The ACA calls for measures with a sustainable impact in the area of violence and victim protection for women
In its report on “Violence and Victim Protection for Women” (in German) published today, the ACA identifies opportunities for improvement in regard to a more effective protection of women affected by violence. It recognizes that women are offered low-threshold counselling services across almost all of Austria. It also considers the women’s helpline against violence, which is available twenty-four seven, to be a positive example. However, there is no long-term overall strategy for the protection of women against violence in Austria. The ACA’s auditors recommend establishing Clinical Forensic Medical Examination Centres (Gewaltambulanzen). There is also need for improvement with regard to risk assessments and the continuing training of judges. In addition, there are no uniform criteria for assessing high-risk cases or for handling case conferences.
“Violence and victim protection for women requires raising awareness in society as a whole and for all players in this area to take coordinated measures with a sustainable impact”, says Margit Kraker, President of the ACA.
The audit covered the period from 2018 up to and including September 2022. Among the subjects of the audit were the legal framework, the use of resources as well as the division of responsibilities between the Federal Government and the provinces.
Absence of a long-term overall strategy
There is no long-term overall strategy for the protection of women against violence in Austria. Responsibility lies both with the Federal Government and the provinces. The provinces finance women’s shelters and fund organizations that provide counselling services to women. At the federal level, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal Chancellery are among the most important players. The Federal Chancellery’s Directorate General for Women is the nationwide coordination unit for measures to protect women against violence. However, it disposes neither of the legal nor of the financial resources to implement measures. The ACA recommends that the Federal Chancellery, together with the competent ministries and the provinces, define strategic priorities to mitigate violence against women.
Both the Government Programme 2020-2024 and the Anti-Violence Package 2021 are primarily aimed at protecting women once specific risks have already manifested or are to be expected. However, more preventative measures with a sustainable impact should be taken in the area of societal awareness raising.
Supporting the executive in assessing risks
In suspected cases of domestic violence, first-responding staff members of the executive have to take decisions on immediate protective measures, such as protection orders and mobile restraining orders. These are taken based on the impressions gained on-site but also on recorded information about the person likely to threaten safety. In 2021, the Provincial Police Directorate Vienna established a support service for domestic violence in order to provide assistance to intervening persons. The service, which is available twenty-four seven, aims at identifying high-risk cases at an early stage my means of a special tool. In the first quarter of 2022, it was notified of 1,172 cases. It carried out a total of 535 risk assessments using this tool, ten per cent of which were identified as high-risk cases. Other provinces had no comparable support structures. Therefore, the ACA recommends that the Federal Ministry of the Interior ensure that first-responding staff members of the executive are supported in a similar fashion throughout Austria.
Preservation of evidence of violence
In proceedings for violence in the immediate social environment, the sound collection of evidence as close to the time of the offence as possible is of particular relevance in order to safeguard victims’ rights. Following meetings in the years 2019 to 2022, the Federal Chancellery as well as the Federal Ministries of the Interior, of Justice and of Social Affairs agreed that there is a need for Clinical Forensic Medical Examination Centres. The aim was to establish examination centres that are available twenty-four seven in all of Austria. With a view to ensuring effective prosecution, the acceleration of proceedings and the protection of victims, the ACA considers the deliberations to establish Clinical Forensic Medical Examination Centres to be positive. It recommends establishing framework conditions that enable the timely and nationwide establishment of Clinical Forensic Medical Examination Centres.
No uniform criteria for handling case conferences
Since January 2020, security authorities have the possibility to organize security police case conferences for high-risk cases at their own discretion or at the suggestion of violence protection centres or counselling centres. The objective is to coordinate and develop special protective measures for persons at risk in collaboration with the relevant authorities and institutions. Nationwide, the number of security police case conferences rose from 25 in 2020 to 57 in 2021. From January to October 2022, 167 conferences were held. The ACA views the introduction of case conferences positively, but points out that there is room for improvement in this area as well. There were no uniform criteria for the assessment of high-risk cases and the handling of case conferences. Furthermore, it critically notes that public prosecutors hardly ever attended security police case conferences, despite being invited by the security authority.
In addition, suggested case conferences are not always held. The ACA recommends regularly evaluating the reasons for this.
Raising the awareness of judges
Since 2009, future judges and public prosecutors have to complete a mandatory two-week training period at a victim protection organization or a welfare institution. Those who had not yet dealt with the topic of violence against women during their training were not obliged to bridge this gap at a later stage. Knowing the particularities of dealing with traumatized long-term victims and/or victims who are mentally and socially dependent is of particular relevance. The ACA critically notes that training needed on an individual basis could not be provided for by the extensive continuing training programme offered by the Federal Ministry of Justice. It recommends establishing an obligation to undergo continuing training for judges if necessary. In its statement, the Federal Ministry of Justice indicated that it was open to such a measure.
Great need for better data
On the whole, the availability of data in the area of violence and victim protection for women needs to be improved. The available data alone are not conclusive enough to deduct insights into the causes and the history of the crimes or to devise targeted preventative measures. While the police crime statistics are in principle suitable to depict exposed criminal activity, the justice administration did not have relevant data on the specific violence committed against women. In addition, the Federal Criminal Intelligence Service did not conduct any research on the dark figure regarding domestic violence. Furthermore, even though most of the injuries due to domestic violence are treated in outpatient departments of hospitals or by independent health practitioners, there was a general lack of data in this area since the standardized documentation of diagnoses is limited to inpatient admissions to hospitals.
For lack of data, it is equally impossible to realistically depict the total expenditure by the Federal Government and the provinces in the area of violence and victim protection.
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