From panic buttons to electronic tagging, national strategy on domestic violence launched

Government also announced that Malta's first domestic violence hub will start operating shortly

Panic buttons and electronic tagging are some of the planned measures outlined in the government's new national strategy on gender-based violence (GBV) and domestic violence (DV).

The action plan, titled “Unite, Engage, Elevate", covers the 2023-2028 period and is developed under 4 pillars: integrated policies; legal measures and data collection; prevention, protection and support; and prosecution.

The first pillar aims to ensure that Maltese legislation sufficiently safeguards victims of domestic and gender-based violence, and that it is implemented effectively. This pillar also includes targeted measures for certain demographics, such as ensuring that victims who are migrants are not prevented from leaving abusive relationships due to fear of deportation or loss of legal status.

The pillar will also see that numerous government agencies and NGOs are well-equipped to provide victims with immediate support, which includes legal support and psycho-social support.

The strategy’s second pillar aims to tackle prevention. This shall be done through measures such as multi-targeted awareness campaigns. Here, government aims to introduce educational material related to gender equality and non-violent relationships to boys and girls at all levels of education. Parents and caregivers will also be educated on domestic and gender-based violence.

Government also plans to strengthen programmes for perpetrators of domestic and gender-based violence in order to reduce recidivism. The media and private sector will also be roped in to address gender stereotypes and discriminatory cultural norms.

The third pillar tackles victims’ protection and support. Among its measures, government will evaluate current legal practices and to what extent they are effective in protecting victims and children. 

According to the document’s list of actions under this measure, the government will study the implementation of a centralised system recording bail conditions, protection orders, restraining orders and temporary protection orders. This will be done to ensure that violations are registered and that sanctions are imposed as soon as possible.

Government also plans to introduce electronic tagging and panic buttons in order to strengthen victims’ safety.

The plan’s fourth pillar concerns prosecution, with its first measure aiming to equip the police with the necessary knowledge and power to respond quickly to all forms of domestic and gender-based violence. 

Another measure is concerned with reducing the risk of secondary victimisation of victims. One of the actions aimed at implementing this measure solely concerns Gozo, with the government aiming to “examine and minimise barriers to reporting which are encountered by victims in Gozo”.

This pillar also aims to ensure that all forms of domestic and gender-based violence, including psychological and economic violence, are prosecuted effectively, and that victims are provided with specially-trained lawyers to act as legal counsel.

Home affairs minister Byron Camilleri spoke about the government’s efforts to ensure that victims get the protection they need. Camilleri said that the first domestic violence hub in the country will start operating soon in Santa Lucia. This hub was built to specifically cater to victims of domestic and gender-based violence.

On electronic tagging, Camilleri stated that the tender for the required equipment was no easy undertaking - but it is in its final stages. He explained that the government will present an amendment in parliament that will ensure that victims of domestic and gender-based violence can benefit from such services. Panic alarms are also set to be introduced shortly, Camilleri said.

Addressing a press conference during the launch of the strategy, the Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms Rebecca Buttigieg stated that strengthening the resources needed to tackle domestic and gender-based violence is at the forefront of government’s priorities.

Meanwhile, Domestic Violence Commissioner Samantha Pace Gasan stated that the national strategy and its pillars are based on the four pillars of the Istanbul Convention. Pace Gasan stated that the strategy boasts a holistic approach that leaves no one behind, stating that front liners who work with domestic violence victims are also to be given enhanced psychological support.

The Prime Minister’s wife, Lydia Abela, also addressed those present. Abela mentioned the murder of Bernice Cassar, among other cases, that shed light on the realities of domestic violence present in Maltese society. She stated that, despite the launch of the national strategy, one can never work enough to address domestic and gender-based violence.

Despite this, Abela called for a collective effort to combat these forms of violence, while remarking that the strategy emphasised professionals' role in doing so.