Women victims of domestic violence, facing alone the aggressors and the justice system

Foto: UNDP Moldova
Author: Cornelia Cozonac, Natalia Porubin
24/04/2018 32877

Victims of domestic violence, mostly women, often depend on a justice system that does not protect them and does not show leniency when out of despair they try to defend themselves or counter-attack, say lawyers and human rights activists.

Angela Gojan. Photo: CIJM

Angela Gojan was just over 20 years old when her marriage became a nightmare for her. Finally, 10 years later, she decided to break the vicious circle. The woman says that she was cruelly beaten for trifles: someone looked at her, or she did not take care of the child or did not exactly meet her husband's requirements. Sometimes, violent scenes were happening before the child. Following the beatings, the woman got hospitalized several times.

She complained of violence to the Briceni Police and other institutions, but she did not get the necessary protection. He continued to endure beatings even when she obtained a protection order. One of the episodes of violence happened in the presence of two police officers, who later, despite witnesses’ statements, denied that the woman had been beaten. In the replies of the law enforcement authorities, it was always mentioned that the facts described in the complaints did not come true. "Some of the policemen, prosecutors and even judges who were supposed to handle my case were my husband’s friends, some of them came to our house, we met at parties", says Angela. When she decided to divorce her violent husband, she began to be blamed by all those who knew her: "She had everything: house, money, car, why was she against her husband?"

Protection order violated

The marriage of the Gojan couple was loosened in April 2014. However, abuses did not stop but on the contrary intensified when Angela decided to sue for property sharing. In May 2014, following several complaints to the police, the Centru District Court issued a protection order banning Ghenadie Gojan from getting close to his ex-wife's home. What followed was incredible. Angela says that her ex-husband continued to threaten her, including death threat, to watch her, to intimidate the witnesses and even to maltreat her: "There were cases when the police arrived at the scene watching him beat me and did not intervene. That was when the protection order was in force ". On June 1, 2014, the woman was beaten by the former husband with fists and feet just in front of the boutique in Briceni market where she was working. Terrified witnesses alerted the police who came on the scene , took Ghenadie Gojan aside, and then let him go. After that, the woman was hospitalized in the traumatology department of the Briceni district hospital, having brain concussion and several bodily injuries. She filed the case with the Prosecutor's Office in Briceni, having the forensic expertise, but she received a damning response. In the order not to initiate prosecution, issued by the prosecutor Adrian Cosarciuc, it was mentioned that "the actions of the citizen Ghenadie Gojan do not fall under the art. 287 PC of the Republic of Moldova because it does not grossly violate the public order and does not express a lack of respect for society, since the behavior of the latter does not affect the social and moral rules of cohabitation that have not been grossly and demonstratively violated. "The prosecutor further argues his refusal by the fact that this "conflict between these two was the result of hostile personal relations and arose as a result of the divorce and did not have the effect of grossly breaking the public order." The male's violence is qualified by the prosecutor as "a slight touch by hand to take her phone", as a result of which the woman would have stumbled and fell. The intervention of the two police officers is recorded in the prosecutor's order, but they declare that there was no altercation between the two. A complaint was filed with the Briceni Court requesting the annulment of the order of prosecutor Cosarciuc and Ghenadie Gojan's criminal prosecution, but the action was dismissed and was followed by a new trial at the Balti Court of Appeal that failed.

Threatened by the police with criminal case

Angela Gojan also talks about cases when her ex-husband followed her by car, or when unknown drivers followed her, creating crash situations. She complained to the police, having witnesses’ statements, but she always received the same answer - the facts did not come true. Moreover, in one case the police warned her with a criminal case for false testimony.

When the woman decided to leave the violent environment, the ex-husband resorted to all sorts of schemes, tricks to humiliate her, demoralize her, and in some cases, got court decisions in his favor. First, he took his child aged12, and forbade her to communicate with him: "He gave the boy money, car, and fulfilled any wish. That made him no longer want to talk to me, even he hated me. He knew that I would suffer the worst", says Angela. Then, in March 2016, the man obtained, through an ordinance signed by judge Comerzan Ghenadie, the cashing from the former wife of the child's maintenance allowance, which was enforced in a few days. This is because the child's place of residence has not been settled after divorce. The magistrate's decision was filed with the Judicial Inspection of the Superior Council of Magistracy, but after examination, it was found that the magistrate did not admit violations.

