling the Police

Yesterday was stressful, partially because I’m a spurkahay (Diasporan) that’s not willing to conform to Armenian standards, partially because Armenian men think they can do whatever they want, and definitely because of the language barrier.

I went by the Birthright Armenia office after work and was there until 8pm. I walked toward Hraparak metro as I typically do, going through the park that’s just north of Vernissage. Unlike all the previous times, this time I saw a young-ish guy push a young-ish girl into a wall and place his leg next to her in an intimidating way to stop her from leaving.

Some people would have kept walking, some people would have confronted him. I did all I knew to do: I stayed and watched and called a Hayastanci (local Armenian) friend to figure out what I should do.

The guy proceeded to smack her around a bit. I could see that she was bawling her eyes out. He continued to be in her face, say some things to her and hit her. He also had two friends about 3 meters away (~10 feet) doing nothing. One time he hit her so hard that there was a loud smacking noise. The two guys said the equivalent of “hey;” that was the limit of their involvement.

I call the police, who thankfully have an English speaker available. Unfortunately, that English speaker doesn’t understand words like “hit,” “beat,” “smack,” or “punch.”

“What happened?”

“This guy is hitting this girl.”

“What?”

“This boy is hitting/punching/attacking/etc this girl”

“Who attacked you?”

“No one attacked me, the boy hit the girl.”

“When did they hit you?”

“No, he is hitting her now, hima!”

Eventually she understands and says the police will come in five minutes.

By the time the police arrive—which amazingly was in roughly five minutes—the guy had stopped hitting her and was now holding her “softly.” She had also stopped crying. In fact, everything seemed normal. Normal enough that the cops didn’t think there was any problem whatsoever. “Boyfriend and Girlfriend” and “no problem” they said to me. This was even after I had my Hayastanci friend explain the situation to them. Apparently, the girl wasn’t willing to discuss what happened to her to four male cops with her boyfriend beside her (assuming she thought there was even a problem to begin with).

Fine. I leave, not particularly surprised that absolutely nothing was done. At least I could hope that I made an impact on the guy that people are willing to report his abuse. I start moving on thinking about what else I need to do until the calls begin.

Only a few minutes after walking away the cops call me. With my very limited Armenian and ample usage of “chhaskatsa” and “inch?” I understand that they want to know where I am. As a general rule, I only like to speak to police if I’m reporting a crime or I have a lawyer present. When the police are constantly asking you your location, I’m not inclined to answer. With my limited Armenian, I simply cannot understand why they want to speak to me or know where I am as they said there was no issue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they don’t keep calling and calling and calling and calling… I’m starting to get worried enough that I start calling people for advice. They agree that I should figure out why they want my location, but as I can’t setup a three-way call on my phone, they can’t give me any better advice. At this point, there are a few theories of what is going on.

  • The cops aren’t coordinating with each other and the cops calling me aren’t the same cops I saw.
  • The cops just need me to sign some statement that they came or something equally bureaucratic or trivial.
  • The cops are going to turn this around and accuse me of a false police report.
  • The cops gave my number to the abuser, and the calls are actually from the abuser who wants to get revenge. (Definitely not something I would have thought of as an American)
  • The cops know I’m America-Hay and thus care about their image and want to make it seem like they’re doing a good job. This could include getting my statement (a.k.a. driving me to the station where there will be an English speaker) and promising to “investigate.”

Chances are, the last possibility is the most likely. Regardless, the lack of understanding of the situation and whether I was potentially in legal or physical jeopardy was particularly frustrating. Fortunately, after 25 missed calls the cops stop calling. I try to relax.

The story concludes in an uninteresting and unsatisfactory way that I’d rather not mention here. The complete dismissal by the cops followed by their barrage of harassing phone calls will definitely make me pause before calling them again. I now have, sadly, a better understanding for the fatalistic Hayastanci that have given up hope that Armenia will get better.

In the mean time, “enjoy” this excellent video (English subtitles) about the prevalent domestic violence in Armenian Soap Operas made by the Society Without Violence. (Trigger warning for visceral—if fictional—acts of domestic violence)

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“A woman is like wool, the more you beat her, the softer she’ll be.”

Domestic Violence is a problem in Armenia. A major problem. Amnesty did a great report in 2008 on the problem and not much has progressed on the issue. The problem isn’t just the Armenian code is backwards (which it is), but that the Armenian people haven’t had an honest discussion on discrimination. This includes diasporans as well.

The conversation began with the killing of 20-year old Zaruhi Petrosyan by her husband in 2010. Zaruhi was constantly beaten by her husband and mother-in-law. The husband and mother-in-law wanted to exhort money and generally to cause suffering to someone below them. She even went to the police multiple times but they did nothing.

The police say they get very few calls on domestic violence, implying there is no problem, but the police here are not regarded as generally useful. In non-gendered disputes between private citizens, the view is that the police will support whoever pays the larger bribe. In gendered disputes, police are much much more likely to believe the man rather than the woman (see the quote in the picture below). In fact, non-marital rape is low in Armenia not because perpetrators are worried about female victims calling the police but because she’ll call her father, brothers, and uncles who will kill the perpetrator.

Recently, the horrible story of Mariam Gevorgyan’s 10 months of abuse at the hands of her former husband and mother-in-law came out. Mariam, unlike most victims of domestic violence here, told her story to the police and is pushing for criminal punishment for what happened to her. Unfortunately, her former husband was cleared of charges in an amnesty and the case against the mother-in-law isn’t going forward smoothly. Fortunately, there are relevant NGOs that are raising attention on the case including conducting protests in front of the President’s Office. she’s going to court again today and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women will be protesting in front of the courtroom.

"Women, Do not be afraid to speak up."

I’m in the fortunate position where I’m able to do something about this. The Government of Armenia is currently drafting a law on domestic violence. No longer will traditional, gender-insensitive, and insufficient criminal laws (e.g. battery) be the only legal tools to combat against domestic violence. The Human Rights Ombudsman has the mandate to provide recommendations on draft laws with human rights impacts. As the only native English speaker in the legal analysis office, my task is to review international best practices to ensure the draft law meets international standards. I’ve reviewed relevant UN handbooks, recommendations from CEDAW and UPR to Armenia, and discussions with people connected with local women-focused NGOs. If anyone has any recommendations for what should belong in the law, please contact me. I can’t release a copy of the draft law, but I’m willing to work with anyone to ensure this law is as good as possible to combat domestic violence.

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