Every third woman in Moldova has been victim of violence at least once in her life. Most often, in their families, as statistics shows. 

In dry numbers – which may shock, but which cannot fully convey the full suffering and tragedy of a human being – 73 percent of women in Moldova have endured some form of violence, at least once in their lives, mainly in their families. Every year, the brutality with which they are assaulted means death for about 30 of them. Some statistics, which is probably considered exaggerated by the state, as it would otherwise be difficult to explain the authorities’ far too anemic response to such realities.

For instance, it has been four years since the Republic of Moldova signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, which requires the state to have zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women. A convention signed, but not ratified yet by Chișinău. What has happened in the meantime and why this delay? 

Veronica Teleucă is the coordinator of the National Coalition “Life Without Family Violence”. For almost 7 years, this national network, which includes 23 non-governmental organizations and public institutions providing services in the field of domestic violence, has not only been directly helping victims but also promoting their rights and making their voices heard.

Veronica Teleucă: “The draft law on the ratification of the Convention was approved positively by one parliamentary committee and negatively by another one The pandemic has moved this draft law, this priority or need, somewhere further in line. Usually, in such situations, when there are crises, political crises, health crises, crises of any other kind, everything related to the rights of vulnerable groups of people, and now I am referring to women’s rights, is moved further in line and politicians usually say, ‘You see, we now have other needs and priorities’, which are whims, this having now other more important things on the political agenda. The ratification of the Convention does not mean that all rights will be safeguarded automatically and things will be very good, that we will not have violence, that we will not have harassment, discrimination and that we will have funding and everything will be fine.

No, that is not implied; however, the Convention is that international instrument that provides an additional safeguard that the state will make some commitments, and whether the state wants it or not, it will have to fulfill these commitments, including allocate money for it, and that is probably a pain for any state, as additional funds for human rights, especially for groups that are traditionally disadvantaged, are hard to find.”

Cu DREPTul: Why is there lack of desire to ratify this document?

Veronica Teleucă: “I have never had a clear, public answer, why the ratification of the Convention is not wanted. The Convention is the first document that clearly states the origin of violence is certain stereotypes, collective stereotypes, gender stereotypes, that complex interventions in education are needed to reduce such stereotypes. Everything related to education, related to gender, the term ‘gender’ is interpreted and used in a manipulative way by various groups, both political and non-political, there is great fear and manipulations that the traditional family will disappear. One of the arguments was that homosexual marriages would be legalized, that children would be taken away from families, all kinds of scarecrows that work well where there is a lot of ignorance, where there is no healthy education, where sexual-reproductive education is missing in schools, in education facilities. Where there is a dose of ignorance, there is a lot of manipulation and fear.”

Cu DREPTul: You mentioned earlier about the money the state should allocate after the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. In general, can we estimate how much violence costs and who pays for it?

Veronica Teleucă: “Costs are high and often these costs are not visible, long-term medical costs or psychological costs, if I may say so. Why do I say this? 

Children living in abusive environments and carrying this burden on in their adult lives, what are the psychological costs? How are they? How do they feel? How do such behaviors perpetuate further, if they do perpetuate? Legal costs. The idea is that many of these costs are borne by the women themselves or by the organizations that provide such services. The great burden or responsibility of funding is not placed now on the shoulders of the state. 

We, as a civil society, often come and help the state, starting from the provision of services and their financing. Somehow, we are substituting the role of the state and helping the state, but we are offering services that the state should provide, because that is the mission of civil society and of women’s organizations, after all. However, we obviously expect the authorities to be more actively and substantially involved, including financially. 

Cu DREPTul: To what extent do civil society organizations manage to meet the number of requests and needs of victims?

Veronica Teleucă: “It is not a question of success but of the quality of the intervention, because a case requires a long and complex intervention. If referring to the legal side, everything related to legal aid, including legal aid in court, a case lasts. Then follows the part with the divorce, wealth sharing, social assistance, such as employment, schooling of children, enrollment in kindergarten, obtaining social safeguards, for example, social benefits, attending courses, if the woman did not work. It is a complex assistance, it lasts, it is not a month or two, it sometimes may last up to a year. Psychological services, the first, second, third psychological counseling sessions and the psychological evaluation report is a first stage, the crisis stage, the emergency stage. Long-term psychological rehabilitation, support groups, again, lasts three to five months, may last up to a year. It is probably not so much about the amount of success as it is about the quality of the intervention. 

