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 about when it comes to prevention of domestic abuse, responsible handling of cases of domestic violence or violence against women in general.
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 a society is patriarchal when three conditions are met:
- Society is dominated by men, meaning men fill positions of authority;
- What is good or preferable behavior within society is associated with norms of masculinity more often than with norms of femininity;
- 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 in the same.
Statistics of Domestic Abuse
In 2017, there were 13,153 reported cases of domestic violence in Croatia. In 77% of the 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.
There are cases of abuses against men committed by women, but they occur in negligible numbers nowhere close to being a social problem.
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”.
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 bused in by family groups to protest in Zagreb.
Why would family-centric groups oppose the protection of women?
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.
Religious groups also suggested that by giving women more “power”, it would harm and degrade the family unit.
Benefits of the 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 on 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.
- Obligates Croatia to provide annual funding for an adequate number of shelters for women
- Obligates Croatia to provide legal assistance to victims
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.
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.