Domestic violence is a continued global problem that transcends national borders as well as socioeconomic, cultural, racial, and class divisions. This problem is not only widely geographically dispersed, but also prevalent, often making it a common and accepted behavior amongst perpetrators and victims alike. Its continued existence is morally repugnant. It encompasses tangible, psychological, or sexual abuse within a family setting or in a current or previous couple relationship. Physical violence against children by their parents, getting stalked by an ex-partner, threatening with or committing physical violence with a partner, marital rape or sexual assault within the same family are all examples of domestic violence.
Domestic violence places a strain on many sectors of society and has a subtle but significant impact on a country’s development, and with this article, I would like to throw light to the situation of domestic violence in Switzerland, and make you all aware of your rights to protection against this, especially as expats.
The Current Scenario of Domestic Violence in the Country
Recent studies in Switzerland show that broadly speaking, women and girls (18 out of every 10,000) have been 2.3 times more likely to be the subjects of domestic abuse, than men and boys (with a rate of 8 out of every 10,000). Foreign women, particularly refugee women, were the most susceptible to domestic violence with a rate of 36 out of every 10,000, which was more than double the rate of Swiss women and girls. The rate among just refugee women and girls rose to 80 for every 10,000, 4.4 times than those of Swiss women and girls and ten fold that of Swiss men and boys. It was found that domestic violence perpetrators were overwhelmingly men. Men committed 74% of domestic violence in Switzerland, while women committed only 26%.
Throughout Switzerland, the National Federation for Women’s Solidarity provides safe houses for women. Another survey, conducted by Sotomo on their behalf, polled 3,597 Swiss citizens. Those aged 26 to 45 were the most affected. Domestic violence had been experienced by 37% of this age group. Domestic violence was reported by 46% of women in this age group. The same percentage was 27% for men. Domestic violence was reported by 44% of those earning less than CHF 4,000 per month, compared to 28% of those earning more than CHF 10,000.
The Sotomo study uncovered certain attitudes toward domestic violence that appear to be impeding progress on the issue. Domestic matters, according to half of those polled, should be kept private – men (59%) were more likely to believe this than women (46%). Others believed that wearing provocative clothing made the person who wears complicit in any resulting violence. This was believed by 22% of men and 13% of women. Half of those who were aware of domestic abuse involving someone they knew said they did not intervene. The primary reason for not wanting to get involved was a fear of escalating the situation. Authorities in Switzerland recorded more than 20,000 cases of domestic violence in 2020, a fraction of the true figure.
An observation made by Renno in another study was that whilst swiss men are also perpetrators of violence, expats frequently arrive with such a strong focus of who a man ought to be, that it magnifies their level of stress, as well as conceivably amplifying the risk of them becoming violent. According to her, academic programs are a good way to prevent violence in relationships by working with the perpetrators to protect the victims. Participants must attend a total of 26 separate sessions and she noted that there were extremely few instances of re-offending.
How the Pandemic Affected the Situation
While the most important thing during the Covid-19 pandemic was to stay home, which was broadcasted everywhere, including Switzerland, this injunction assumed that home is a secure and comfortable environment for everyone. However, for many people, particularly those who have experienced domestic violence, this confinement was a nightmare.
Quarantine was difficult for many families because it put additional strain on family systems, often leading to dysfunction and, as a result, increased domestic abuse in such situations. Furthermore, the coronavirus crisis placed some families in a precarious financial situation, increasing stress and the risk of conflict. While at the national level there was initially no show of the increase in domestic violence, victim assistance institutions had been reporting an increase already. This was also the case at Pia Alleman’s counseling center in Zurich, which she co-runs. She pointed out that, while any family could have been affected by this problem, the threat of domestic violence was much greater and more prevalent in households with many children, who resided in a cramped space, and whose family did not have a steady work or income circumstances.
Measures Taken by the Country
When there are indications of domestic violence, which was officially made a crime in 2004, police in Switzerland are obligated to investigate. Coercion, violence, verbal abuse, controlling a partner’s phone, or blocking a bank account are all types of abuse. Criminal proceedings are one method of dealing with the problem. However, men learn how to solve problems in relationships and families without resorting to violence in educational courses as well, which has been provided as an option by the Swiss rules. In July 2020, new legislation gave authorities more leeway, including the ability to send abusers to such courses as a preventative measure rather than only after a court conviction, thus protecting the victims from possible abuse in the future.
Protection Provided by the Swiss Laws
Switzerland is known for its intricate and strict law system which is designed to protect citizens and living residents alike. Here are some of the laws that ensure safety against domestic violence:
1. Protective measures — Swiss Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, (StGB))
Latest improvements in Swiss criminal law demonstrate a fundamental change in people’s views against domestic abuse. Individuals’ private lives are no longer exempt from state intervention in order to safeguard domestic violence victims. This shift indicates that the community has recognized the incredibly severe nature of violence throughout marital relationships and partnerships.
