139 girls and women have been killed over the past decade at the hands of husbands or partners, while thousands more have fallen prey to physical violence. Experts point the finger of responsibility, not only at the indifference of state institutions, but also at a kind of patriarchal mentality, from which not even the justice system is being freed, as well as corruption in the administration of justice.
Author: Eljona Ballhysa
After two decades of violence by the hand of her husband, Marjana. H., from Vithkuqi, Korça, went to court to dissolve the marriage, only when she almost lost her son to violence, but the divorce did not save her, as she continues to live in an apartment with her abusive ex-husband.
“The pot was boiling, in a moment of quarrel he kicked it and fell on the boy, burning him, so much so that his life was endangered,” she tells the constant story of violence. “From that moment I asked for a divorce and for 3 months in a row I asked the prefecture to find me an apartment so I could leave with my three children, but they did not do it”, – she accuses, while claiming that she did not have money for the trial, so the expenses were paid by an employee of the Section against Violence of Trafficking in the prefecture.
Forced to sleep with a knife under her pillow due to violence, all institutions failed to find her shelter, but were satisfied with issuing a protection order, forcing her to live in the same house with her abusive ex-husband.
“I will take the protection order, I told you, but where will I live? Is it possible to live in a house with a man, from whom I spend my life with a knife under the pillow ?! A man who dragged me, so much so that the boy took the ax! He will get worse than he is. I asked him to leave, me or at least one of us to leave, because we do not know how things will end, but no solution was given to me”, – says Marjana, who sees the source of all conflicts in the consumption of excess alcohol by the ex-spouse.
Found alone and without a solution, she tells Investigative Network Albania that she has no choice but to sacrifice herself.
“I also sent a message to Edi Rama. I wrote to him that I would buy a bottle of gasoline and set myself on fire in front of the Prime Minister, I have nothing to lose anymore”, – she says hopelessly.
Marjana confesses that she has spent her whole life under the violence of her husband, whose victims have often been her children. For her, no link with the structure for the protection of abused women has worked.
“Do not mention the local government to me. Does it exist?” she asks angrily – “Listen to the mayor, Sotiraq Filon, go ask him! I called him and said to him: Come with me, look where I live. When he saw the house, he said, “Obobo.” Help me as much as you can, I told him and he has not done anything so far,” Marjana said.
“Which association should you connect with? I called one and they were giving me advice. I do not need advice, because suffering has made me an expert. I want solutions, but no one worries,” she said.
Like Marjana, there are hundreds of women who each year try to escape violence from their husbands, through the protection order.
Shocking figures of violence, hundreds of women seek protection orders every year
139 women and girls have been killed in Albania over the last 10 years due to family ties. According to State Police statistics, from 2010 to 2019, the number of murders was on average 11-12 murders per year, excluding 2011, with 15 murders and 2013, which marked a record number, 17 women were killed by their partners.
Women victims of murder due to family violence
O.S, the mother of two minor boys, has just left behind a troubled 10-year marriage. She does not find it easy, as she tells about the black scars, permanent on the body, the psychological pressure that led her to the point where she even thought of suicide.
The 35-year-old confesses that she endured the violence, and even forgave the betrayal, until the moment when her husband put his hand on the little boy.
“I could not stand it there anymore. As soon as he left for work, it was May 27, 2020, I took only my two children’s clothes and ran away at my parents, where I am even today “, – says O.S, an educator in a private kindergarten in Tirana .
Sidorela ended the marriage three years ago, after two protection orders, when her baby girl was only 6 months old. As a lawyer, she suffered physical and psychological violence during her marriage.
“I have suffered a lot. After each episode of violence we talked, “clarified things”, but again the same situation continued. He was not changing and I denounced him for violence. I was provided with a protection order and I told my parents to take me,” the young woman said.
Fortunately, Sidorela and O.S came out on top of the violence and denounced it, unlike Sabrina Bengaj, only 23 years old, mother of a small child, who remained a victim of her ex-husband.
Sabrina was killed at her parents’ house, on September 10 this year, marking the 10th woman killed during 2021.
