Our story from Lithuania and Serbia

Dear Friends,

Last Wednesday morning, we gathered in a conference room at the Prezar hotel which is situated in the hills high above the Serbian town of Vranje.   Legal professionals and advocates had come from around the region and we were about to begin the second day of our training on improving the legal system’s response to violence against women.  Before we started, we learned that the 13th domestic violence homicide in Serbia for 2015 had happened the day before. One per week, since the beginning of the year.

IMG_2300When we announced this murder to our 35 training participants – police, NGO’s, Centers for Social Work,  prosecutors and judges, I sensed something in the room.  It was a feeling of urgency that I have noticed more and more in recent years from those who are the first responders to cases of violence against women. 

We speak about these deaths in a different way now.  Increasingly, we acknowledge our responsibility for them– as a community and a legal system.  We are less likely to diminish the death as perhaps sad, but inevitable, or worse – somehow the fault of the victim.  Among those with the power to make changes, there are more people with more knowledge about what we could have done to prevent these deaths, exactly what the failures were.  And more who are willing to move forward to make needed improvements.  Not all of course, but more.

Our training team, Shelly Carlson, Lieutenant Scott Jenkins, Judge Kathryn Quaintance and I, traveled for two weeks, first to Lithuania at the invitation of the government of Lithuania and a local NGO, Center for Equality Advancement, and then to Serbia with the support of the US State Department and Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia.

The laws on domestic violence in Serbia and Lithuania are very different, but similar too, in that they provide protective remedies for victims.  Lithuania’s law is newer – passed in 2011;  Serbia’s law is over 10 years old. 

Our NGO parters in Lithuania described how, even with the new law, victims are afraid to report violence; they do not feel protected. There is no civil order for protection separate from intervention by police.   In Serbia we heard how infrequently the protective remedy is used, how long it takes to be issued and how prosecutors prioritize  ‘reconciliation’  of the victim with her violent partner.  

In both countries, participants were actively engaged with us and their colleagues in strategizing how to move forward with a strategy that we know from years of experience truly works to improve systems response.  That strategy is the Duluth Model Coordinated Community Response (CCR) which focuses on cross agency collaboration and communication to better enforce laws.  http://www.theduluthmodel.org/change/community-response.html 

Global Rights for Women is increasingly receiving requests for training on CCR.  In Duluth, Minnesota, over 30 years ago Ellen Pence, Michael Paymar and their colleagues created this model. Recently the Duluth Model of CCR received the Future Policy Award from the World Future Council in Hamburg, Germany. Communities around the world are adapting this approach to their own systems as more and more laws on violence against women are passed and the reality sinks in about how difficult it is to implement them.  

The power of this CCR model is intuitive. It is grounded in the truth that individuals in the legal and service systems must work together to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable. They need each other.  

This was powerfully expressed by a women who works in the Centers for Social Work in Vranje on the last day of our seminar.  Expressing the many challenges she faces as she works to protect victims and her new inspiration based on shared experiences, she said, “Before I came here, I wanted to give up.  Here, I realized that there are others that think like me – that there are problems. Now I can’t be stopped.”   

Thank you for your support and for all you do to promote the human rights of women and girls. To see pictures and updates on our work, see Global Rights for Women’s new facebook page