Role of Prosecutors
last updated February 1, 2006

Consistent with the situation in many parts of the world, women in the CEE/FSU region encounter obstacles when they attempt to pursue prosecution of domestic assaults. In spite of strongly worded laws prohibiting assault in some countries, prosecutors are often reluctant to enforce these laws in domestic violence cases. Prosecutors may also believe the same myths and stereotypes that absolve the perpetrator of personal responsibility for his actions.

Prosecutorial failure to pursue domestic violence offenses many be grounded in the language of the law. For example, Article 161 of the Bulgarian Criminal Code distinguishes between an assaults by strangers and by relatives in the case of medium-level injuries. From MAHR, Domestic Violence in Bulgaria 6 (1996). Those injured by a relative are not entitled to involvement by the state prosecutor's office. They may prosecute their cases but must do so alone; they must locate and call their own witnesses and present their own evidence in court. Advocates in Bulgaria have undertake efforts to change these laws.

The opinion among prosecutors that domestic violence victims have no place seeking criminal sanctions against their batterers prevails in many parts of the CEE/FSU region. In Albania, for example, where procedure dictates that a woman bring her case to the prosecutor if she seeks criminal sanctions, it is standard policy for the prosecutor to try to convince her to drop the case. From MAHR, Domestic Violence in Albania 16 (1996). In Poland, though the law allows for a prosecutor to proceed without the participation of the victim, one battered woman reported that the prosecutor's response to her request for assistance was: "Unless they took you out in a plastic bag, the public prosecutors' office would not be interested." From Cheryl Thomas, Domestic Violence, in 1 Women and International Human Rights Law 219, 228, 254 (Kelly D. Askin & Dorean M. Koenig eds., 1999).

Globally, there have been many efforts aimed at improving prosecutors' response to domestic violence. One such initiative is the promotion of policies that allow prosecutors to press charges against defendants without the consent or even involvement of the victim. Within any strategy, however, the three goals of prosecution should be: (1) to protect the victim, (2) to deter the defendant from further violent acts by holding him accountable for his actions, and (3) to communicate to the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated. Training for prosecutors on these issues is an important part of an effective intervention strategy.

See the 2008 United Nations expert group recommendation regarding the role of prosecutors in domestic violence cases in Section 7.B of the report entitled, "Good practices in legislation on violence against women." For the Russian version of the recommendations of the report, click here to download.

For a list of research and reports on domestic violence prosecutions, click here.