Women murders in different regions of Albania during the years
Eight days later, Fëllënxa Rrasa, 45, was shot dead by her husband, who later committed suicide. Earlier this year, Irvana Hyka, a 29-year-old mother of two, was killed in Fier. While she was 6 weeks pregnant, she was struck not a little, but 31 times with a knife by her husband. The event took place on March 17, while on April 10, Fëllënxa Shirja was killed in Kavaja.
The 45-year-old mother of two was found burned in the car. A few meters away, her husband was found hanging herself from a tree, who after setting his wife on fire, sacrificed himself.
On April 11, the boy’s bride stabbed 74-year-old mother-in-law Nazife Markja in Debar and hid her lifeless body for several hours.
On May 6, Luljeta Buzo, who had just finished the divorce hearing in the Elbasan City Court, was killed in the middle of the city, when her husband stabbed her first with a knife and then shot her 7 times with a Kalashnikov in the back.
Diana Vukaj came from Germany to furnish her brother’s house in Shkodra but he killed her on June 6 just as he demanded from her money to gamble.
Lumturie Bici was killed in Librazhd. The 53-year-old was executed with an axe by her alcoholic husband, whom she had previously reported him to the police for violence.
Klarita Ismalaja, a mother of two boys, was killed on July 5 by her husband, who stabbed her inside a car in Fushë-Krujë, after a domestic dispute.
On August 18, 79-year-old Fadil Bandulla shot dead his wife, 83-year-old Sanije Bandulla, and then shot himself.
On October 2, the Ghanaian citizen Jawsackie Jaboah was massacred with a knife by her boyfriend in Tirana.
Women victims during the years due to domestic disputes
Not a few, but 10 women were killed during the 11 months of 2021 most by the hand of husbands, others by close relatives. Domestic violence reporting figures are also dramatic. From the beginning of January to September, the State Police confirms that 3563 cases of violence have been ascertained, while 2205 immediate protection orders have been issued throughout the country. The first place is held by the capital. According to data from the Court of Tirana, from January to September 2021, 20, 614 new requests were made for immediate protection orders.
“We see that women, who are also on protection orders, are either killed, or continue to be threatened, or are forced in many cases to share the house with the perpetrator. “We have structures that can support these people, but they are inefficient,” said Ina Kasimati, a biology teacher at the Çajupi school in Tirana, who herself has been a victim of domestic violence but has been helping women for many years. and girls in need.
However, repeated cases of violence show that to a considerable extent protection orders are null and void and do not guarantee security.
How formal the protection order is is confirmed by the response received from the Municipality of Kamza, where abused women are forced to live under the same roof as the abuser.
“We inform you that, based on economic impossibilities, 54 cases of women with protection orders live in the same apartment with the perpetrator, out of 84 cases of violence in total, which continue to be in our management” , – this is the answer for INA MEDIA – in the Municipality of Kamza.
“There is a kind of formalism with serious consequences. Protection orders are issued, but no one follows them to enforce them. This is the main reason that fatal cases happen to us “, – lawyer Idajet Beqiri puts his finger on the wound. He accuses state institutions, police-prosecutors-courts, of not cooperating with each other.
“When it comes to cooperation, it is imposed and formal. Documents are filled in to leave traces that I will not be responsible for tomorrow. Not work for prevention, but work so that, when tomorrow happens, I will be okay with the papers. “While on the ground, to come to the aid of a woman with a protection order, this cooperation is almost non-existent”, – says the lawyer.
Referring to the data of the State Police, Tirana is ranked among the cities where the most fatal cases of murder of women and girls have occurred.
From 2017 until now, 9 women and girls have been killed in Tirana; followed by Durrës with 8 fatal cases, Vlora with 7 such, Fieri with 5, Elbasan with 4, Korça with 4, Shkodra with 3, Lezha and Dibra with 2 and Gjirokastra and Kukësi with one case.
Women murders per city during the years
“Violence is everywhere. Of course, there is a change in the social context that can help somewhat, but the basis comes from the family and it has been seen that the tradition of violence is an inherited thing, taught mainly in the family. I would distinguish it by several indicators: economic status, education and generations. “I think the latter, yes, makes some changes in the cycle of violence,” explains Elsa Ballauri.