The Swiss Criminal Code was amended in April 2004 to broaden the litigation of domestic abuse for people who are both in and not involved in relationships.
2. Safeguards — Swiss Civil Code (Zivilgesetzbuch, (ZGB))
The Swiss Civil Code includes a non-exhaustive list of preventative measures to keep the offending person from doing the following- by approaching the aggrieved party or turning up within a particular radial distance of their home, deciding to stay in particular areas, particularly noteworthy streets, squares, or communities and contacting the victim in any manner
If the plaintiff lives with the offender, the court may require that the perpetrator be eliminated from the residence for a prolonged period of time. The law doesn’t really specify a time limit for these measures and instead leaves it up to the judge to do so.
3. Assistance Measures — The Victims Support Act (Opferhilfegesetz, (OHG))
The act went into effect in 2007 and it requires Swiss regional governments to provide victims with counseling and resource centers. The concept of “victim” in the Victims Support Act is identical to that found in the Swiss Criminal Code, containing survivors of all crimes, which include domestic violence victims. Also it enables the victim’s members of the family to seek assistance. As per Article 2 of the OGH, assistance should not be limited to psychotherapy and humanitarian relief, but should also encompass financial support and protracted help.
4. Integration and domestic violence — Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (Ausländer- und Integrationsgesetz, (AIG))
The Foreign Nationals and Integration Act governs foreign citizens’ entrance and exit, domicile, and familial re – integration in Switzerland. Furthermore, it governs measures to promote their integration. The right to give and regenerate a domicile just after disintegration of a marriage or household population is governed by AIG Article 50(1)(a) and (b). One reason a partner and their youth may be granted a residence permit and/or have their permission lengthened is when “important life reasons” necessitate an extended visit in Switzerland. Although domestic abuse perpetrated by a partner can be considered a significant intimate reason by the Federal Supreme Court, the cutoff point for this distinction is somewhat substantial. Only if the plaintiff is “gravely in peril as well as the association has become intolerable” can it be considered a significant personal reason. This decision was criticized in a scientific report published by the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality. According to the report, using “intensity” as a criterion may lead to the incorrect assumption that domestic abuse is primarily based on physical factors.
Reaching out for Help
Mostly, victims of domestic violence refuse to recognize that they are being abused and don’t ask for help, however more and more organizations in Switzerland are trying to spread awareness about the same, while also providing help.
Talking about the victims of domestic abuse Marion Labeaut, the coordinator at Violence Que Faire (VQF), says while two women are killed because of domestic violence every day in Switzerland, VQF often receives calls from victims who seek help from them, who often question if they are facing abuse or not. She adds that these people are usually in need of concrete support and answers like where they can get help, if they are to blame for the violence they are increasing, and most often, if they can change their partner and make them stop.
This is where the organisation comes in – Violence Que Faire, or VQF, is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preventing domestic violence in French-speaking Switzerland. It provides victims and perpetrators of domestic violence with an anonymous, online, free, and individualised service. On its website, information can be found in 13 languages, and online support is available in English, French and German.
Like VQF, there are many organisations you can reach out to for support, if you, or anyone you know, needs help with a similar violent situation.
Filing for a Divorce: Here is what you need to Know
If the victim’s life is threatened they can decide to file a petition for divorce. That petition would fall under the domain of plea of divorce through one spouse since continued marriage is an unreasonable demand. In this type of petition spouses must explain why they are unable to stay in the marriage. And serious reasons, such as domestic abuse, disreputable or dishonourable moral conduct, or criminal activity, are handled very seriously by the court.
If their stay in Switzerland depends on Marriage, it is important for the victim to take measures to ensure they are able to reside in the country even after the divorce. If they are not from EU/EFTA states, it can be quite a task to extend residency, however, they can plead for extension due to employment, integration to the community or lack of resources to sustain otherwise.
When just one partner wishes to divorce, the procedure is very drawn out. Throughout most cases, the partners must have been living apart for at least two years before you can file for divorce. However, the only time a two-year demarcation period is not required is if the person cites a “compelling reason” of why staying married would be irrational, like in cases of abuse. Unfortunately, it is up to the court if the reasons are considered valid and serious enough to dissolve a marriage. And yet, court processes to terminate a marriage in this manner are said to take over two years, so it is not even a popular option.
It is best to collect enough evidence to prove the domestic abuse in court, in order to get a speedy trial.
To read more about divorce in Switzerland, click here.
On November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is observed, and the good thing is that Switzerland is undoubtedly taking steps to ensure a safe living environment for victims of domestic violence.
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