Danish legislation fails to protect women and children from domestic abuse and violent fathers – claims new report by Council of Europe, released on 24th November 2017.
By Yulia Morozova
The independent expert body GREVIO (Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) that compiled the report, compliments the Danish government for actions taken to improve the judiciary system dealing with domestic violence. However, it points out that the Danish law doesn’t compile with the 2011 Istanbul Convention in regard to protection of victims of domestic aggression.
“At Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) we agree with the Council of Europe that it is unfortunate that the Danish legislation uses gender neutral language, because there is an important gender dimension to intimate violence and violence in families that disappears. This takes nothing away from the fact that violence can obviously also be against men,” – acknowledges Bjarke Oxlund, team leader for gender equality at the Institute.
DIHR is one of the huge variety of organizations, networks and movements in Denmark, criticizing government for doing not enough to achieve equality of women’s and men’s rights. Still, the domestic violence issue stays strong in Danish society. But does this only have something to do with legislation or probably the problem is deeper?
Every woman can become a victim
“He was charming, good-looking, with a good job. I felt like I’ve been waiting for him for my entire life. Shortly after we moved in with him, we got a small argument — I can’t even remember what was the reason – and he just went to me really angry and started to threaten me with his fist right in front of my face. I just waited for him to hit me, but he didn’t,” – tells Charlotte Skelkjær, a mother of two children and woman who was exposed to different kinds of domestic violence. Even now, six years after she moved out from the Danish women’s shelter “Danner” where she was recovering from domestic abuse, she still clearly remembers every detail from that time.
“I felt that I was so adored by him, I was his woman and nobody else’s women. But at the same time, I wasn’t supposed to talk to anyone except for him”.
Things got worse after the marriage. He started controlling her all the time and forbad almost everything connected to her past: “He didn’t prohibit it directly, but he was always saying: “I feel bad when you do it”. So, it was really hard to see that it had anything to do with violence, because in my head violence was when people are physically abused”.
For a long time, there was no physical violence – just all these rules and control. Nonetheless, one day it became not just a psychological abuse.
One time when two her children from the previous marriage were home, the scandal broke out between Charlotte and her new husband.
“He was grabbing me and I actually ran out from the kitchen, because from our kitchen you can see apartments from the other side, – and I didn’t want the neighbours to see it. So, I ran in a hallway and then he grabbed on to me. I was trying to push him away with my hands, while he was holding on to me and staring with those wild beasty eyes. The only thing I had in my head was that he should let go of me, because the kids are home. He banged me on the floor and then stepped with his knee on my chest and held me down to the ground. When I was lying there, I knew for the first time – this was not good. This was violence”.
She left this relationship not having friends, a place to stay, furniture, good income anymore (as she quit her job and just started her own business by his recommendation). That was the moment when she realized she has to move in to women’s crisis centre with her two children.
“In “Danner” they helped me to realize that he had been violent to me for a long time and that he’s not going to change. They helped me to find a place to stay. But mostly they helped me to realize what was going on and to find a way to myself again, because I was totally empty”.
Charlotte is convinced that the domestic violence issue is strongly connected to today’s society view on gender roles and relationship between men and women. And probably it will take years, generations before Denmark will make it to full gender equality.
“People still think that those who are in a violent relationships – that’s a lower part of the society and it won’t happen to me, because “I know better, and I respect myself, and I would never let anyone treat me like that, and we have equal rights in Denmark”. I think, domestic violence in Denmark is so much underreported. It’s very important that we talk about it and keep on having something in media about it. We should make people more aware of the different kinds of violence and to talk more to young people about what the good relationship is and what is violence”.
“Domestic violence is always underreported – also in Denmark”.
— Bjarke Oxlund, The Danish Institute for Human Rights
Dark areas in Danish police
“In some areas, we have very good statistics and data, according to reports on gender equality. But there are a lot for example of sexual harassments, that aren’t reported. Moreover, there’s a lot of debates on how the police is handling when women come with a report on crime based on gender violence, because there is some problem in the police, since they are still not taking this seriously. So, we also have some dark areas that we have to look into,” – confirms Rebekka Mahler, a research librarian at KVINFO – the Danish Centre for Gender, Equality and Ethnicity.
Bjarke Oxlund also thinks there should be a change in police approach to domestic crimes: “The Danish state has sponsored a number of new initiatives (Lev Uden Vold and Dialog om Vold) that work with both victims and perpetrators of violence. Although steps have been taken to improve the police management of cases of violence, there is still a large room for improvement. Better training and better support services would be a big help”.
More equality = more domestic violence?
Three years ago European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) launched their survey about domestic violence – the first ever report covering the whole European Union. Although the survey is based on interviews with 42,000 of women across 28 EU member states and became an eye-opener for many people, at the same time it got a lot of criticism.
“FRA report from the European Institute says that Denmark is on top in violence against women and there has been a lot of questionings about it. There has also been such reaction as “Why is this happening in such an equal society? How come the figures show that there’s so much violence?” So, I think, we need some research covering the link between equality and violence,” – states Rebekka Mahler.
Rebekka Mahler, a KVINFO research librarian on what are the reasons of domestic violence in Denmark:
Experts confirm that the more consciousness in a country about gender roles and human rights is, the more reports on domestic violence are coming. Every country has their own ideals of equality between men and women. If one understands equality as just a respectful treatment, another one can’t call it equality until there is a gender pay gap or glass ceiling.
“We see a surprisingly strong link between the scale of the violence and the level of equality. The higher a country ranks on the European Institute for Gender Equality’s gender-equality index, the higher the reported levels of gender-based violence. One reason for this could be that talking openly about being a victim of violence is more accepted in countries with higher levels of gender equality,” – comments Blanca Tapia, program Manager in the FRA Promotion Department.
Researchers say that Denmark is failing in gender equality. But is it actually a fail?