“Women are to blame”, the prejudice that haunts them
Coming out of a story of violence, nothing is easy for a divorced woman with children. The 35-year-old O.S, confesses that she felt prejudiced and discriminated by the police officers in Police Precinct no. 4, in Tirana, where she went to denounce her husband and was provided with a protection order.
In Albania, there is still the mentality that “women are to blame”. If a woman denounces, she is considered as if she is breaking up the family. “I felt bad about the police questions, because unfortunately they questioned the words I was saying and there was not a single woman police officer to whom I could show the black scars I had on my body, which were quite visible,” she said for INA MEDIA .
“I have an indefinite protection order, I even felt discriminated against as a woman, from the moment I accused him in the police. I was harassed, but I do not want to speak by name “, – Sidorela tells her story of facing the suspicions of the police.
Due to the high number of reports of domestic violence, in January 2020, two Socialist Party MPs at the time, Eglantina Gjermeni and Klotilda Bushka, proposed a package of legal changes, aimed at toughening the sentences for the aggressors.
Specifically, the draft law brought amendments to Article 130 / a of the Criminal Code, making beating and any other act of violence punishable by imprisonment of one to five years. Earlier the sentence for this offense was imprisonment for up to two years and no limit was set for the lowest sentence, creating space for the perpetrators to escape punishment.
n October 2020, parliament approved amendments to law no. 9669, “On measures against domestic violence”, which sanctioned as the first and main measure of protection against domestic violence the immediate removal of the perpetrator from the apartment.
Despite the disappointing results even after the entry into force of the new changes, the former Minister Gjermeni demands more time and connects it with the fact that in Albania work is still being done to build systems.
“We are more than aware that only legal changes do not prevent and minimize violence. “Parallel to the legal changes, there is an extraordinary need for education, awareness, which should start at an early age for girls and boys”, – says Eglantina Gjermeni for INA MEDIA .
Idajet Beqiri, a lawyer, who has attended in court hearings many cases of violence against women, emphasizes that the killings of girls and women in Albania come as a result of a fundamentally patriarchal society, even in the justice system.
“When a woman goes to the police and says, ‘I am raped, be convinced that in more than half of the cases the police officers, who receive criminal reports, the first thing they say to women and girls is:’ Now now, even if a man shouts at you and hits you once, there is no big deal about it. “This situation is both in the prosecution and in the court”, – accuses lawyer Beqiri.
Beyond the legal changes, experts in the field raise the alarm that the “Achilles heel” lies in how the violence referral mechanism responds to a denunciation. They even accuse that , often those who have a duty to deliver justice, have set up a genuine scheme of corruption, tilting the scales of justice from the strongest.
“The criminal, the perpetrator, manages to buy justice. He does it by buying the prosecutor and the judge, so with open corruption”, – says lawyer Idajet Beqiri.
“Surprisingly in Albania the network that should exist works perfectly – that is, the one between the courts, the police, the local government, but with one difference, instead of fighting violence, it is well organized to take bribes and thus strengthening the corruption network “, – accuses the activist Elsa Ballauri, who suggests that there should be an in-depth investigation for every woman killed with a protection order.
For former Minister Eglantina Gjermeni, the factor that influences and keeps alive violence against women, is the traditional mentality that exists in our societies.
“But the treatment of women and girls as property is at the heart of the problem of violence against women,” she insists.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior did not respond to INA MEDIA ‘s request for information regarding the new strategy for the fight against domestic violence, which is considered a priority for the new government mandate.
The Weakness in the Violence Referral Mechanism
Referring to government decision no. 327/2021, has a clear map of how all structures are set up, in order for the “mechanism of coordination of work between the authorities responsible for the referral of cases of domestic violence” to function.
The whole mechanism should provide protection, but also support for abused women, who in most cases also have children with them. But the reality is quite different. Without support and help, often abandoned by families, abused women are abandoned by the state.
