Victims of domestic violence cry for help in a new book

14-01-2003

A husband beat his wife severely and wrecked their apartment. He has been beating her for 6 years. She is desperate for help This is just one of about 900 cases dealt with every year by the telephone helpline of the association ROSA, set up to assist victims of domestic violence. Now ROSA has brought out a book telling the stories of five Czech women who have survived hell. The question arises: is domestic violence being addressed properly in the Czech Republic? The following report was prepared by Katya Zapletnyuk.

Elena, who preferred not to give us her real name, is one of the women brave enough to tell her story in the new book, going under the telling title "I Survived". For years Elena was beaten and humiliated by her husband. She feels that the book is an important step to help other women like her:

"I think women are not protected because in most cases officials make no effort to believe what they say. In my personal experience they would say: It is not possible to prove because you were probably just having a normal, trivial marital tiff. And nobody pays attention to the fact that no one has a right to attack another person under any circumstances."

The book's publishers hope that stories like Elena's will catch the attention of high-ranking officials and will persuade them to change the law in favor of the victims, changes that Elena feels are long overdue.

"I hope that in future the law will provide women with better protection, so that they won't be forced to flee the tyrant's house with their children. It's the person who does the violence who should be made to move out," 0

In communist days the problem of domestic violence was not even openly acknowledged, and ROSA coordinator Petra Svecova reckons that, the Czech Republic has been slow in confronting the situation, especially compared with America and Western Europe:

"The situation is different in the Czech Republic. We have opened the problem around 7 years ago, because before the problem was not discussed here. So the problem is probably the same but we were not prepared to this problem and for example the Czech legislature still needs some changes to help victims of domestic violence."

One problem is that under the current law, domestic violence is nearly always treated in the courts as a minor misdemeanor, and not as a criminal assault. Some offenders do end up facing fines, but this does little to protect their victims. But ROSA's initiative has already attracted the attention of people in power. The wife of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Viktorie Spidlova, attended the book's launch and offered help.

Mrs Spidlova promised to look into the situation, and, more importantly, she said that if necessary she would be willing to initiate changes herself. Until the law is reformed, there is some help available to women driven out of the homes. Here in Prague they can at least find temporary refuge at a shelter set up by ROSA. The helpline is 602 246102.

14-01-2003