We hosted an international conference on compensation for victims
How does the system of compensation for victims of (not only) violence against women work? And how can we improve the situation? This was the subject of a conference held on 10 November at the venue Braunův dům in Prague.
The international conference titled Compensation for Victims of Violence Against Women was held under the auspices of our organisation in cooperation with the Hungarian association PATENT and the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and allowed for the evaluation of several years of joint research.
The conference was opened by the Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, who spoke about the priorities of the current government, including ensuring systemic improvements in the protection and assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence. She herself would like to focus on the creation of a new law on domestic violence and the redefinition of the crime of rape. Our director, Jitka Poláková, followed her opening remarks by briefly presenting the results of the conducted research, stressing that only a small percentage of victims apply for compensation and an even smaller number of them actually receive it.
Session 1: Victim Compensation in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria - New Data, Gaps and Barriers
During the first session of the programme, representatives of the organisations presented the results of their joint research. This part was opened by our Head of Legal Services, Petra Presserová, who spoke about the Czech context. The research showed that only a quarter of victims claim compensation, of which 80 % fail to achieve any compensation. The reasons for this are both systemic (ignorance of victims' rights) and personal (ties to the perpetrator, lack of support from those around them). The courts' downplaying of victims' harm is also present in the awarding of compensation.
The presentation was continued by Estzer Debreczy from the PATENT Association. Research in Hungary has shown that few victims have sought compensation and few have turned to services providing assistance in relation to these crimes. It also showed that the courts do not understand the issue of partner violence, blaming the victim and favouring evidence of physical injuries over psychological consequences.
The first session was concluded by Daniela Gorbounova, who presented the situation of compensation in Bulgaria. She highlighted the problem of the lack of specialised social services to help victims, most of which are non-profit organisations with insufficient funding and limited access. As a result, victims cannot access free legal aid as they must prove that they are unable to pay for legal counsel themselves.
Session 2: Compensation in practice - experience and knowledge from the field
In the second session, a panel discussion brought together female attorneys and practitioners from all partner countries to compare their experiences in practice and assess the pros and cons of the system. Panellists included Klára Kalibová (attorney at law and director of In IUSTITIA, o.p.s.), Pavlína Komedová (attorney at law, White Circle of Safety, z.s.), Julia Spronz (attorney at law) and Tania Tisheva (Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation).
A big topic was the barriers that victims must face most often. The system of their compensation in the Czech Republic was the target of criticism from both Klára Kalibová and Pavlína Komedová. Czech judges are not compulsorily trained, even in sensitive areas, which often leads to a misunderstanding of the harm and nature of violence. The problem of compensation is also the quantification of harm, which is often essentially not compensable. In Hungary, according to Julie Spronz, victims face similar barriers, particularly in terms of quantifying the harm and the fear of being re-traumatised during the proceedings. Tania Tisheva sees the same fear of victims in Bulgaria. All practitioners agreed that proceedings are not only psychologically but also financially demanding for victims, not to mention their complexity and length.
Session 3: What next and how to ensure effective implementation of victims' rights?
The last block was devoted to a panel discussion of representatives of the advocacy and state institutions, who debated proposals and recommendations on how to move forward the current situation of compensation and provision of financial assistance in the Czech Republic. The discussion was attended by Adéla Šípová (Senator of the Parliament of the Czech Republic), Martin Hurych (lawyer in the Office of the Ombudsman), Daniel Bartoň (lawyer) and Martina Houžvová (lawyer).
The issue of compensation was discussed in the context of the uncollectibility of compensation in relation to offenders serving prison sentences. According to Adéla Šípová, a general reform of the prison system would be in order, which would expand the supply of jobs for prisoners. According to both Martin Hurych and Daniel Bartoň, more support should be given to the imposition of alternative sentences during which offenders could be more economically active.
The largest part of the panel discussion was devoted to the institute of financial assistance. According to all speakers, the provision of cash assistance is currently a dysfunctional institution. Not only are victims often unaware of the existence of this possibility, but according to an investigation by the Ombudsman's Office, the procedure for granting it takes approximately one year, which goes completely against its primary function (i.e. to bridge the deterioration of the situation after a crime has been committed).