25 April 2019

More than 12,000 calls have been received by the national hotline for survivors of domestic violence (8-801-100-8-801) during its seven years of operation in Belarus (12,210 calls on 1st April 2019). The hotline is open daily from 8:00 to 20:00 and callers are able to receive social, psychological and legal assistance that is completely free, confidential and anonymous.

ГЛДН1Every final Thursday of the month, from 2pm to 6pm, a representative from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus is on duty alongside the psychologist. The nationwide hotline for victims of domestic violence is run by the international public association “Gender Perspectives”.

The majority of calls received so far have been directly from survivors (79%) and their friends and relatives (19%). Since its beginning seven years ago, the hotline has received 26 calls from abusers.

In recent years, the number of calls from districts, small towns and rural areas, has increased. Currently such calls make up 38% of call traffic. 18% of calls come from the regions and 37% of calls are from Minsk residents. According to the hotline, 94% of survivors of domestic violence are women, and 6% are men.

The social profile of a victim/survivor has remained the same during the operation of the hotline. The victim is typically a middle-aged woman, 27-40 years old (35%), married or in a steady relationship (47%), with one to two children (80%). It should also be noted that in 35% of cases described by callers, minors are also exposed to domestic violence. However, every second caller expressed fears and unwillingness to seek help directly from the state authorities due to the possibility of formally recognized status of the dangerous situation for children and moving them from the family into a shelter.

The perpetrator of domestic violence is often a man (88%), 27-40 years old (39%). Predominantly they are the spouse, (50%), intimate partner (6%) or former spouse (15%) of the victim. An analysis of calls to the hotline has refuted the stereotype that violence manifests when the perpetrator has an issue with substance abuse. Calls showed that 37% of abusers don’t have an addiction at all, and in 70% of cases, the violence occurred regardless of whether the abuser was under the influence of alcohol or not.

Regarding the nature of the violence, 94% of callers reported they suffer from psychological violence, 67% reported physical violence, 40% economic, and 4% sexual. A significant number of callers stated that they were suffering from a combination of these different types of violence.

While the hotline has been in action, 33% of callers have received legal advice and 59% psychological advice. But experience shows that legal advice and psychological help shall be supplemented by qualified referral to other specialized services. 30% of callers were advised to contact law enforcement agencies, 16% of callers were referred to regional centers for social services, 5% to organizations that provide assistance to people with alcohol addiction/dependence, and 6% - to state crisis rooms and shelters of CSOs.

An analysis of 12,000 calls made to the hotline revealed a number of social problems that require further improvement of the legislative framework to respond.

One fifth of survivors of domestic violence are people aged 60 and older. According to the hotline statistics, older callers most frequently suffer violence inflicted by adult sons. 13% of perpetuators of violence in general are sons, and 4% daughters. However, the majority of older people suffering violence inflicted by their children are reluctant to go to the police. The main reason is that the victim is in a vulnerable position and has emotional dependence. Older callers say they are willing to endure and excuse the abuse, and not pursue punishment in accordance with the law. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the only person who cares for the elderly is an abuser who commits violence against them.

In the framework of Belarusian legislation, cases of domestic violence fall into the category of private-public prosecution. This means that it is impossible to hold the perpetrator of violence accountable without a written statement from the victim if there are no serious consequences for the health of the victim. In situations where the victim is dependent on the abuser and does not report the violence to police, there is no mechanism available to bring the perpetrator to justice. This contributes to the frequency and cycles of violence.

Based on the statistics of the hotline, we can see that domestic violence is prevalent when former spouses are forced to live in a common living space, even after divorce. Almost every sixth woman stated that it was a former spouse who was violent towards her. In such cases the aggression can be difficult to prove and the responsibility for collecting and presenting evidence is entirely with the victims themselves. Under current legislation, domestic violence doesn’t apply to violence from former spouses despite it being committed within a common home.

According to statistics from the hotline, there has been an increase in cases of stalking (harassment) of former spouses or partners, which can last up to 3 years. Harassment can include stalking, constant intrusive and undesired communication, close physical presence and emotional impact. All of these actions can have a serious impact on the psychological and emotional state of the victim, yet are not reflected in the framework of current Belarusian legislation and do not hold perpetrators responsible.

An analysis of calls to the hotline has indicated the need to improve legislation in preventing domestic violence and the legal protection of victims. The international public association ‘Gender Perspectives’ considers the development and adoption of a specialized law on the prevention of domestic violence to be the most effective approach. The law should provide legal mechanisms for the protection of citizens affected by violence committed by former and current family members, taking into account their age and other characteristics, as well as expanding the legal definition of actions related to domestic violence and its main forms.

The nationwide hotline for survivors of domestic violence opened on 13th August, 2012, as part of the international project “Developing national capacity to counteract domestic violence in Belarus”. The hotline was supported in the frames of international technical assistance and foreign aid projects, with financial support from the United Nations Population Fund in Belarus, the charity Caritas Linz (Austria), the Global Women's Fund (USA), the Embassy of the Republic of France in Belarus, and the US Agency on International Development (USAID). Free calls to the hotline are sponsored by Beltelecom.