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MT 18 September 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2016 4 News Harsh punishments to eliminate domestic violence MIRIAM DALLI A new Government Bill launched for public consultation by Civil Liberties Minister, Helena Dalli, is proposing that prison sentences and punishment for perpetrators of domestic violence and rape be increased dramatically. Maximum sentencing for rap- ists could more than double to 20 years, while sexual activities with minors would increase to 15 years, with the sentence increas- ing according to the aggravation of the case. The charge of abduc- tion would more than treble to 10 years. The proposed changes to the Criminal Code form part of a wid- er set of legislative changes on do- mestic and gender-based violence. Addressing the launch, Commis- sion Against Domestic Violence chairperson Joe Gerada said: "This is not an issue which must be dealt with by just one ministry but goes across different domains. The elimination of domestic violence is everybody's business." Civil Liberties Minister, Helena Dalli, standing alongside Gerada at the launch, said she had long been push- ing for changes to ensure that Malta's legislative process re- flects the full spirit of the Istanbul Conven- tion on preventing and combating vio- lence against women. "Despite it being considered a private matter, domestic violence affects soci- ety as a whole and a strong law is required to overcome it. So- ciety has repeatedly ignored the patriar- chal problems within it, restricting the full emancipation of women. This proposal challenges this [patriarchal] sys- tem and invites a truly equal so- ciety where everyone finds safety and acceptance," she said. Dalli said that encouraging wom- en to join the labour market and at the same time expressing concern over the low infertility rate, meant that government as a whole needs to be on board to give every wom- an the necessary support to meet these targets. It has long been argued that many women remain trapped in a vicious circle of violence due to a lack of financial support and in- stability. Mothers who are victims of domestic violence find it hard to move away from an abusive hus- band or partner for fear that they might not be able to care for their children independently. The aim of the legislative pro- posals is to address this issue and many others. For example, the proposals include an interim measure that leads to the perpe- trator leaving the home, not the victim. Whereas the current situa- tion is that the majority of victims are removed from the house and placed into a shelter. "It is time to consider provid- ing shelters for the perpetrators, whilst allowing the victim and the children to remain home," Dalli said, adding that the perpetrators also needed help to address the issues that make them resort to vio- lence. "While a fair and just sentence is ob- viously necessary, perpetrators must be given the nec- essary treatment and help for them to understand why violence is never the solution." Proposed chang- es to the Domes- tic Violence Act will also intro- duce 'State due diligence' which would allow vic- tims to seek re- dress if the state fails to take reason- able steps in protecting them. Rape will also be redefined, changing the current definition, which in the eyes of the law is lim- ited only to penile penetration. A ground-breaking survey by the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRS) found that one in seven Maltese women have experienced physical or sexual vio- lence since the age of 15. Malta ratified the Istanbul Con- vention in 2014, becoming law a few months later, but Maltese leg- islation still needed to be updated to bring it in line with the policies of the Convention. The aim of the Bill is to: • Strengthen Commission on Domestic Violence to cover all gender-based violence, as well as domestic violence; • Amend definitions, such as 'domestic violence' and 'victim', to reflect the Istanbul Convention; • Revise punishments for rape, abduction, trafficking, prostitution with violence, defilement of minors, threats and harassment; • Amend terminology for sexual offences to better reflect realities of the offences; • Introduce emergency protection orders for Police to evict perpetrator from residence; • Remove defence of the honour of the family, custom and religion for homicide; • Amend provisions to ensure sexual history and conduct of witnesses does not affect their credibility • Police can institute proceedings without complaint of injured party on rape and abduction; • No mediation in cases with a history of domestic violence; • Amend provisions on care and custody of children in cases of domestic violence.

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