Realities of Domestic Abuse in Croatia

UPDATED: 02/06/2021

All societies are plagued by domestic violence, but unfortunately, according to statistics and reports by relevant institutions and interest groups, the Croatian government is severely lacking and behind.

Croatia has nothing to be proud of when it comes to the prevention of domestic abuse, responsible handling of cases of domestic violence, or violence against women in general.

In this post, we cover:

Let’s get started…

Realities of Domestic Abuse in Croatia

What is a patriarchal society?

When domestic abuse or violence against women is discussed in the media, it is usually noted that Croatia is still a patriarchal society. What does that mean? American writer Allan G. Johnson, who wrote about sociology and gender studies, concluded that society is patriarchal when three conditions are met:

  1. Society is dominated by men, meaning men fill positions of authority;
  2. What is good or preferable behavior within society is associated with norms of masculinity more often than with norms of femininity;
  3. When society is also male-centered, meaning attention is focused on men and their actions.

But why would that have an effect on domestic violence?

The condition of gender inequality implies that one gender is weaker than the other in every sense that matters: physically, financially, and intellectually.

Unfortunately, it is suggested that in patriarchal societies, men abuse women simply because they can. Men believe they are inherently stronger, because:

  • They are usually the boss;
  • They consider themselves more important;
  • They believe their needs come first;
  • They likely will never suffer consequences because most cops and prosecutors are also men.

The patriarchal condition in Croatia runs deep. To give a super simplistic example, in the Croatian language, “muškarac” means “man” and “muž” means “husband”. However, the word “žena” means BOTH wife and woman, as if they are one and the same.

Realities of Domestic Abuse in Croatia

In 2019, there were 9,626 reported cases of domestic violence in Croatia which is 6.3% less than in 2018. In most cases, the violence was committed by men – spouses, partners, and former partners. Note that these are reported cases. It is not out of line to speculate that there are thousands of cases that go unreported.

In 2020, during the COVID-19 epidemic, the number of criminal offenses of domestic violence in Croatia increased by 43.4% compared to the same period in 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence increased by 75%.

There are cases of abuses against men committed by women, but they occur in negligible numbers nowhere close to being a social problem. In 2019, 78% of victims of domestic violence were women and 22% of victims were men.

About 25% of adults in Croatia (including both men and women) consider domestic violence a “private matter” that must be “addressed within the family”. This is why it is not uncommon to come across situations when somebody knew of violence against someone and did nothing.

Another cause is that the majority of Croatians are Catholic, a religion that follows the Bible. This book calls women “property of the man” and that her role is to “obey and listen to her lord – husband and both are to obey the Lord-Jesus Christ”.

Istanbul Convention

As foreigners living in Croatia, it is easy to get caught up in the beauty of the country and the kindness of the people, but it is important to know that there are streaks of darkness in the culture. We were recently reminded of this during the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in 2018.

The Istanbul Convention was proposed by the Council of Europe, which aims to better the position of women and prescribe measures and mechanisms to reduce or completely eliminate violence against women in Europe.

Seems fairly backward that a modern and democratic country would not want to protect women, a gender that keeps life on Earth going. And yet, family groups organized public demonstrations across Croatia to campaign against the ratification of the convention. Taxi drivers in Split were even offering free rides to people attending the protest against the convention. Citizens of neighboring Bosnia were bussed in by family groups to protest in Zagreb.

Why would family-centric groups oppose the protection of women?

  1. Gender

The third article of the convention states that “gender refers to socially-designed roles, behaviors, activities, and traits that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men”. This suggests that people can develop in accordance with their own interests, abilities, and personality traits, instead of identifying with traditional social roles for women and men.

Parts of Croatian society resented the suggestion that gender was defined as something separate from sex. Right-wing and Catholic organizations said this would lead to people declaring they were a “man” or “woman” because they feel like a “man” or a “woman”, and not because they were born as man or woman e.g. based on their reproductive organs.

  1. Female roles

Religious groups also suggested that giving women more “power” would harm and degrade the family unit.

Domestic abuse in Croatia

Benefits of the Istanbul Convention

Thankfully, Croatia did ratify the convention in April 2018, meaning it will be incorporated into Croatia’s legislation. Soon after ratification, the media frenzy died down.

The Convention includes many valid mechanisms to assess the situation of domestic abuse and violence against women in Croatia. It also proposes concrete steps to better the position of women such as:

  • Providing financial assistance to victims of domestic abuse
  • Providing crisis centers for support and counseling
  • Obligates Croatia to provide annual funding for an adequate number of shelters for women
  • Obligates Croatia to provide legal assistance to victims

Croatia should also provide victims with 24-hour phone lines, medical and forensic expert teams, and greater police powers in dealing with perpetrators of violence.

The Croatian government didn’t provide a crisis center for support and counseling victims of domestic violence until today. However, Udruga Domine from Split has launched an initiative for the creation of Croatia’s first crisis center. Read more on this topic here.

Real talk on domestic violence

Despite all of the obstacles and deeply ingrained abuse in Croatian society, that should not prevent anyone from reporting abuse of themselves or another person. In most cases, the victim is too scared to come forward for fear of:

  • Retaliation from their abuser
  • Not being believed
  • Shame, for allowing it to happen and/or shame for feeling they caused the abuse
  • Being told it is not abuse

Personally, I have witnessed multiple occasions where the victim wasn’t supported or believed by Croatian law enforcement.

In one case, the victim was believed only until they spoke to the abuser, who denied it all. Since the man was to be believed over the woman, she no longer had the support of the police. In another case, a husband nearly killed the wife. Even after admitting this to a judge, both the husband and wife were fined for public disturbance and that was the end of it. In yet another case, I could hear my upstairs neighbor being beaten on by her husband repeatedly for days. I called 112 and the operator ignored the call and never forwarded it to the police.

It takes tremendous courage for someone to speak out about abuse. The only way it will get better in Croatia is if we all stand up for victims.

How can you support victims of domestic violence?

  • Spend time with and listen to them
  • Offer financial support to help them get out of the situation
  • Accompany them to the police
  • Help them get into a shelter
  • Reassure the victim that they do not deserve to be abused
  • Educate yourself about the realities of domestic abuse

Remember: Abuse is not just physical. It is mental and emotional as well, leaving lasting effects, especially when children are exposed to it.

For resources for victims of domestic abuse, check out this post for the latest laws in Croatia and this post for shelters and counseling centers.

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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