Scholar urges govt to optimise support mechanisms for domestic violence victims

2023-05-03 03:12     BY Yuki Lei    Comment:0

Instead of adjusting the current criminal penalties in Macau’s domestic violence law, the government should put more effort into optimising the support and follow-up mechanisms to protect suspected victims of domestic violence, the director of the University of Macau’s (UM) Centre for Macau Studies, Agnes Lam Iok Fong, told The Macau Post Daily in an interview at her on-campus office last week.

Ex-lawmaker Lam, an associate professor at the UM Faculty of Social Science’s Communication Department, provided assistance to domestic violence victims when she was a member of the Legislative Assembly (AL) between 2017 and 2021.

The Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence came into effect in October 2016.

The rise in reports of domestic violence cases is a global trend, Lam noted, adding that a worldwide increase in domestic abuse occurred during the three-year COVID-19 pandemic based on psychological reasons and financial issues.

According to Lam, psychological reasons refer to mental changes in those who were not used to staying at home for long periods of time before the pandemic and were forced to spend more time with their families due to novel coronavirus restrictions such as lockdowns, which posed a risk to some families.

Financial issues have always been one of the reasons for domestic violence, i.e., sometimes the husband’s work is not going well, or the family’s finances are threatened, Lam underlined, adding that the decline in Macau’s gross domestic product (GDP) in recent years brought big changes to many people’s lives, with some of them dealing with family pressure in the wrong way, leading to domestic abuse.

According to the Social Welfare Bureau’s (IAS) respective reports from 2019 to 2022, there were 1,175 suspected domestic violence cases reported in 2019, 1,249 cases in 2020, 1,123 cases in 2021, and 1,157 last year.

Lam said: “We are now facing a relatively dangerous position”, adding that due to the impact of the adjustments to Macau’s industrial policy, there are still many people earning less money than in the pre-COVID-19 years, and therefore, even though the domestic violence risk factors are now declining, “we can’t take it lightly”.

Responding to public concern about why in some cases of reported domestic violence the perpetrators were merely convicted of bodily harm charges, Lam acknowledged that based on the current domestic violence law, a domestic violence charge is placed between bodily harm and serious bodily harm charges, i.e., the penalty for domestic violence will be more serious than the former, but lighter than the latter.

However, Lam underlined, whenever the suspected victims of domestic violence reported their case to the police, the government’s support mechanisms for the victims would be activated even though the suspects were charged only with bodily harm. Lam added that government entities such as the police and Social Welfare Bureau (IAS) would intervene in the case and provide support to the victim.

When asked whether the current legislation provides adequate protection for suspected victims of domestic violence, Lam pointed out that the support and follow-up mechanisms still have room for improvement, adding that based on the current mechanisms, the government will not provide long-term support to victims, especially to those who have been disconnected from the community for years.

Lam also urged the government to support and follow up on special cases, in which the victims, who had forgiven their domestic abusers and withdrawn the charges, were attacked again, leading to a recurring trend. She added that such a predicament was not caused by the current law, but by an old concept, and thereby, the government should provide assistance to them in understanding that domestic abuse is “repeated violence”.

Although the reported cases of domestic violence have decreased after the post-COVID-19 pandemic, Lam stressed, the government should always continue to raise public awareness of domestic abuse. 

Ex-lawmaker Agnes Lam Iok Fong, director of the University of Macau’s (UM) Centre for Macau Studies and an associate professor at the UM Faculty of Social Science’s Communication Department, poses during Thursday’s interview with The Macau Post Daily at her on-campus office. – Photo: Yuki Lei

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