Domestic violence kills 16 women a year

Hundreds of people gathered in Stockholm's Sergels Torg on Thursday in a demonstration against men's violence towards women. Earlier in the week, a report by human rights organisation Amnesty harshly criticized Sweden's local councils for failing to commit resources to helping abused women.

The issue has been gathering momentum since early October, when the prominent Left Party politician Gudrun Schyman suggested a tax on men to balance the account between the sexes. While her solution may not have garnered much support, she undoubtedly managed to anchor the problem in the public arena.

“Let this become an election issue in 2006,” declared justice minister Thomas Bodström, in a speech to the demonstrators. “Silence is a betrayal to all abused women, and a help to all violent men.”

Thursday’s Dagens Nyheter presented the results of a recent investigation into violence against women. The numbers are alarming: 16 women are killed every year due to domestic violence. In two thirds of the cases, the attacker was a boyfriend or husband.

Criminologist Mikael Ryding, who has worked with violence against women since the beginning of the 1990s, told the paper that the only way for society to decrease the number of deaths is by taking extreme measures to help the victims:

“Building a centre in each community where assaulted women can receive help is the first step. There, they will get help from the police, psychologists, lawyers and doctors. As it is now, the victim must run around between social services and the police, get herself a lawyer and so on. A lot of women do not have the strength,” he said.

In forty percent of the cases, the woman has already been assaulted before and the case is known to the police. Because most of the attackers have some kind of psychological problem, many deaths could have been avoided if resources had been better allocated.

That was the conclusion of a report by Amnesty, called “Has not prioritised the issue”, which was released this week.

The report declared that men’s violence against women is “the human rights scandal of our time”, and said that Sweden’s councils are not doing enough to protect women who are the victims of domestic violence.

All 290 councils in Sweden were asked about their procedures for dealing with the issue. Only half answered and of these just four run a crisis centre for women. The rest rely on women’s emergency clinics to help the victim. Amnesty has called the situation ‘distressing and alarming’, stated Expressen.

“Sweden sticks out internationally with its progressive laws in this area, where in many other countries the law is not as clear. But the application of this law has still not reached its potential,” stated Katarina Bergehed, Amnesty’s campaign coordinator to TT.

According to the National Council for Crime Prevention, Brå, 22,500 cases of domestic violence were reported last year; an increase of 10% since the year 2000. But the report also showed that as many as 80 percent of cases are not even reported to the police.

Of all the cases, only 22 percent were solved. This means that a report had led to prosecution, a conviction or the prosecutor has declared a trial neglect. In the cases where the man and woman knew each other, 24 percent were cleared up.

Jessica Sköld is one of many women who have been forced to turn their back on their past life in order to survive. The father of her children began beating and raping her, but it was only when he threatened to kill the children that she went to the police. She and her children moved 1000 km to Luleå and were given protected identities. She told Dagens Nyheter that her fears were not taken seriously.

“A women who has been assaulted is often so repressed that others will listen more to the man’s side of the story”, she said.

She is now able to live a normal life. She runs, together with her husband, a summer camp in Kalix archipelago for needy parents and their children.

Lawyer Elisabeth Fritz told Stockholm City that to solve the problem more specialist police officers and prosecutors are needed, along with a quicker process and harder punishment for men found guilty.

“I’m sick of hearing how much we do in Sweden and how much society does to help women who are exposed to such crime,” she said.

“We want more concrete solutions.”

With an election round the corner, they may be forthcoming. Thomas Bodström said on Thursday that he was looking into the use of electronic tagging of violent men and in early December the government would be making proposals, including “a new agency which will coordinate the protection of women.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Stockholm City