A complete shift in the way that society views and understands domestic violence and violence against women is needed if there is to be any positive change in the area, according to the Norwegian State Secretary for Justice and the Police.
Astri Aas-Hansen told New Europe that domestic violence is not just a women’s issue, but a global human rights issue. She was speaking after appearing at a conference in Bratislava on effective ways to prevent and combat domestic violence and violence against women, at which she called for a further, more integrated approach to tackling violence, including an economic analysis of the its effects. “This should be our war on terror,” she told delegates.
But, she said afterwards, this is far from easy. “The easiest part, actually, is for a government minister to go to parliament and ask for a law decision; for example, you are not allowed to criminalise this or that. But the harder part is to get the knowledge, the awareness across, and see how many people are effected in society, especially to men.”
This is one of the justice priorities of Norway she said - around one in four women suffer some form of serious violence, (more, she says, than are effected by war, motor accidents, cancer and malaria) and who, through Norway Grants, is helping to finance violence prevention services in several European countries. She admitted that raising awareness and changing perceptions and attitudes not necessarily a quick process, but has been encouraged by recent events in her country, which have seen the issue raised very publicly in the media, with even a group of prominent male celebrities endorsing the concept of awareness-raising at all levels of society.
“Owing to a rise this autumn in reported rapes, the government was asked, through the media, ‘what are you going to do to stop this'? Now we see more of an awareness, and more men are dealing with the issue of domestic violence. And all this happened in just two to three weeks.” But, she added, the answer still has to be more complex and though-out than the “usual call for more police”.
“Of course, we need the police, but reports to the police force are very low, although recently the figures have gone up. But we need to look at health services, too, and even emergency departments, which lately reported a few more cases than the official police figures, but the fact that both these figures were close shows more people are reporting.” Aas-Hansen sees this kind of sectoral integration as key to developing a more thorough policy on domestic violence and violence against women.
It is important to stress, she added, that it is not simply seen as a private, domestic issue. “There is always the risk of this happening again and again and ending in homicide. But, then again, you must trust the police with the quality of their investigation so that the victim feels that it is worth perusing a case.”
There has been an improvement, Aas-Hansen added, in the police response to domestic violence case, through such initiatives as more robust risk assessments, issues, she adds, will be hopefully be addressed following the results of a nation-wide survey on the issue that the government will launch in the new year; the results of which “might show us the need for more legislation,” not just in policing and judiciary, but possibly in health services as well.
One aspect that could possible change, is a slight adjustment to doctor-patient confidentiality to allow for it “to be a bit more possible to have discussions between the police prosecution services and the medical services.”
It could also, she said, determine who is in charge in certain situations. “Co-operation between sectors is definitely a challenge for us, but I think we will see some recommendations next year.”