Poland: Domestic violence, including protection, services and recourse available to victims (2007 - October 2010)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Publication Date||8 November 2010|
|Citation / Document Symbol||POL103618.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Poland: Domestic violence, including protection, services and recourse available to victims (2007 - October 2010), 8 November 2010, POL103618.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e4391cf2.html [accessed 10 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Polish State Agency for Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems is responsible for supervising policies on violence against women, which is "generally recognized as a problem arising in families suffering from alcohol abuse" (Avdeyeva 2007, 889). According to a peer-reviewed article on the policies of post-communist countries toward violence against women in the academic journal International Studies Quarterly, Poland limits gender violence to family violence (ibid.). The Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence, which came into force in 2005 (Poland n.d.a, 2), defines domestic violence as a
single or repeated intentional act or omission that violate rights or personal interest (of the closest relatives or other cohabitating persons or these keeping house together), which in particular put these persons at risk of losing life or health, which humiliate them or constitute an assault on them, limit their freedom, including sexual one, cause harm to their physical or psychological health, and cause suffering and moral abuse to persons suffering from violence. (Poland n.d.a, 1)Extent of problem
The Polish National Police (Policja) provides the following statistics on the number of reported cases of domestic violence in 2007 and 2008, as well as the number of victims that were men and women (Poland n.d.b):
|Victims of domestic violence||2007||2008|
|Number of women||76,162||81,985|
|Number of men||8,556||10,664|
The United States (US) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009 notes that, from January to June 2008, the police reported 10,506 domestic violence offences, and that, in the period between January and June 2009, there were 10,302 offenses of domestic violence (11 Mar.abbr> 2010, Sec. 6).
The Polish National Police reports the following statistics for the number and gender of perpetrators of domestic violence in 2007 and 2008 (Poland n.d.b):
|Perpetrators of domestic violence||2007||2008|
|Number of women||3,632||3,942|
|Number of men||77,937||82,425|
In addition, the European Women's Lobby (EWL) Centre on Violence against Women, a branch of the umbrella organization of women's associations in Europe (EWL n.d.), citing police statistics for 2007, notes that 74 percent of 262 killings between family members were committed by men (EWL Centre 18 Dec. 2008).Police intervention
The State Agency for the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems reports that, in 2007, the police intervened in over 81,000 cases of domestic violence (Poland n.d.a, 8). More precisely, the Polish national police reports that it intervened in 81,403 domestic violence cases in 2007 and in 86,455 cases in 2008 (Poland n.d.b). The State Agency also mentions that the national Blue Line Intervention and Information Hotline, to which it provides funding, received more than 11,000 calls in 2007 (Poland n.d.a, 5 and 8).
In spite of these statistics, the author of the International Studies Quarterly article, Olga Avdeyeva, reports that "police officers are reluctant to interfere in cases of domestic violence" (2007, 891). Country Reports 2009 also reports that the Women's Rights Centre (Centrum Praw Kobiet) in Poland said that "police were occasionally reluctant to intervene if victims were unwilling to cooperate" (US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). Amnesty International (AI) similarly notes in its 2007 submission on Poland to the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that
[c]omplaints of violence against women are frequently not treated as sufficiently serious or credible. For example, the police do not effectively collect evidence and women are required to obtain and pay for forensic medical certificates for injuries suffered. (26 Nov. 2007, 4)Sentencing penalties
Article 207 of the Polish Penal Code (1997) lists the following punishments for domestic violence: physical and psychological abuse is punishable by three months to five years of imprisonment; if "especially cruel," imprisonment can be from one to ten years; if the victim commits suicide, the sentence is from two to twelve years in prison (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 26).
According to Country Reports 2009, although "most convictions resulted in suspended sentences," the justice department convicted 15,127 people of domestic violence in 2008 while 4,383 prisoners were serving sentences for domestic violence by the end of that same year (US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). Part of the problem with prosecuting perpetrators, argues a group of South Baltic NGOs, which are led by the Poland-based Network of East-West Women (NEWW) to combat violence against women, is that
[c]ontrary to popular belief the complaint of the victim is not necessary. However a complaint is the most common reason to start a procedure against the perpetrator. Usually a woman presses charges against her husband or partner. It is very common that women refuse to continue pressing charges and withdraw their complaints. It is the most frequently quoted reason for remitting cases. (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 26)
The South Baltic group also maintains that "[e]ven though there are appropriate legal acts, the Polish courts are rather lenient in applying sanctions to perpetrators and do not protect the victims sufficiently" (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 27). For example, Article 14 of the Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence permits the court to put a perpetrator on probation rather than in jail "providing that the accused will leave the residence shared with the victim" (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 27). Country Reports 2009 notes that even though restraining orders can be issued against abusive spouses, the police do not have the authority to do so immediately at the scene (11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). Nevertheless, to the South Baltic group, this stipulation
enables the removal of the perpetrator from the common residence he/she shares with his/her victim. Polish courts too rarely use this legal tool to protect the victims of violence. In most cases, it is the victim who flees the place of residence to avoid violence and has to face uncertain situation in shelters, which are far too few. (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 28)
However, the South Baltic group noted that, in June 2010, the Polish Parliament amended the Act to include "[n]ew regulations [that] strengthen the protection of victims of violence, especially through restraining order[s] and possibility of eviction of the abuser from the place of residence" (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 28). These amendments "enable courts to order a perpetrator of violence to leave the place of residence when it is shared with his/her victim" (ibid.). Public prosecutors can issue eviction and restraining orders against the accused as the case is being prepared for hearing in court (ibid.).