“I knocked on many doors for work. I also applied to the portal. I went to the education office, but they did not attend to me. So, not just beautiful laws and words on paper, but their implementation, where is it? ”, Says O.S, who has completed higher studies in Language and Literature and works as an educator, but the former payment of 18 thousand ALL of spouse is enough just to survive.
Sidorela also says that she found the only support from her parents. “I have succeeded in every aspect myself. Without my family I would have “died”. “The state will not know what is happening to us,” Sidorela said.
Altin Hazizaj, director of CRCA , raises the alarm about the lack of services from the local government towards abused women and girls.
“The municipality should help these women and girls, give them a house to rent, so that they can start building their lives. In the western world these services are standard, while in our country they are not offered in the middle of Tirana, nor in other cities. So, the government should help them with funds so that they cover the costs and do not let people be killed,” says Hazizaj.
Since 2006 , the Coordinated Mechanism for Referral of Cases of Domestic Violence has been established in Albania , which includes not less than 15 institutions, which must cooperate and coordinate all actions with the primary purpose of protecting women and girls. of children from domestic violence. Within this mechanism, the National 24-Hour Counseling Line operates at 116/117, advising and referring cases of domestic violence.
However, the Municipality of Tirana, the largest in the country with about 850 thousand inhabitants, has only one local coordinator of domestic violence, who is also a gender officer. According to INA MEDIA research , in 14 municipalities of the country there is only 1 local coordinator for domestic violence (1 coordinator for municipalities) and there is a lack of funds.
“Due to the increasing number of cases of violence and the inability to cope with the influx of cases, starting in April 2021, Child Protection Employees in 27 administrative units have been charged with the task of Specialist in handling cases of domestic violence “, – says for INA MEDIA Anjeza Bojaxhiu, local coordinator of Tirana.
Bojaxhiu raises as a concern the lack of cooperation from the prosecution, regarding the mechanism of referring violence.
“With the exception of the Tirana Judicial District Prosecutor’s Office, to which a number of official letters have been addressed to participate in these meetings, all other institutions regularly participate in ETN meetings or other joint activities,” she says. Bojaxhiu, who emphasizes that victims of violence are assisted by the Municipality of Tirana through social housing programs.
But, while the Municipality of Tirana says that it offers housing bonuses or employment opportunities for victims of domestic violence, Ina Kasimati says otherwise.
“I met a woman, about 27 years old, with a protection order, with a 7-month-old baby and I was immediately interested in her being included in such schemes, i.e. to receive free services, to be employed, but I did not find these services “, – says Kasimati, who shows that she addressed the girl in question in the shelter of Kamza, where she stayed for 4 days and left terrified.
“I kept her at home, I took her to the employment center, we were interested in professional courses. While on a protection order, she was required to pay money. Then she applied 3 times to get social housing, because they did provide that either.”
Marinela Sota, a lecturer at the University of Tirana, who conducted a study in May this year, which she presented to the Municipal Council of Tirana, says that, although the law on social housing has room in theory, when it comes to practice the bureaucracies of small become an obstacle and additional costs for women. According to her, there are at least three programs, from which abused women can benefit from housing, but have to go through a long ordeal of procedures.
“So, according to the law, a violated woman, who has a protection order, applies to the program and the municipality pays a part of the rent or 100% of the rent, but the woman must find the house”, – she explains, explaining that this hardens the procedure.
Erisilda Shpata, who works as a lawyer at the Association of Women with Social Problems in Durrës and has been working with victims of domestic violence since 1999, says that the violence referral mechanism does not work in small towns.
“These mechanisms have worked mainly in large cities, but have been almost non-existent in smaller cities or in new municipalities. Most of the meetings have been almost non-existent, as long as there was no participation of all actors,” said the lawyer, who stressed that the main problem remains the lack of specialists in domestic violence.
Experts suggest the economic empowerment of women and girls and their education, so that no one has the fate of Sabrina anymore.
“The economic empowerment of girls and women, their education, as well as the work that needs to be done with perpetrators at the same time, are the only solution in eliminating domestic violence,” suggests lawyer Shpata.