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Domestic Violence at the Cost of a Netflix Subscription: How a Bill Can Help Abusers Avoid Punishment

June 1, 2024.

    A bill aligning the Code of Administrative Offenses with the Istanbul Convention has been sent to the President for signing. The Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe document, aims to prevent sexual and domestic violence. If signed, the bill will take effect six months after publication.
    However, the bill contains provisions that could help abusers avoid punishment for violence. Additionally, the penalty for domestic violence is a fine equivalent to the cost of a standard Netflix subscription as of May 2024.
    Analysts from the Centre for Joint Actions explain the problematic aspects of the bill and how they can be addressed.
    What are the changes regarding responsibility for violence?
    For domestic violence, the bill prescribes a fine ranging from 340 to 680 hryvnias, 30-40 hours of community service, or administrative arrest for up to ten days. Violence against minors incurs a fine from 510 to 1020 hryvnias, 40-50 hours of community service, or administrative arrest for two to ten days. Gender-based physical, economic, or psychological violence incurs a fine from 1700 to 3400 hryvnias, 20-40 hours of community service, or corrective labor for up to one month with a 20% wage deduction. Sexual harassment will be penalized with fines from 1360 to 2720 hryvnias, 20-40 hours of community service, or corrective labor for up to one month with a 20% wage deduction.
    Abusers can be fined within six months of the offense. An emergency restraining order may also be issued, requiring the accused to immediately leave the shared residence and notify the National Police of their temporary location. Non-compliance results in a fine of 170-340 hryvnias. Courts can also prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim.
    Oksana Zabolotna, Head of National Analytics at the Centre for Joint Actions, believes the restraining order procedure is fair but not clearly defined. "Responsibility for not notifying about temporary location is unjustified, as neither the law on domestic violence prevention nor subordinate acts specify notification timelines," she explains.
    How can the bill help avoid criminal liability for sexual violence?
    The law on ensuring equal rights for men and women clarifies "sexual harassment" as “verbal, non-verbal, or physical actions of a sexual nature without consent, not causing bodily harm, aimed at or resulting in humiliation of a person's dignity.” Zabolotna notes this definition does not match the Istanbul Convention, which states any unwanted behavior of a sexual nature violates a person's dignity.
    The bill proposes fines for sexual harassment from 1360 to 2720 hryvnias, which contradicts the Criminal Code, where similar actions may lead to up to three years of imprisonment. "The Criminal Code already provides for sexual violence and coercion. Offenders will avoid punishment by being prosecuted under administrative offenses, thus preventing harsher penalties," says Zabolotna.
    Why does the bill contradict the Istanbul Convention?
    The bill should incorporate the Istanbul Convention's norms into the Code of Administrative Offenses. However, analysts note discrepancies. The Istanbul Convention includes sexual violence under "domestic violence," which the Ukrainian law lacks. The bill uses "gender-based violence," not aligned with the Convention's "violence against women."
    "If our President signed the document, we must define terms in the law as per the Convention. The Convention likely considered women less protected against domestic and sexual violence. Men can also seek justice if they experience such violence," explains Zabolotna.
    What is the main problem with the bill?
    Analysts highlight the inadequate fine amounts as the most obvious problem. Hundreds of hryvnias seem like an opportunity to avoid punishment for severe offenses that undermine human dignity and cause lifelong trauma. "Fines are based on the non-taxable minimum income—17 hryvnias. Thus, laws imposing fines need constant updating. Since administrative responsibility for domestic and sexual violence is calculated similarly, we see these low fines," comments Zabolotna.
    Analysts believe the bill needs revision to correct technical and legal errors. The President can return it to parliament for adjustments before signing the improved bill.
    The Centre for Joint Actions also discussed a bill on public prosecution for domestic violence, which allows criminal proceedings based on any individual's complaint, currently initiated only by the victim.

Supported by Eurasia Foundation Supported by Eurasia Foundation