The amendments also obligate all municipalities to establish "interdisciplinary units consisting of experts working on eradication of domestic violence: psychologists, police officers, social workers and probation officers" (ibid.). Municipalities have also been given responsibility for helping any victim who has no legal rights to the property shared with the perpetrator, and providing free forensic examinations to the victim (ibid.).State protection
The National Program on Counteracting Domestic Violence was created in 2006 by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education to decrease domestic violence in Poland, increase assistance to victims and deal more constructively with perpetrators through preventative and corrective initiatives, including education and public information (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 59). Program coordinators are assigned to the provinces by local authorities (ibid.).
In 2008 the government allocated 20.5 million zloty (US $7.2 million) to implement the program, which included "specialized centers; education and correction programs for offenders; and training for social workers, police officers, and specialists who are the first contact for victims" (U.S. 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). No further information on the implementation and progress of this program could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
According to the NEWW-led group, Poland also has national, provincial and municipal programs and initiatives in place to address domestic violence, an issue that "has been slowly getting recognition as a serious social problem" (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 59). For example, the police use "Blue Interview Rooms" when speaking with victims of domestic violence (ibid., 60), particularly children (NEWW 2 Nov. 2010). These rooms are designed to prevent re-victimization during interviews and minimize any negative psychological effects that may occur while talking about the violence (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 60). Other programs include the "Together Against Pathologies" program in the province of Pomorskie and the "Here and Now" program in the city of Gdansk (ibid.). The programs use either interdisciplinary groups or intervention teams made up of police, social workers and other specialists to assist domestic violence cases (ibid.). Police precincts are also information centres that provide literature on domestic violence (ibid., 61).
The State Agency for the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems says that it developed the Blue Cards Procedure for Intervention of Relevant Services in Domestic Violence Cases in collaboration with the national and Warsaw police headquarters in 1998 (Poland n.d.a, 7). The Blue Card Procedure aims, among other objectives, to stop domestic violence, collect information on the family and provide support to victims (ibid.). The Procedure is used by police and intervention teams and works as follows: once a police officer receives a complaint or a call, he or she collects and records the details and then refers them to an intervention team (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 44). The intervention team goes to the scene to observe and assess whether the perpetrator should be "detained and isolated" (ibid., 45). After the intervention, the police officer completes a blue card and provides the victim with advice about his or her options (ibid.). The blue card is a document consisting of two forms: Card A, which includes questions about the situation, including details of the accident and the reason for intervention, and Card B, which is a page given to the victim, containing information on the victim's rights and the places and institutions where he or she can seek help (NEWW 4 Nov. 2010). A neighbourhood officer follows up to ensure the safety of the victims, provide them with any necessary assistance and visit them at least once a month for as long as there is a possibility of the violence reoccurring (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 45).Support services
There is a nation-wide "Blue Line" hotline that is funded by the State Agency for Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems (Poland n.d.a, 5). The hotline provides information and intervention for victims of domestic violence, as well as counselling services through e-mail (ibid.). The Agency has also commissioned the Information Centre on Violence and the Nationwide Emergency Service for Victims of Domestic Violence, which provides counselling services for families (ibid.).
The country also provides various kinds of centres for domestic violence victims, although the number reported varies (Poland n.d.a, 8; EWL Centre 18 Dec. 2008; NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 86—89; US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). For example, the State Agency reports that, in 2007, approximately 2,700 centres provided some sort of assistance for victims of domestic violence (Poland n.d.a, 8). These included 530 hotlines, 200 crisis intervention centres, 1,640 "information and consultation points" and 190 hostels and shelters (ibid.). Across the country there were also 320 community support groups for adult victims of domestic violence, and 320 domestic violence prevention teams (ibid.). As well, more than 100 detoxification centres started their own domestic violence prevention programs (ibid.).
