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New law leaves no hiding place for wife beaters

Domestic violence affects one in five Swiss women swissinfo.ch

The jailing of a French rock star for fatally beating his actress girlfriend has once again highlighted the issue of domestic violence.

This content was published on March 29, 2004 - 20:20

In Switzerland, a new law due to come into force on April 1 allows police to prosecute cases of domestic abuse without an official complaint from the victim.

On Monday a Lithuanian court sentenced Bertrand Cantat, lead singer of Noir Desir, to eight years in prison for the death of 41-year-old French actress, Marie Trintignant.

The actress died from swelling to the brain in July last year, five days after she was beaten by Cantat in a violent attack in a hotel room in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

The case has helped lift the taboo in France surrounding violence within relationships. In France, six women die each month from injuries sustained at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends.

Across the border in Switzerland, the situation is proportionately worse. Forty women die each year in Switzerland following violent exchanges with their partners.

According to the United Nations, domestic violence is the leading cause of death among women aged 15 to 44.

No escape

Violence in the home affects women from all social backgrounds, regardless of education or wealth. But until now, Swiss police have had to rely on the victim to press charges.

An estimated 20 per cent of Swiss women suffer domestic violence at some point in their life.

Police say they are called to almost 10,000 incidents of domestic violence each year, but only around ten per cent of cases ever reach the courts thanks to a lack of evidence.

Claudia Meyer, spokeswoman for an umbrella organisation representing women’s shelters in Switzerland, told swissinfo that women are often too afraid to file a complaint against their partner. Those that do often retract their statements later.

Eviction orders

In addition to the strengthening of police powers, a number of cantons are also examining the possibility of evicting violent men from homes they share with their partners.

In cases of domestic violence, it is usually the victim that is forced to find alternative housing, such as shelters.

But due to limited resources, shelters can only offer temporary sanctuary. After a few nights, women - who often have their children with them - are forced to look elsewhere. Many return home.

In 2002, 989 women sought temporary shelter from abusive partners, representing an increase of 20 per cent since 2001.

Under the proposed “eviction law”, perpetrators would have to leave the family home. The eviction order would last for ten days and could, at the request of the victim, be extended in a civil court.

Success stories

Cantons St Gallen and Appenzell Outer Rhodes have already implemented eviction orders and have achieved impressive results.

In St Gallen, police have intervened in 400 cases in the first ten months since the law was put into force.

In more than half the cases, the perpetrator was evicted from the family home or detained temporarily.

Meyer considers the new measures “a milestone in the fight against domestic violence”.

However, she believes there also needs to be improved counselling, medical aid, financial support and better care in women’s shelters.

“We will need more women’s shelters. For safety reasons it is important for a woman to stay in a shelter, even if her partner has been evicted,” she said.

“And for those women and children who are traumatised, it is often better to live in a neutral space,” she added.

swissinfo, Katrin Holenstein (translation: Karin Kamp)

In brief

One in five women in Switzerland will be physically hurt by a partner during her lifetime.

Almost every second woman suffers from some kind of mental abuse.

Around 40 women are beaten to death each year by their partners.

As of April 1, domestic abuse will now be prosecuted automatically, whereas in the past the victim had to file a complaint with the police.

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