The quality of the intervention is measured through the fact that this woman is autonomous, can make decisions, has engaged in social life, no longer wants to return to the violent environment, is financially independent, has overcome both violence itself and certain challenges determined by violence.” 

Cu DREPTul: Since 2007, when the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence was adopted, we can say that the aligning of the Moldovan legislation to international and European standards in the field of human rights has begun. Through this law, the state has not only demonstrated its commitment to intervene in reducing domestic violence but has also recognized the severity and extent of the phenomenon of violence as a social problem. In almost 14 years, to what extent have things changed for the better? 

Veronica Teleucă: “It should be a normal process, to change things for the better. We have good legislation, comparable to the legislation of European countries to which we refer; on the other hand, we have always talked about how the implementation of legislation is ensured in practice by specialists. Even specialists have many stereotypes that discourage women either from going to the police or social workers or doctors, or when addressing them, the specialists do not offer solutions and discourage them from moving forward. We have a very high level of poverty, a very difficult access to state institutions, to the healthcare system, to the social system. 

A woman who goes through violence and who is very vulnerable for various reasons, having to go through all our systems – legal, social, medical – is a very complicated process. She will have no resources. If she does not get help, it would be extremely difficult for her. She will be lucky if she succeeds to the end. Women who go through abuse need long-term psychological rehabilitation. It is not for nothing that violence against women is considered a mental health problem. The consequences are very complicated and difficult to bear, especially when she comes from a setting where violence has been passed down from generation to generation, if she comes from a family where there has been violence, where she has experienced violence. Helping her change these patterns of behavior, gain autonomy and self-confidence is a complex process, and I am sure it will be quite difficult. Economic opportunities, not in vain did I mention poverty. Poverty is a factor that keeps women living in abusive environments.

Now, what has happened in the pandemic – this has become even more obvious. Women who worked and already had modest salaries, had very low incomes, undeclared income, had no social safeguards. Now, in the pandemic, many women have recounted how they’ve been fired or their jobs have been closed. They did not have any kind of social safeguards, no financial stability, they did not have, as people say, any money set aside. And so, women who had no places to live and who paid rent could not cope. When we have a very high degree of poverty, obviously, there will be a lot more violence, because women will prefer to stay in that violent mode just to survive financially, and often they say, ‘I have nowhere to go. Where should I go?’ She will go to a shelter, but for a woman to go to a shelter is a difficult decision, because a dose of uncertainty awaits her, she does not know how and what it will be like; many times, they return to the perpetrator. I’ve been talking recently with a specialist, and from her experience, a woman returns to the perpetrator six to seven times on average.

We do not have long-term specialized services, for example, as in other countries; social apartments, apartments where certain vulnerable groups of people, including women who are victims, who have gone through abuse and whom we call survivors, can take a respite to come to their senses, to undergo some medical treatments, to send their children to school or to take them to a quiet kindergarten, a period of respite where she will be able to get on her feet somewhat, to get that financial autonomy.” 

Cu DREPTul: If certain aspects, such as legislation, can be changed through pressure, advocacy, collaboration, what do we do with what is deeply rooted in the human head, such as stereotypes/prejudices? 

Veronica Teleucă: “I, for example, would include a course on gender equality and women’s rights in a human rights course in all general schools, high schools, universities, and would make it a compulsory, not optional, course. An approach to human rights, to women’s rights, if to talk about my field, is often missing. Probably, this would be a necessary course, to understand why we have so much violence, why it is normalized, because this happens most of the time when there are cases of violence and harassment, and we see it even in all media reports, or even when it comes to rape. What are you looking for immediately? The woman’s behavior is being investigated, questioned. What did she do, how was she dressed, how did she behave, was she a good enough mother, maybe she didn’t have to get involved in politics but rather leave her work and keep the home? They start questioning everything about this woman’s morality, behavior, and background. 

And then, the second phenomenon immediately appears, violence begins to be normalized. Well, if it had not been for this or that, the husband may not have been violent. Well, if she had not been dressed one way or another, she might not have been raped. It means, she deserved it if her husband or partner shot her down. This is what happens. If we had education, in whatever we do, a human rights-based approach, these phenomena might not be so obvious.”

