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Poland Updated

Facts and figures about violence against women

  • According to the Polish police’s statistics, the number of domestic violence victims was 130,682 in 2007, of which 76,162 were women (the rest were children and men). In 2008 the total number of domestic violence victims was 139,747, of which 81,985 were women (Source).
  • 1827 reported rapes, 84,2 % of cases were sentenced. NGOs estimated that the actual number of rapes was 10 times higher than reported.

Polish experience in counteracting domestic violence

For a long time the problem of domestic violence was marginalised in Poland and it was simply not a topic of public discussion. Now for the past several years it has been slowly getting recognition as a serious social problem. Following the changes in public consciousness some legal acts were implemented. Still a lot of people do not realise the extent of domestic violence and only now media give more information about it and report more cases.

The Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence of July 29, 2005 is an attempt to introduce uniform and focused law (see below). It was passed “to increase efficiency of actions to fight domestic violence and initiate actions raising public awareness about the causes and effects of domestic violence”. It was the first major step to tackle this problem. Additionally all actions fighting violence were given a legal framework and it raised their significance. The act obliged the government to accept the National Program to Counteract Domestic Violence.

The National Program to Counteract Domestic Violence (2006)

The objective of the program is to improve the quality of help available to victims of violence in Poland. It implements the directives of the Polish Charter of the Rights of Victims through education to limit the extent of domestic violence in the province. There are leaflets and flyers in police precincts informing victims about their options and places where they can seek help. The program is meant to be a comprehensive gamut of actions to both counteract violence and to inform the public about it. It is also meant to increase the level of professionalism of social workers in their contacts with victims and dealing with the perpetrators.

The program has been created in the cooperation of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education. The works of all those agencies started with analysing and summing up all knowledge and experience about domestic violence in Poland and other European countries as well as facts and methods of its prevention. In Pomorskie Province and other provinces there are coordinators of the programs assigned by local authorities.

Goals of the program:

  1. To decrease and limit domestic violence
  2. To improve the efficiency of help and making it more readily available to victims
  3. To improve the efficiency of prevention and corrective actions aimed at perpetrators

The goals are achieved through:

  1. Systematic diagnosing of the problem
  2. Raising social sensitivity
  3. Raising competence and professionalism of services dealing with it and providing help
  4. Rendering efficient help to victims
  5. Dealing with perpetrators

Support procedures and help for the victims of domestic violence

Support procedures are structured methods of action in difficult or challenging situations. It is an advantage that they enable quick and decisive actions without debating their sense and order of steps, which must be taken to counteract the challenge. They are especially important when danger is involved. Familiarity with procedures is indispensable and invaluable in such situations when they guarantee that the intervention will be best suited for the circumstances. One should not forget that procedures are necessarily only of general nature and give only simplified directions. Real life events have their unexpected turns and twists and different causes and effects. Procedures are meant to facilitate the reactions, but one has to bear in mind that every real life intervention is unique.

Blue Card Procedure

This procedure is used by police, social workers and local committees on alcohol abuse problems. It is meant for patrol and intervention teams and neighborhood policemen. It consists of two forms; card A, which is a note written on the spot and card B - information for the victims. When a policeman arrives to intervene he deals with alleged or actual violence. Frequently the same perpetrator had been violent for a long time before the first intervention occurred. Policemen need skills to deal with it and they must know they are there to help the victims. It may be difficult in cases of acute and ongoing violence in the moment of the intervention. The whole energy of the policeman is aimed at stopping the violence and subduing the perpetrator and there is no time or chance to talk to the victims and tell them about their options.

Removing the violent individual and placing him in isolation, especially when he is drunk, is a short term method and will not provide the victims with safety. It is not uncommon that after going back home the perpetrator is in a vengeful mood and the battering is even worse.

