Domestic violence seen as a crime more often in Estonia

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Last year saw 27,125 registered offenses, up 0.5 percent from the year before. Violent crime was up by 12 percent to 8,249 offenses.

Growth was biggest for domestic violence – the police launched criminal proceedings in 3,607 cases that constitutes an increase of more than one-third – annual growth of 37 percent from 2,632 cases in 2017. At the same time, reports of domestic violence were down 8 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Cases of domestic violence made up 13.3 percent of registered criminal offenses last year, up from 9.8 percent in 2017.
Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu said that the figures should not be interpreted as Estonians having become more violent.
“Growth is tied to the fact the police have changed their practical approach to domestic violence and become more active. The police are more likely to react to reports of domestic violence by launching criminal proceedings,” Reinsalu said.

Head of the Central Criminal Police Aivar Alavere said the authorities initiated 25 percent more proceedings based on domestic violence reports last year.

“Launching criminal proceedings and punishing people who resort to violence is not a goal in itself. It is a measure with which to make life better for people suffering from violence,” Alavere said. Not every report of domestic violence graduates to criminal proceedings. Last year, a quarter of 15,000 reports of domestic abuse culminated in a criminal investigation.
Alavere said that recently people suffering from domestic violence have been forced to leave their homes for a safe house. He believes this to be unfair to victims. “We launched a pilot project in Saaremaa last year where we want to handle these situations in a way to make it possible for the mother and children to stay home, while the person who used violence has to find a new place to stay. We explained this to families, and the person who resorted to violence understood it was the right thing to do in several cases,” Alavere said. He added that the project will be brought to the rest of the country this year.

Prosecutor General Lavly Perling said that the prosecution tries to solve domestic violence cases inside a week as it provides a better chance for the victims to escape their situation. “Evidence needs to be sent to court as quickly as possible, and this is where police officers’ body-worn cameras are of great use,” she said.

The prosecutor general added that authorities must often convince victims of domestic violence of their status and that the situation they find themselves in is not normal. “The victim needs to be sent a clear message that violence cannot be tolerated,” Perling said.
The fact Estonia has started to take domestic violence more seriously is also reflected in the fact that courts ordered twice as many restraining orders last year compared to 2017. Restraining orders were deemed to be appropriate in 22 cases in 2017 and 45 cases last year.

Of all cases of domestic violence registered last year, 55 percent were committed by husbands or partners, 15 percent by ex-husbands or partners, 7 percent by sons or daughters, 7 percent by other relatives and 3 percent by brothers or sisters.
Men commit 87 percent of acts of domestic violence, while women are victims 80 percent of the time. 83 percent of cases concern bodily harm. Nine cases of domestic violence were sexual offenses. Domestic violence killed seven people last year.
Cases of domestic violence per 10,000 residents were most frequent in East Viru County – 57. There were 38 cases per 10,000 residents in Põlva County and 35 in Valga County. Pärnu and Lääne counties each saw 30 cases per 10,000 people. Domestic violence is least common on the islands of Hiiumaa (10 cases) and Saaremaa (13 cases).

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