Alleged debt of 65,000 euros

The tricks meant to make his ex-wife suffer, as she appealed to justice to defend her rights do not stop here, the situation worsened. One month after the act of sharing property, Angela Gojan receives an extrajudicial action by which a family friend, the former husband's god father, requests her to repay a sum of 65,000 euros, which she and Ghenadie Gojan would have borrowed from him a year ago. A simple receipt signed by both spouses is provided as evidence. Angela denies having signed such a receipt and says her signature was falsified: "We have not had financial problems in recent years, and we could not borrow money from anyone. Ivan Rusnac could not lend us money, because he had previously borrowed money from my husband. Last time, he borrowed from his former husband 100,000 US dollars. At that time, he had credits in the bank. So, he could not lend us money at all. "Following Angela’s complaint, the Briceni Prosecutor's Office initiated criminal prosecution against Gojan Gh. and Rusnac Ivan. Their actions were regarded as "a scam, made by illegally acquiring other people's property through deception and abuse of trust", but as in all cases involving the two spouses, the prosecution has been delayed. Since in Briceni and in Balti,  the trials  finished in favor of the former husband of the woman, the lawyer Miroslav Caus notified  the prosecutor general requesting the withdrawal of the criminal case from the Briceni Prosecutor's Office. As a result, the complaint was admitted and the case was sent to the Chisinau Prosecutor's Office, Centru office. In the criminal prosecution process, and then in the trial,  three testimonials confirmed that Angela Gojan's signature from the receipt was false, and more details, such as the signals from mobile phones that were checked, show that the two were not even near on the day when the loan receipt was dated. Both defendants  have not admitted their blame during the trial. They presented another expertise that shows that the signature would be true.

Things set in motion when the case was sent to Chisinau

Only after many complaints submitted by Angela Gojan to the General Prosecutor's Office, the Presidency of the Republic of Moldova, the Supreme Court of Justice and at the insistence of the lawyer Miroslav Caus, the criminal case on the acts of violence committed by Ghenadie Gojan was sent to Ciocana District Court in Chisinau and things set in motion.   "Nothing was settled in Briceni and Balti, everything was closed, smothered, we were spinning in a vicious circle. We were reporting violations but we were not heard", says lawyer Miroslav Caus. Angela Gojan mentioned in several complaints addressed  to the police commissioner or the prosecutor's office that the former husband said openly that he  bribed the police and judges. The woman also claimed that he would have money from smuggling because he is not legally employed. However, no authority started controls to check the woman’s words.

Photo: CIJM

Both lawsuits, on violence and on alleged debt, merged in one trial. Ciocana District Court in Chisinau sentenced Ghenadie Gojan and Ion Rusnac to ten and eight years of imprisonment. The defendants of the culprits did not agree with the sentence of the first instance and challenged the conviction sentence. As the applications for appeal were examined in the absence of the two, they were announced in the wanted list. The Court of Appeal finds the guilt of the two. "The criminal college concludes that the guilt of the defendants is fully proved and their actions are correctly framed in line with Article 27, 190 paragraph (5) of the Criminal Code - as an attempted swindle, ie the illicit acquisition of another's property by deception or abuse of confidence committed by two or more persons in particularly high proportions", reads the decision of the Court of Appeal. The court sentenced in December 2017 Ghenadie Gojan  and Ion Rusnac to 10 and respectively 8 years of imprisonment ", reads the decision of the court.

Turnover at the Supreme Court of Justice

On April 3, the case with all sorts of evidence, which proves clear evidence of multiple episodes of domestic violence, reaches the Supreme Court of Justice. Here -turnover. Magistrates examined the appeal of the two lawyers and ... acquitted them.

"This kind of prosecution creates a dangerous precedent in Moldova. Anyone can falsify someone's signature and claim certain amounts of money. In this case, there are three expertise committees  that found that the signature of the victim in the receipt is falsified and other evidence that proves to be an action to intimidate the victim of violence and to seize money so that the latter does not claim her share of  wealth acquired together during 16 years of marriage and does not defend her rights", says lawyer Miroslav Caus.

Face to face with the unfair system

We started  the documentation of this case in April 2017. We received a notification sent by Angela Gojan on the Corruption Map, rubric Notifications in Justice sector. We went to a few court hearings and discussed with several witnesses. They  confirmed the violence and ex-husband's pressures on the victim during the trial, especially after the woman tried to defend her rights in the law enforcement. We have studied dozens of papers, which clearly indicate the inaction of state institutions and the biased attitude of lawmakers in a case of domestic violence. Upon hearing the last decision of the magistrates at the Supreme Court, Angela Gojan wrote us a message. He is the full message: "I received a message from them (former husband and god father who were acquitted by magistrates of the SCJ, n.r), sent from their relatives that they will not leave me in peace as they paid a sum of money because of me so they will hurt me. If they have solved such a serious matter, then it will be easy for them to hurt me. I am nobody, but they are influential people. "

Villagers say the woman is guilty

In the village where the couple in conflict live and built their house, the villagers have different opinions. People know about the conflict in the Gojan family and say that both are guilty. The conflict between the spouses had to be settled in the family, and the divorce would happen in a peaceful way, say the villagers with whom we discussed, saying that the parents of Ghenadie were the ones who made his fortune. They all condemn Angela, because she was "spoiled by her husband and had to be patient, even if sometimes he beat her".