Cu DREPTul: Often, to understand the scope of a phenomenon, we use numbers, statistics. In Moldova, practically 3 out of 4 women, to be more precise, 73% of women, have gone through some form of domestic violence during their lives. At least that is the conclusion of a recent OSCE study based on a survey conducted in 2018. The figures provided by the authorities are much lower, on the other hand. The latest report of the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, abbreviated CEDAW, of March 2020, states that cases of abuse are poorly reported Moldova. In this case, to what extent do the figures, and which ones exactly, describe the real picture? 

Veronica Teleucă: “This surely appears to be a scary figure. Seventy is a lot, it is incredibly much. At the same time, we cannot say that these figures are not true, as I had heard an official say that these figures are also made by non-governmental organizations i.e. you make them for yourselves. That is not true. 

In 2010, these were the official data of the National Bureau of Statistics, practically, the same data. The reporting rate is below 10%, and it is even lower for sexual violence. I am now thinking, if the reporting rate was high, what figures we could then expect. It is our organizations that have their internal statistics and they speak and present data confirming we have a lot of violence, which is not always reported or not reported to the competent bodies, to the authorities; women come to the organizations and, often, some women do not want to go through the court, through the police; they simply want to escape, to get out of that violent environment, and they want nothing more. Accordingly, these data do not get into official statistics. 

In addition, we have a problem with unified data collection, because the General Police Inspectorate presents very good, detailed and systemic data. However, we do not have the same data presented in such a way by social workers, the social system and the healthcare system; they are somewhat dispersed and fragmented. We cannot provide a very clear picture of violence, starting from the fact that the reporting rate is low. 

I have no doubt that the figures that are officially presented are lower than the actual figures. In addition, the percentage of women who understand very well that it is violence, that this is a sign of violence, including psychological. For example, recently, in a group, a woman was saying, ‘He was shouting, swearing at me, ruining things, not allowing me to talk, checking my phone, calling me I don’t know how many times to come home, even if I’m home all the time’. This is normal or not normal. You understand that the woman who asked such questions does not know. She has doubts, and this is normal or not normal. Some of the women said this was normal, ‘He is your husband and he will surely tell you that, it is normal, yes’. Others said ‘No, in a functional relationship this violates your personal limits, he controls you, dominates you, imposes his power, manipulates you, this is not normal’. There are many women who still do not know. Well, with physical violence, things are simpler, it is clear and, again, it is clear that this is not good, it is not ok, and somehow goes out of the patterns of a normal relationship. At the same time, if he hit you only once, or only when he is drunk he hits you or pushes you or pulls your hair, well, that’s not so bad, it happens less often or after that he apologizes – things like these that are still confusing for many women, for many girls.”

Cu DREPTul:  Since I mentioned earlier the report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, it seems to be concerned about the limited access of Moldovan women to justice. How do victims of domestic violence cope in this situation?

Veronica Teleucă: “Speaking in the most general way, the justice system is very complicated for any person who is not initiated, who has no legal education. Even for a person who has legal education, but who is not a practitioner, it is a very complicated system i.e. going to court, to the prosecutor’s office, to the criminal investigation officer. It is unfriendly and it is very bureaucratic. In my opinion, it is not at all adapted to the needs of various groups of people. To walk alone through all the bureaucracy of a justice system, I think is extremely difficult. 

To collect all these documents, for instance, she must have a psychological evaluation report and a medical expert examination. ‘Where should I get them? How? Do I have to pay? Is it free? How do I get there? Whom should I leave my children with?’ There are a lot of problems, and a lot of questions that, for the time being, exceed her capacity, the capacity of understanding, her financial and logistical capacities, after all. She has to ask permission from work, find someone to leave her child with, she must travel several times, go to a forensic center, then take that complaint and go to file it in court. It would be good for us to have funds, for example, even for basic costs, travel, for instance, to have more organizations that could guide such women and girls, and the specialists should be quite active. 

At the same time, I am thinking of the police. The vast majority of the organizations in the coalition have a very good collaboration with the police and the police officers. At the same time, there is high staff turnover in the police system and they are overworked. I will overlook those police officers or specialists who have their stereotypes and who are very discouraging. I mean, those police officers who do their job well but who are few and who have to do a lot of things and cannot do them all, but for a victim of violence, help is sometimes vital, as it is really about her life and health. Social workers, too, are undergoing high turnover. They are too few and have a multitude of tasks. For the most part, I believe that urgent specialized support services should be set up for women, and I am not talking about very large centers, emergency rooms, a psychologist, a specialist who can intervene or doctors who should intervene very promptly, who should know what to do, how to document a case. There are many, I don’t know if it would be just a solution.” 


This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.