Blue Card procedure runs in stages:

  1. Accepting a call or complaint. Policeman who accepts complaint is obliged to gather more information, register it and all data he managed to collect and referring it to intervening team.
  2. Intervention. Each intervention is unique and policemen should observe reactions and behavior of all people present. If they suspect there is a danger that some family members may be injured or killed the perpetrator should be detained and isolated. After intervention policeman fills in the blue card and advises the victims about their options.
  3. End of the intervention. Policeman must make sure that the victims are safe and tell them that soon they will be visited by their neighborhood officer to double check on them.
  4. Role and function of the neighborhood office. He should contact the family within seven days of the violent event to get oriented in the situation and find out what kind of assistance they need. He should visit them on a monthly basis to make sure the family is safe and to control the behavior of the violent individual. He should stay involved as long as there is a threat of recurring violence (Based on the publication by Sasal, H.D. 1998, Blue Cards Guide to police procedure of home intervention, Warszawa 1998)

Blue Interview Rooms

Policemen use “Blue Rooms” when dealing with victims of domestic violence. They are meant to help them not to get victimized again during interviews and not to get negatively affected psychologically.
There is a Week of Helping the Victims campaign organized in precincts on different level and 67 trained officers from the Team of Criminal Prevention are there on call to inform and help the victims of domestic violence. There are also trainings for social workers.

Together Against Pathologies - program of the Pomorskie Province

This program puts together police and institutions in interdisciplinary groups. Their task is to quickly and correctly diagnose domestic violence in the family in question. Those groups include social workers,
City Guards, education department, health department, and centers for abuse addiction. If necessary they also engage workers of a center for youth and children “Anthill”, adoption centers, nurses, probation officers and pre-school teachers. Since 2007 corrective-educational programs for perpetrators have been implemented in the voivodship. Children from the neediest families may apply for free summer and winter camps and for material help to get school gear and equipment for children in first grade.

Program “Here and Now”

Prticipation of specialists in teams intervening at homes. In Gdansk this program is meant to reduce the level of violence. People other than policemen are needed when there is an intervention in a household plagued by violence. This program was created by a decree 534/08 of the mayor from 2008. The program works in three streams involving professionals other than police officers:

  • Stream one - specialists on call taking part in the home intervention.
  • Stream two - specialists on call in local precincts. Together with a neighborhood policeman the specialist pays a visit at home after the interventions to check on the developments where the Blue Cards have been filled. This visit allows for a complex evaluation of the situation. Specialist must have the ability to evaluate the psychological condition of the victims and create an individual plan of help for them. The role of the specialist also facilitates the job of the policeman to initiate contact with the family. A visit by two persons proves to the perpetrator that there are people and institutions out there which are not going to look away and which will help the victims he batters or oppresses. The perpetrator feels less impunity and this may change his pattern of behavior already.
  • Stream three - training and seminars. The topics are all about how to prevent and efficiently intervene in cases of violence. People, who are invited to participate, are social workers, teachers, priests, probation officers as they all have most insight into their communities and particular families.

Information centers

Police precincts serve as information centers through leaflets and flyers, which are to be found there. This role of precincts is new and imposed on them by the Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence.
Precincts inform about the network of institutions available to help in Pomorskie Province.

National Legislation

Polish law defines domestic violence in the Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence of July 29, 2005. This Act is the most important document regarding domestic violence; however the penalties and procedures are described in the Penal Code. Art. 207 of the Penal Code specifies the sentence, which should be applied:

§ 1. Physical and psychological abuse against the next of kin or other person in temporary or permanent dependence on the perpetrator or against a dependable minor or another person with limited physical or psychological powers is punishable by 3 months to 5 years of imprisonment

§ 2. If the action described in § 1 is especially cruel the sentence of imprisonment amounts from one year to 10 years

§ 3. If the action defined in § 1or § 2 results in a suicidal attempt of the victim the sentence of imprisonment amounts from 2 years to 12 years” (Penal Code, 1997).

Battering a family member is a crime, which is prosecuted by law when there is a suspicion that it has occurred and prosecutors are obliged to start an investigation. Contrary 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.

1.1 Some excerpts of the Penal Code (published 1997 with some later changes)

Art. 191 §1
Violence or a threat thereof to force someone to undertake certain action or abandon certain actions is punishable by imprisonment up to 3 years (prosecuted automatically),
Automatic prosecution is undertaken by prosecutor and police because the crime has occurred and complaint of the victim is not necessary. Refusal by the victim to press charges does not have to result in cancellation of the indictment if the crime has been committed.