System that does not defend, but discourages

Angela Gojan's situation is not the only one of this kind. In Moldova, hundreds of women face the justice system where discrimination and the double standards applied to men and women committing acts of violence influence the priorities of police, prosecutors and judges. Reporters of the Center for Investigative Journalism have analyzed the procedures that women face under domestic violence and concluded that the system that should protect them is far from being friendly.

One of the first legal proceedings faced by a woman, victim of domestic violence is forensic expertise. Human rights experts are of the opinion that in some cases this type of expertise does not reveal all the injuries the woman has suffered, most of the time being classified as insignificant. As a result, aggressors get symbolic punishment.

Ludmila Popovici. Photo: CIJM

"By qualifying an act of violence as insignificant harm, you write the woman's sentence. The aggressor is punished, and the woman has been, is and will continue to be a victim", says Ludmila Popovici, executive director at Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture "Memoria".

The expert argues that an incomplete forensic report prevents the judge from taking measures, as he  has a high share in a family violence lawsuit. "What can a judge do with a report running that the victim has suffered minor injuries? Nothing! ", says the expert.

According to her, the authors of the forensic reports mostly consider the visible signs of violence - injuries and bruises, while serious traumas that are not seen, such as injuries to internal organs are not taken into account.

"I have analyzed a number of forensic expertise reports dating back to 2014-2017, and found that in most of these documents the findings focus on the classification of injuries. What we observe is that we do not consider different physical and psychological sequelae of the victim's violence, emphasizing only the visible signs: bruises, abrasions etc. ", says Ludmila Popovici. The activist says that serious trauma is hidden under "insignificant injuries" in the expert report. "We found cases when the woman had a broken eardrum or serious cerebral coma, while the report showed that it was a minor lesion, for which the aggressor could not be held criminally liable. In reality, these were more serious injuries, that required a tougher punishment", says the director of the “Memoria” Center.

“Memoria” Center has had for several years a program to help victims of domestic violence to benefit from alternative medical exams certifying all the injuries. "We use  different diagnostic methods. Women can do screening of internal organs, investigations at the brain level, if brain-trauma is suspected. We send them to the surdologist, the otorhinolaryologist, etc. After we get all these investigations, we can come up with findings to assess the trauma and its consequences. We are glad that in the last years the extracts from the medical records are considered by the courts", says the expert.

Ludmila Popovici believes that all cases of violence should be documented in the light of the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence , known as the "Istanbul Convention". The document, signed by our authorities at the beginning of 2017, describes the forms of violence and provides that the casework of this kind should be coordinated by several professionals in the field.

Psychiatric assessment, along with aggressive patients  and committers of crimes

Tatiana Catană. Photo: CIJM

Another expertise that raises controversial discussions is psychiatric assessment. Several lawyers representing the rights of victims of domestic violence in court claim that the procedure raises many questions. Lawyer Tatiana Catana says that several girls and women were forced to get psychiatric assessment, being hospitalized in rooms with aggressive or dangerous patients.

"One of the victims which I assisted was hospitalized for two weeks in a psychiatric hospital, together with mentally ill patients, aggressive  patients and committers of crimes. After two weeks of living there, she no longer wanted to make statements, she fled the country with her mother, "says the lawyer.

According to her, the psychiatric expertise should be established to determine whether or not the defendant is mentally ill  or responsible for the act committed. In Moldova, the victim is the one who is sent to such expertise. "It is not clear why in criminal cases, at least in cases when the victim has been subjected to abuse and this is obvious, confirmed by other evidence,  reports of forensic expertise, there is a tendency of prosecutors and prosecuting officers to send the victim to psychiatric expertise. This procedure does not provide the answers they expect. Psychiatry determines whether a person is ill or not. But a mentally ill victim is anyway a victim, and that does not absolve the abuser from punishment", says Tatiana Catana.

