By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
In spite of the majority of domestic violence victims at the Lai Yuen shelter reporting their abuse to police in the hopes of seeking justice, a majority of abusers were not successfully prosecuted due to a number of limitations.
The statistics released yesterday by the shelter, set up by the Women’s General Association of Macau (AGMM) in July 2005, showed that as of the end of June 2011, a total of 341 women had sought temporary residence at the facility.
Although nearly 75 percent or 255 of them had reported their ordeals to police, the shelter found that the abusers in up to 178 of these cases were able to escape charges because the victims gave up on suing them.
Director of Lai Yuen, Yeung Suk Yin, told the Macau Daily Times there were “many different reasons” behind the unsuccessful prosecutions and while the absence of a domestic violence law may be one of them, some police officers occasionally discourage victims from laying charges against abusers – who on the most part were their husbands.
“Police may ask the women ‘Do you really want to sue them [the abusers]? [If yes] It will be very troublesome’. So it kind of implies to the victims that it’s better not to sue,” Yeung said.
“Police need to explain to these women that they may say no now but they still preserve the right to sue in the future,” she added.
Under the current laws, authorities are not able to lay charges against the offenders if the victims decide not to sue them because it is a semi-public crime, the shelter’s chief explained.
Although Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On promised in his Policy Address that the anti-domestic violence law would be announced this year, AGMM president Chio Ngan Ieng said yesterday they still haven’t heard any news so far. With the new law this crime will become public and the process will continue despite the will of the victims.
Nevertheless, Yeung pointed out that as the police are the “main channel” to whom victims seek for help, the law must “stress the functions of police officers to deal with domestic violence cases and formulate a standardised handling procedure and guidelines to isolate the abusers” in order to provide “effective assistance” to the victims.
On the other hand, the statistics from Lai Yuen revealed that among the 341 women, almost 54 percent suffered from physical and emotional abuse at the same time, and another 24 percent also endured some sort of sexual abuse.
In 2010 alone, 68 women sought shelter from Lai Yuen and 26 of them had tolerated abusive behaviour in the home for 10 years or more.
Eleven of these victims had stayed in the facility twice or more, accounting for 16 percent of the total.
Yeung said the most common reasons for the women to continue to stay with abusers were “fears that a broken marriage would adversely affect their children’s health and growth”, “beliefs that the abusers would change”, and “having financial difficulties in finding/renting a new home”.
Meanwhile, over the past six years since Lai Yuen was established, 239 children under the age of 18 also stayed in the facility with their mothers.
It has been found that some 47 percent of the women in the shelter disclosed that their children were also abused at home.
According to the shelter’s chief, due to limited space Lai Yuen can only offer temporary residence of up to three months. Since most of the women could not afford to live on their own, she said they were forced to return to their spouses and eventually were abused once again.
Both Lai Yuen and AGMM hope the government can build a mid-way home for victims of domestic violence where they can remain safely until they are financially capable of finding their own homes away from their abusers.