An investigation on providing assistance to victims of domestic violence revealed a sad reality: assistance to victims of violence is often still unavailable, those who call the police are still left alone with the perpetrator, and assistance often includes purely formal oral consultations, despite the obvious need for specific assistance. These and other striking conclusions were drawn by the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas, having summarized the results of the investigation into the provision of assistance to persons, who had experienced domestic violence.
The Seimas Ombudsman also draws attention to the fact that police officers are usually the first to react to information about domestic violence, but in the absence of obvious signs of physical violence, other types of violence are not always recorded. The Seimas Ombudsman regrets that the potential psychological, economic violence or harassment of victims is often underestimated by officials; therefore, pre-trial investigations are often not initiated and vulnerable victims continue to be left alone with the perpetrator, making them unsafe and subjected to further violence, threats.
“Police officers do not always identify signs of domestic violence, which leads to gaps in the organization of services for victims. During the investigation, the Police Department acknowledged that in the absence of obvious signs of physical violence and in case of the potential victim’s refusal or fear of explaining the circumstances of the incident, it is difficult to prove that the person actually suffered from domestic violence. Finally, there are situations where victims of violence no longer trust the police authority, avoid seeking help, and the perpetrator, who remains unpunished, begins to commit even more violence,” says the Seimas Ombudsman.
The report of the performed investigation also states that there is a lack of specialists providing assistance, lack of safe accommodation, and limited opportunities for individuals to provide free transportation to the place of provision of services. Worse still, assistance is provided only on weekdays and services are not always effective, not all victims of domestic violence can financially and geographically access services of those entities and the services do not always effectively improve the situation of victims. For this reason, it is necessary to increase the quality and accessibility of social services for victims of violence.
“Moreover, the dissemination of information about assistance to people, who have experienced domestic violence, in the country is not sufficient, because people often do not know where to turn and where to get such help, which is especially relevant in districts far from major Lithuanian cities. In the course of the investigation, we found out that, in the opinion of victims of violence, their access to help is hindered by fear, the consequences of stress, difficult to prove violence, distrust in their own strengths and institutions, and the competence of specialists as well as skepticism of police investigators in cases of violence,“ the Seimas Ombudsman enumerates the problems.
The Seimas Ombudsman also notes that those, who have experienced domestic violence, openly express the opinion that they expected a larger package of state-provided assistance services: medical psychotherapy services, as well as psychological and legal assistance. However, the number of professionals working in specialized helpdesks, in particular lawyers and psychologists, who can offer specialist help, is not sufficient to meet the needs of all individuals, and greater involvement of NGOs in this service delivery system is not ensured.
“It is also important to note that domestic violence imposes a duty on states to provide quality and accessible services, primarily for the most statistically exposed people: women and children; however, in the system of assistance provision we also recommend not to eliminate other target groups of persons experiencing domestic violence, i.e. the disabled and the elderly, men, LGBTIQ individuals. Nevertheless, the data collected during the investigation on the availability of targeted services for these groups of persons revealed that the service infrastructure in Lithuania is not sufficiently developed,” states the Seimas Ombudsman.
The Seimas Ombudsman, who was also asked to assess the quality of services provided to those who experienced domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, noted that the main form of assistance to victims of violence was telephone conversations. The Seimas Ombudsman regrets that such form of delivery of services is not as effective as live consultations and other services, as victims of violence during a telephone conversation are usually intimidated by a perpetrator nearby, afraid to open up to professionals.
A. Normantas also notes that, although the legislation defines the content of assistance and the procedure for its provision to victims of domestic violence, in practice the needs of assistance by victims of domestic violence are not always adequately met, and the reporting indicators of physical, mental and sexual, economic or other intentional effects are still relatively high. According to the Seimas Ombudsman, the low availability of services to these persons is determined by the gaps in inter-institutional cooperation, insufficient public awareness of the assistance available, and the lack of entities providing assistance.