Structural Violence against Women in Montenegro

Two femicides that took place in less than a month in Montenegro testify to the fact that institutions do not believe women. In both cases, victims reported threats to their lives and both times the institutions failed to protect them.

This article was first published on Reporting Diversity Network 2.0

By Maja Raičević

“At first I waited in the hallway for a long time for someone to see me. At home I had a baby less than a month old. And another six-year-old child. The inspector did not receive me on the same day, but the next day”.

“I relayed the event, and the inspector recorded the events completely differently. I asked him to change some sentences in the record which he did in part, but not quite as I told him to write it. The point is that the inspector wanted to show that I was beaten by my husband, because I caused it…That was 17 days after I gave birth…”

This is just one of the nearly 200 confessions that were submitted to the ‘Vijesti’ editorial office, through a questionnaire on trust in legal institutions and the autorities regarding domestic violence, the process in which the Centre for Women’s Rights also participated. The same theme runs through most of the answers – victims do not trust institutions. And how can they when the institutions themselves do not trust them.

Two femicides that took place in less than a month in Montenegro testify to the fact that institutions do not believe women. In both cases, victims reported threats to their lives and both times the institutions failed to protect them. Ilir Dokaj, the murderer of nineteen-year-old Šejla Bakija, was acquitted by the misdemeanour court, because the prosecutor did not understand his threat with the use of the phrase “there will be blood” as gross violence. Shortly afterwards, his threat came true. The institutions said that everything was done “correctly and legally”. Montenegrins did not think so, so they organised two peaceful protests demanding  an extraordinary session to be held by the Government in order to examine the action of all institutions.  The President’s office never responded to these requests. Progress in this matter will be unlikely even from the new government considering the number of women that are (not) present in the negotiations.

The second murder also passed without any reaction from the authorities. It was committed by a convicted perpetrator, Ahmet Škrijelj, who, in the presence of five minor children, first killed his wife, then seriously injured his underage daughter, and then committed suicide. The violence in that family was known to everyone, from the neighbours to the centres for social work, the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the court. Yet the victim was alone, forced to endure to the very end.

The system does not protect children either, even when they are sexually abused, abducted, forced to coexist with adult abusers. This is evident by the frequent sexual assaults on children, of which the perpetrators are already known as previously convicted individuals.

The latest case of this took place in Plav, a small place where everyone knows everything.  In this case the rape and kidnapping of a twelve-year-old girl was kept silent until the case  reached the media four months later. According to the reactions on media articles, the public was most disturbed by the fact that the rapist and kidnapper of the child was married.

So, who does the system trust, if it doesn’t already trust the victims?

Judging by the words and deeds of those in the highest state positions, it could be said that the system trusts the perpetrators.

The system trusts the perpetrators even when there are final verdicts against them for domestic violence and in cases where they do not allow their children to have contact with their mothers. There are many such perpetrators, according to the statistics of the City courthouse in Podgorica, in which about 150 of such cases have been active since 2017. Journalist Jelena Jindra wrote about it in Croatia, and Damira Kalač wrote about it in Montenegro. Although in other countries in the region such as Croatia there have been steps in improving the way the legal system deals with domestic abuse, Montenegro has a long way to go.

In Montenegro, the first prison sentence of one such case was handed to Tomaš Bošković after he prevented his children from contacting their mother for three years. However, based on the opinion of the head of the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights and the decision of the President of Montenegro, Milo Dukanović – Bošković was pardoned.

Such acts represent structural violence against women, that is violence rooted in an unjust cultural, legal, political and social system and structures characterised by gender and other inequalities, reproduced through state policies and institutionalised norms and practices. This is reflected in numerous examples of unpunished misogynistic and sexist remarks of public figures, bloggers, politicians, amongst which the most recent is the statement of the member of Parliament of Montenegro, Slaven Radunović. The MP of the party with a democratic name, flippantly remarked that  there is a “thin threat that contributes to the decision whether there was a case of rape or not” , expressing his worry that a “spoiled daughter may be jealous of her boyfriend and report him fom rape, and considering whose daughter she is, that young man ends up as a rapist”, generously brushing over the fact that the number of reported rapes is very low, and the number of convictions is even lower, precisely because his opinion is shared by the majority of those who should act in response to such cases.

On top of this, when we add the hate speech and sexism directed at women in politics and public life, which is so frequent that we do not even get to react to it all, then it is clear why women in Montenegro are not only killed and abused, but also why they are not born. Namely, Montenegro is one of the countries where significantly fewer girls are born than boys (108: 100 in the last three years) as parents and extended family prefer heirs (who will heir who knows what, since about a third of citizens live at risk of poverty, and almost every tenth person lives under the line of absolute poverty). Not even the campaign “Unwanted”, who collected over 6,000 signatures, was able to bring this problem into the focus of the state, who is recording a negative natural population increase this year. 

All this is happening during the year of expiration of the four-year deadline for fulfilling the legally binding recommendations sent to the state by GREVIO – Expert Body for Monitoring the Implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). And all of this in a country who calls itself the “leader of European integration”.

Photo Credits: Infinity Time / Shutterstock