Warning: This case deals with topics that are especially grave and may cause trauma invoked by memories of past abuse. If you have experienced violence and need assistance, please refer to this list of country help lines provided by UN Women.
L.R. married her husband V.R. in 1985, they had two daughters. V.R. a veteran of the armed forces who had fought in Afghanistan, was a violent alcoholic who committed physical, psychological and economic violence against L.R. and her children. They divorced in 2003, but the court dealing with their case required them to continue to share their apartment, so the violence continued. L.R. continued to complain about her treatment, but the police considered that she was the “family troublemaker”. In 2010, V.R. tried to strangle L.R., she lost consciousness during the attack, ambulance and police services were called. From this point, L.R. was assisted by PromoLex, a civil society organization, which advocated to the police to issue a protection order to secure her safety, and a financial provision for her upkeep. When the order was breached, V.R. was simply “reminded” about the order, and no steps were taken to evict him. Violence persisted for several months, and when L.R. reported this to the police, they told her that she should not file another complaint because “her statements did not match the accounts made by V.R.” She made a petition challenging the prosecutor’s failure to initiate a prosecution, and appealed to the higher courts and the ministry of social affairs, asking for legislation on domestic violence to be enforced. L.R. was also intimidated by the police because she complained about their behaviour, eventually the police charged her with “moderate disorderly conduct.” The police consistently said that there was no evidence of any violence being committed against her. Her legal appeal failed, in part because V.R. benefited from good references from the Union of Afghanistan War Veterans. L.R. attempted to divide the apartment through a sale of shares – on appeal, this route was denied, because as V.R. was a war veteran with a disability, his share would not be sufficient to secure him a new apartment.
L.R. complained that domestic violence is met with unresponsive attitudes from the law enforcement bodies, unless the violence results in medium to severe injuries, attempted murder or murder: there is insufficient training and coordination among prosecutors, police officers and courts, therefore the law on domestic violence is usually not enforced. Therefore even when a protection order is made, women are still exposed to risk.
During the exchange of comments and observations between the CEDAW Committee and the Moldovan authorities, further investigations were opened, including psychiatric reports into both V.R. and L.R, and at one point, L.R. was required to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital for examination, a requirement which was not made of her ex-husband V.R. Eventually in 2014, the prosecution was suspended due to there not being enough evidence of a crime taking place, and in any case, where there was evidence of a crime being committed in 2010, the two-year limitation period had expired. Litigation continued, due to L.R.’s refusal to submit to psychological evaluation – the Moldovan authorities persisted in the view that without psychological investigation, there was no evidence of a crime being committed. L.R. maintained that the request for a psychological or psychiatric evaluation was causing her “unjustified suffering and renewed trauma” (paragraph 11.4) and that despite some improvements in the overall state response to domestic violence, the Moldovan authorities have failed to protect her, given that V.R. is still in the same house as her.
What was the decision?
The CEDAW Committee agreed with L.R. that attempting to force her to undergo in-patient psychiatric testing clearly demonstrated gender bias towards victims of domestic violence (paragraph 13.4) and was a “disturbing practice”. The CEDAW Committee welcomed proposed new laws in Moldova, including provisions on compensation, legal aid for victims, and measures to protect victims, including stronger action on non-compliance with protection orders and access to shelters.
However, in the present case of L.R., the CEDAW Committee found significant discrimination against her, not least, the apparent privileging of V.R.’s property rights and right to housing above L.R.’s right to physical and mental integrity, and a persistent use of stereotyped, preconceived and discriminatory notions of what constitutes domestic violence. The CEDAW Committee therefore asked for measures to be taken to guarantee the physical and mental integrity of L.R., and for her to be provided with reparation “proportionate to the physical and mental harm suffered and the gravity of violations of her rights.” The CEDAW Committee also asked for comprehensive approaches to be developed to ensure better access to justice for victims of violence, including an end to compulsory psychiatric evaluation of victims.