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Justice Institute: strengthening the coordinated response to gender-based violence in Romania and Ukraine

In partnership with the American organization Vital Voices Global Partnership and AVON, the Association for Liberty and Equality of Gender – A.L.E.G. organized between November 15-17 in Bucharest, the international conference Justice Institute aimed at improving access to justice in cases of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence and sexual assaults, including sexual violence as a weapon of war. The event was made possible with the financial support of the AVON company and is part of a series of similar events already organized in 13 countries within the UN campaign 16 Days to combat violence against women. The central theme of the event was “Strengthening the coordinated response to gender-based violence in Romania and Ukraine“, a theme that Vital Voices, Avon Romania and A.L.E.G. they also solidified it in previous collaborations. This theme is correlated with the priority related to increasing the safety of people vulnerable to gender violence in Romania and Ukraine, especially women and children.

It was a special edition of the Justice Institute because it brought together 60 specialists from two Eastern European countries, among them those from Ukraine who are facing the challenge of handling cases of gender-based violence during times of war. Representatives from Ukraine were present, including those from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, The Ombudsman’s Office, the General Prosecutor’s Office, but also some non-governmental organizations that work with victims, including from the occupied territories. From Romania, the majoritu of participants were lawyers, police officers and magistrates. The General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police presented, during the event, the situation of the electronic monitoring of temporary protection orders in cases of domestic violence in the 3 pilot counties – Mureș, Iași and Vrancea – and announced the program for the expansion of electronic bracelets. The measure will reach Sibiu County and 17 other counties in 2024, and from 2025 throughout the country, representing the most effective monitoring method by which the violation of the order through the proximity of the aggressor to the victim is automatically signaled with the help of two pieces of equipment: an electronic bracelet attached at the aggressor’s leg and a mobile device in the victim’s custody, without the need for the victim to call the police.

A particular emphasis was placed on overcoming barriers to a coordinated multi-institutional community response to domestic violence, particularly in cases identified as being at high risk of harm. Rosa Logar, expert from Austria with over 25 years in the management of multi-institutional interventions, and Camelia Proca, expert from A.L.E.G., presented the model of case conferences in which the police, the judiciary, social services, child protection services, organizations specialized in victim rights protection and perpetrator accountability programs work together to conduct detailed risk assessments and plan complex safety measures in cases where a high potential risk has been identified, such as violations of a protection order, to avoid serious injury and loss of life. Although the legislation in Romania provides for such interventions in the multi-institutional team, the conference participants noticed dysfunctions related to the lack of effective coordination at the local level due to the non-allocation of financial and human resources specifically dedicated to these tasks, but also a poor understanding regarding the roles of intervention specialists and the tendency to work in fragmented teams. Informing victims is often done poorly and in complicated terms that they cannot understand in stressful situations.

Another important conclusion of the conference was that professionals who work with people affected by trauma have a huge need for psychological support themselves, and the workplace should provide it. Psychotherapist Adrian David presented information on vicarious trauma – resulting from permanent exposure to the traumas experienced by people with whom social services specialists, police, prosecutors, etc. work. – as well as the deficient defense mechanisms in the face of emotional exhaustion in the absence of adequate support: cynicism, lack of empathy, loss of motivation and low performance. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes make male specialists less likely to seek help and deepen burnout, which also contributes to a greater tolerance for violence.

The majority of the participants at the conference particularly appreciated the opportunity to meet women who have managed to overcome violence and are part of the Survivors Network of the #ȘIEuReușesc program, which inspires victims with stories of courage and solidarity. Testimonials are available here: www.sieureusesc.ro/ro/testimoniale