The EWL Centre on Violence against Women reporting on the provision of services on 18 December 2008 indicates that there are 33 state-run shelters, at which a victim can stay for a maximum of 3 months, as well as 148 shelters and hostels operated by NGOs and the Catholic Church (ELW Centre 18 Dec. 2008). The NGO-operated centres for victims of domestic violence provide training for staff working with victims and counselling for the perpetrators (US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6).
In addition, Country Reports 2009 indicates that the Polish government provides legal and psychological help to victims, operates 184 crisis centres, and provides funding to 36 local government shelters for victims of domestic violence (ibid.).
Lastly, the NEWW-led group of South Baltic NGOs identifies a number of Polish organizations and institutions that provide help to victims of domestic violence, including 8 women's associations, 12 crisis intervention centres, 6 shelters, and 6 information and advice centres (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 86—89).Evaluation of the provision of services
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in its periodic report on Poland, expressed concerns that the services available for victims of domestic violence are "insufficient" (UN 2 Feb. 2007, para. 18). The CEDAW report also points out its concerns with the "immediate eviction of the perpetrator, free legal aid and the number of shelters available" (ibid.). In 2007, AI provided its own periodic review of Poland's human rights practices; it too indicates that "there are not enough places where women can seek refuge or assistance," and adds that "there have been reports of sexual harassment and assault on women by the staff" in shelters managed by men (AI 26 Nov. 2007, 4).
That same year, Olga Avdeyeva, the academic writing in International Studies Quarterly, noted that the Polish government provides minimal funding to the NGOs that run shelters and help centres (Avdeyeva 2007, 891). More recently, the ELW Centre on Violence against Women added its voice to the commentary, saying that
Poland lacks places where women can seek refuge or assistance. Access to legal and psychological assistance is very limited and the number of shelters for battered women is far too low to meet the needs. In some regions of Poland, there are no shelters at all. Often, neither the shelter nor the crisis centers are devoted exclusively to battered women and victims of domestic violence. (ELW 18 Dec. 2008)
The South Baltic group of NGOs mentions that, although the government offers "corrective-educational" programs for the perpetrators,
[c]ourt custodians who work with perpetrators claim it is the least effective and most difficult job. Police custodian has some tools to exert pressure to make him behave in a non-violent way, usually it is a threat of imprisonment. They all confirm that this is a short term method and usually perpetrators lapse to their violent ways when the threat disappears. (NEWW et al. Sept. 2010, 46—47)
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Amnesty International (AI). 2007. "Poland." Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review. First Session of the UPR Working Group, 7—18 April 2008. (EUR37/005/2007)
Avdeyeva, Olga. 2007. "When Do States Comply with International Treaties? Policies on Violence Against Women in Post-Communist Countries." International Studies Quarterly. Vol. 51.
European Women's Lobby (EWL). N.d. "About Us: History."
European Women's Lobby (EWL) Centre on Violence against Women. 18 December 2008. "Violence Against Women Is Still Not Considered a Serious Problem."
_____. N.d. "Poland."
Network of East-West Women (NEWW) [Poland]. 4 November 2010. Correspondence with a representative.
_____. 2 November 2010. Correspondence with a representative.
Network of East-West Women (NEWW) [Poland], Kretinga Women's Information and Training Center [Lithuania], Women's Shelter, Karlshamn [Sweden], and Union of Women in the Kaliningrad Region [Russia]. September 2010. Edited by Malgorzata Tarasiewicz and Agnieszka Nowak. Domestic Violence in South Baltic Region: Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden. (Advance copy of the project report of the South Baltic Violence Free Zone provided by NEWW in 26 October 2010 correspondence.)
Poland. N.d. a. State Agency for Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems. "Safety in the Family: Program for Counteracting Violence in Families with Alcohol Related Problems."
_____. N.d.b. Policja (Polish National Police). "Przemoc v rodzinie."
United Nations (UN). 2 February 2007. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). "Concluding Comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Poland." (CEDAW/C/POL/CO/6)
United States (US). 11 March 2010. "Poland." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009.
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Attempts to contact Aid for Homeless Association — Centre for Domestic Violence "HOME" [Warsaw], Amnesty International (AI) Poland, Poland — State Agency for Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems, and United Nations (UN) Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), were unsuccessful. An assistant professor of political science from Loyola University [Chicago] was unable to provide the requested information within the time constraints of this Response.
Internet sites, including: Advocates for Human Rights — Stop Violence Against Women (STOPVAW), European Commission, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Watch, Krakow Post, PeaceWomen.org (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, United Nations Office), PSF Centrum Kobiet, Warsaw Daily, Warsaw Post, Women Watch (United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality).