Attitudes of Estonian Residents and Judges on Intimate Partner Violence
A corner stone in protecting victims of intimate partner violence and controlling violent acts in intimate relationships is the attitude of the population and of the appliers of law.
Studies suggest that intimate partner violence is seen as a problem in Estonia by all the respondents. The respondents (both legal professionals as well as participants in the population study) view psychological and physical violence as more serious problems than sexual violence. The women see all forms of violence as a bigger problem than the men, and Estonians as a bigger problem than the other ethnic communities in Estonia. Violence is seen as a very serious or fairly serious problem by mostly the young people: psychological violence is considered a very serious or a fairly serious problem by 75% of 20–29 year old respondents in Estonia, physical violence by 75% of the 15–19 year olds, and sexual violence by 66% of the 15–19 year old age group.
What is worrying is the fact that a relatively large part of the population study respondents seem blind to the violence of violent acts. For example, four percent of the respondents did not consider it violence to threaten the spouse (partner) with violence, three percent – to use force against the spouse (partner) or apply physical force to coerce the spouse (partner) to have sexual intercourse, or to have sexual intercourse without the consent of the spouse (partner).
More important than knowing how the valid legislation views the outlined violent acts, if at all, is knowing whether the people perceive these acts as violence or not. The victim turns to the police only in cases where they see the behaviour they are subjected to as violence that they are not forced to endure or suffer. “Knowing” this would allow the victim to step out of self-recriminations and try to break out of the circle of violence. If we do not recognise violence, it is difficult to stand up to it, not to mention prevent or combat it.
The population is largely positive about the work of the courts: most respondents commented that courts work politely, correctly, fairly, thoroughly, treating all the clients equally and in a client oriented way. The respondents were the most sceptical about the ability of the courts to effectively and efficiently control domestic violence. At the same time, nearly one in two respondents could not rate the work of the courts. Clearly, they have no personal experiences with the work of the courts.
Analysis of court files shows that the majority of intimate relationship violence cases have been resolved through settlement proceedings; this is true even in cases where the violence was systematic, a weapon was used or threatened with, or even when the victim had received injuries that they themselves described as serious or even life-threatening.
The author hopes to see a change in the attitude of judges towards intimate relationship violence and particularly towards its victims. Estonia’s accession to the Istanbul Convention has brought along changes in the work of the courts, as we can see from the fact that we could not find any judicial decisions in the Riigi Teataja (the official journal) that corresponded to the criteria of the analysis carried out on the judicial decisions made in 2019–2020.