In her opinion, prosecutors often pursue two purposes when establishing psychiatric expertise. The first is to convince the victim that he does not lie, and the second, to fix the evidence, in cases when the victim decides to withdraw from the trial.

Dumitru Sliusarenco. Photo: CIJM

Also, Dumitru Sliusarenco, lawyer at "Promolex," claims that the practice of hospitalizing victims of violence at psychiatric institution is not the right one. Moreover, the defender says that the victims who receive psychiatric assistance after rape are treated in the same conditions.

It is also the case of Viorica, 14, who has been raped. When she requested medical assistance, she was sent to the psychiatric hospital, where she received treatment. She tells that she was in the same room with very dangerous people who had different mental illnesses. Several times she was physically assaulted by some people with more severe disabilities. Later, she received legal assistance from lawyers from Promolex.

Both Dumitru Sliusarenco and Tatiana Catana believe that the psychiatric hospital should have separate sections for adult and minor victims who go through psychiatric expertise.

Some policemen do not want to interfere

There are problems at local level. "While some police officers do their job well and  collect evidence, others prefer to say whether they do not know or do not want to get involved in such cases", says Lilia Potang, lawyer at Promolex.

Another problem concerns the multidisciplinary teams, which under the law should exist in all settlements in Moldova and should be involved in the prevention and combating of domestic violence. In fact, in many villages, no one heard about such teams, says the expert.

"We were in four localities where we discussed with four multidisciplinary teams. We have found that only one of them works in the field of preventing and combating domestic violence, discusses cases in the community, goes on the site and does something. The other teams work mostly with children at risk", says Lilia Potang.

Daniela Josanu, co-ordinator of the Legal Service at the Women's Rights Center says that in cases where the multidisciplinary team does not exist or cannot be reanimated, NGOs are working with the district policeman. "Although there is a law and a government decision that sets out the tasks of the multidisciplinary team, it is not clear how these are applied,  who is the case manager, who deals with the problem, who is responsible for solving it. When this thread is lost, all responsibility is  put on  district policeman", says the expert.

Mild punishment for family aggressors

Also, penalties for family aggressors have become milder starting with 2016. Thus, if aggressors were previously held criminally liable, now , they are sued if the victim has suffered serious bodily injuries. If the beaten woman's injuries are qualified as mild, the aggressor does community service,  pays a fine or is arrested for up to 15 days.

Also, under some changes in the law, if the aggressors violate the protection order, they may be subject to criminal liability, with up to three years' imprisonment. Another provision, in force since March 2017, relates to the establishment of an emergency containment order.

"If earlier, the setting of protective measures last no less than 72 hours, now this is done much faster. Police are required to come on site at any time and complete a risk assessment questionnaire containing a list of 20 questions. Depending on the number of affirmative answers, three degrees of risk are established - low, medium and high", says Lilia Potang, lawyer at Promolex.

If a medium or increased risk for the victim's safety is found, the policeman obliges the abuser to leave his home immediately and is forbidden to approach home and contact the victim for up to ten days. If the aggressor violates the restriction order, he / she is to be charged with contravention, the fine amounting to 4,500 to 6,000 lei.

Millions of lei spent for family violence

The first Report on estimating the costs of domestic violence and violence against women was carried out in Moldova in 2016. The report estimated expenditures for 2014 and targeted in particular the areas of social, medical and justice protection. Thus, the report estimated that the expenses in the three sectors amounted to about 36,093,000 lei. Due to the mechanism of response focused on mitigating the consequences, not on prevention, most of the estimated costs are in the health sector - about 15,845,000 lei. The expenditures in the justice sector were estimated at about 14,990,000 lei - assistance given to the victims of the violence in the criminal / civil proceedings. Expenditures in the social sector were estimated at about 5,195,000 lei. According to the study, 60% of social services are covered by civil society organizations. It should be noted that the contribution of victims to legal services coverage is four times higher than the state contribution. In this context, victims also bear a large share of health expenditures; consequently, the costs incurred by the victims exceed 1.5 times the state's contribution. The findings in the current report further indicate that over 30% of the services listed in international standards as essential do not exist in Moldova or are inefficient. Also, the study estimated that in just four years, about 1,550,970 lei were paid as damages based on ECHR rulings.

So far, Moldova has lost four cases of domestic violence to the European Court of Human Rights. The Center for Investigative Journalism addressed in a broad investigation the cases of violence that reached the ECHR.

The investigation was carried out under the project “Mobilizing civil society to support judicial integrity in the Republic of Moldova ", conducted by the Center for Investigative Journalism and Freedom House, with the financial support of the US State Department.

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