Lawyers at the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of Lithuania, Audronė Daukšaitė-Timpė and Karolis Čepas, conducted a study on the protection of women with disabilities against domestic violence in Lithuania. According to the lawyers, there is still a lack of individualised needs assessment, but this is due to the fact that the debate on the interaction between gender and disability is still quite new.
According to Karolis Čepas, provisions for protection of women with disabilities from violence are still lacking in both international and national law, and therefore targeted support measures for this group of women at higher risk of violence are also lacking. Moreover, there is still no national standard on how services should be provided to persons with different disabilities, including support for persons affected by domestic violence. For these and other reasons violence against women with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities tends to go unnoticed.
Statistics on violence against women with disabilities are unsatisfying
According to the survey of 105 women with disabilities who had experienced domestic violence, 93% of women with disabilities reported experiencing psychological violence at least once in their lifetime, 84% of women with disabilities reported experiencing physical violence. 26% of women reported experiencing physical violence once a week/month, while 24% reported experiencing sexual violence of this intensity. Meanwhile, the number of recorded crimes of this kind is very low and the proportion of crimes resulting in a criminal conviction is even lower.
The analysis of the legislation in Lithuania concluded that Lithuania has good foundations to establish an effective system of protection against domestic violence, which takes into account the essential elements of prevention, protection, and assistance to victims; it is also useful to note that a complaint by the victim is not required for a pre-trial investigation to be initiated. On the other hand, a number of shortcomings have also been identified: for a long time, protection against domestic violence has been regulated in a gender-neutral manner, i.e. there is no mention of the fact that gender can be a cause of violence, there is no comprehensive list of forms of violence that can be criminalised, there is no recognition of the connection between gender and disability, and there is a lack of guidance on how the assistance to persons with disabilities should be provided.
Recommendations on how to improve the situation of women with disabilities experiencing violence
In order to improve the current situation, it is proposed to individualise the assessment of the protection needs of women with disabilities who have experienced domestic violence, to increase the accessibility of social services, to promote inter-institutional cooperation, to train officials, lawyers, social and educational institutions’ staff to work with the issue of domestic violence and women with disabilities who have experienced such violence. It is also proposed that the law should more clearly identify women with disabilities as a vulnerable group and that violence against women with disabilities should be treated as a crime against persons in a helpless condition and that such crimes should be subject to stricter liability. Finally, given that women with disabilities are often more isolated due to their lower level of autonomy, the situation of women with disabilities should be substantially improved overall.