In Serbia the issue of women who have been incarcerated for killing their intimate partners after suffering years of abuse is finally gaining public attention. According to Vesna Nikolic Ristanovic, the director of the Victimology Society of Serbia (SVD), one in 10 of the women in prison is there for killing her partner after years of domestic violence, and, according to an SVD survey, over half the women in Serbia experienced domestic violence last year.
In response to this issue, SVD, the office of the ombudsman, the state secretariat for labor and social policy in charge of gender equality and combating domestic violence, and the prison administration are participating in a two-year awareness project. The goal of the project is to educate judges on the effects of domestic violence, especially the reactions common among victims. The hope is that judges will begin to consider past abuse as a mitigating factor in sentencing women convicted of killing their abusers. Milos Jankovic, deputy ombudsman, explained that "...punitive policy was practically the only area in which men and women were equal in Serbia … women were sentenced to equally grave prison sentences as men, up to 15 years or more… regardless of the torture that led women to commit the crime in the first place.”
Short-term evidence indicates that the campaign, as well as other efforts of the government and human rights groups including the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, is having an impact. Recently, a woman convicted of killing her abuser received the first ever “lenient” sentence (two and one half years). Moreover, SVD has seen an increase in the number of women coming forward to report cases of abuse. Jasmina Nikolic, of SVD’s victims' office, explained that the increase in reported cases most likely reflected a growing awareness of domestic violence as a crime and was not necessarily a sign of higher rates of abuse.
Compiled from: First Abused, Then Imprisoned, Inter Press Service (31 January 2012).