Art. 197 §1
Violence or a threat thereof to force someone to sexual activity is punishable by one year to 10 years of imprisonment (prosecution initiated by the complaint of the victim)
Prosecution resulting from a complaint takes place only if the victim wants to press charges and cannot be initiated without a complaint.

Art. 209 §1
Avoiding the burden of care of the next of kin if it was ordered by the court and endangering thereby the basic needs of that person is punishable by imprisonment up to 2 years (prosecution initiated by the complaint of the victim)” (Penal Code, 1997).

1.2 Currently obligatory Polish legal documents regulate the issues of violence:

  • Constitution of the Republic of Poland of April 2, 1997
  • Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence of July 29, 2005
  • Act on Education of September 7, 1991
  • Act on Sobriety and Counteracting Alcoholism of October 26, 1982
  • Act on Police Forces of April 6, 1990
  • The National Program to Counteract Domestic Violence, 1997.
  • Penal Code of 1997
  • Code of Family Law of 1964, art. 87 defines relations between parents and children
  • Code of Civil Law of 1964
  • Act on procedures concerning minors of October 26, 1982

Art.572 § 1 Everyone who knows a case meriting automatic prosecution is obliged to notify a court of family law

Art.572 § 2 This duty legally burdens vital statistics offices, courts, prosecutors, notaries, bailiffs, local governments, police, educational centers, social workers and all person working with children and mentally sick people” (Code of Civil Law of 1964).

Even though there are appropriate legal acts the Polish courts are rather lenient in applying sanctions to perpetrators and do not protect the victims sufficiently. As the national statistics show in 2008 only 66 perpetrators were ordered to sign up for a therapy. Only 85 perpetrators were sentenced to participate in correction programs. These numbers are small considering the fact that they apply to the whole country and not just Pomorskie Province. In 166 cases perpetrators were ordered to vacate the residence they shared with the victim and in 280 cases orders of protection were issued.

Article 14 of the Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence is of paramount importance for the victims as it proclaims:

Art.14. 1. If there are circumstances for detention of the person accused of domestic violence as defined in art.13, the court may apply police probation instead of arrest providing that the accused will leave the residence shared with the victim and will notify the police of his new abode.

If the afore mentioned residence is vacated the court may also apply an order of protection as defined in the Penal Code art. 272, Act of June 6, 1997” (Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence, 2005).
This article obviously enables the removal of the perpetrator from the common residence he/she shares with his/her victim. Alas, Polish courts too rarely use this legal tool to protect the victims of violence. In 2009 there were solely 166 cases when the perpetrators were ordered to leave the place of residence, which was shared with the victim. 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.

The new amendments to the Act from 2005 that came into force in August 2010 enable courts to order a perpetrator of violence to leave the place of residence when it is shared with his/her victim.
Court sentence, in such a case, is issued after a trial, which has to be conducted within one month from the notification of crime. The decision of the court is binding immediately after its announcement.
In June 2010 Polish Parliament passed amendments to the Act on Counteracting Domestic Violence from July 2005. New regulations strengthen the protection of victims of violence, especially through restraining order and possibility of eviction of the abuser from the place of residence. The eviction of the abuser from common flat and restraining order can be issued by the public prosecutor during the preparatory proceedings before the court case takes place.

The Act allows also for free forensic examination for the victim and places an obligation on each municipality to help every victim, who has no legal right to the property, which she occupies with the perpetrator. The amendments give the social workers powers to intervene when the life of a child is endangered and take the child away from his/her cares. The decision must be made together with a police officer and a person representing the health service.

The amendment also strengthens the law by obliging every municipality to create interdisciplinary units consisting of experts working on eradication of domestic violence: psychologists, police officers, social
workers and probation officers, Centrum Praw Kobietn.

These data point to poor understanding by Polish courts how important it is to provide victims with security and compensation for their suffering. Consciousness-raising seems to be a necessary step, especially in regard to judges. Creating an infrastructure of assistance to victims is equally important as well as the right enforcement of court orders and sentences. Victims of violence, who feel unsafe in their own homes, must be provided with personal immunity.

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Loud and United to end violence against women and girls, European Women’s Lobby Conference, 6 December 2017, Brussels.

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