Parliament backs tough action on domestic violence

Around one in five women in Switzerland are the victim of domestic abuse Keystone Archive

The Swiss Senate has approved proposals to make it easier for police to intervene in cases of domestic violence.

This content was published on September 23, 2003 - 08:38

Parliamentarians voted unanimously in favour of the bill, which will allow authorities to prosecute offenders without needing an official complaint from the victim.

Under the proposals, domestic violence will be classed as a specific crime rather than falling into the category of grievous bodily harm – making it easier for the courts to handle cases.

“Under the current law if a woman doesn’t want to press charges, there’s nothing the police or courts can do to help,” Sybille Burger of the National Council of Women’s Organisations in Switzerland told swissinfo.

“A change in the law [will] make it easier for women suffering from abuse to get the help they need.”

Monday’s vote, which paves the way for changes to the penal code, was welcomed by the Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler.

“This sends out a strong signal that the Swiss government is not willing to class domestic violence as a petty crime or as a private matter,” she said.

In June the proposals also won the backing of the House of Representatives.

Hidden crime

Although police say they are called to almost 10,000 incidents of domestic violence each year, only around ten per cent of cases ever reach the courts.

Until now, police have had to rely on victims to press charges, but many of them are often too terrified to do so.

Experts say violence within relationships has traditionally been something of a taboo subject in Switzerland.

Elizabeth Reust, who works at Bern’s shelter for battered women, told swissinfo earlier this year that even the victims themselves are often in self-denial.

“Very often the victims blame themselves and they are ashamed to admit what is happening to them,” Reust said.

Better protection

Changes to the law will also apply to women in non-marital relationships.

“It is incomprehensible that married women and those in [partnerships] should receive less legal protection than anybody else,” Margrith von Felten said when she submitted the proposals to parliament in 1996.

It has taken seven years for the former parliamentarian’s bill to be discussed and voted on in both chambers of Swiss parliament.

Three of the four parties in government supported von Felten’s proposals: the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Radical Party.

However, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party said the state should not interfere in people’s private or conjugal life.

Zero tolerance

But Metzler believes that changes to the law will not solve the problem of domestic violence.

She said the move should be backed up by cantonal initiatives or projects such as prevention campaigns and special training for police officers dealing with incidents.

Last April the Swiss authorities launched a zero-tolerance campaign against domestic violence to encourage more victims and witnesses of abuse to seek help more quickly.

The campaign, with its posters and brochures proclaiming that “violence will be prosecuted, even in a relationship”, was aimed at encouraging victims to be more open about their situation.

As part of the project, more than 1,000 officers from canton Bern are due to be sent on training courses from this autumn on how to handle cases of domestic violence.

swissinfo

In brief

Both houses of the Swiss parliament have now voted in favour of proposals to toughen laws on domestic abuse.

A new bill will allow authorities to prosecute offenders without needing an official complaint from the victim.

In addition, domestic violence will be classed as a specific crime rather than falling into the category of grievous bodily harm.

The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, welcomed Monday’s vote in the Senate, which paves the way for changes to the penal code.

Around one in five women in Switzerland is the victim of domestic violence; however, many victims do not report offenders to the authorities.

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