Panel Discussion – Promotion of the Centers for Referral of Victims of Sexual Violence and the Standards for Their Operation

As a result of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, three Centers for Referral of Victims of Sexual Violence – in Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo have been opened in the country. What remains to be done is increase the visibility of these centers and inform victims about the procedures in the field after a case of sexual violence has been reported.

On 4.4.2019, a panel discussion was held in the Civil Society Resource Center. The panel discussion was organized by the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights of the Republic of North Macedonia and the National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The event was open for the public and aimed at promoting the Centers for Referral of Victims of Sexual Violence, as well as presenting the standards for their operation.

The event was opened by Uranija Pirovska, the Executive Director of the Helsinki Committee, who underlined that the state has started implementing the obligations from the Istanbul Convention, but the second step is to let victims know that there is somewhere they can turn to and what they can expect if they reported violence. She also addressed the weaknesses in practice pointed out for years back, such as the insufficiently informed police and health workers, no 24-hour service, problems with evidence collection due to the lack of medical forensic analysts going in the field, and the lack of information on the part of victims.

Next to take the floor was Elena Dimushevska, the Executive Director of the National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence who shared data from the research indicating that sexual violence and its forms are some of the least reported cased of violence, particularly marital rape or rape by an intimate partner. According to her, rape is a crime, and consent must be included in the Criminal Code as the sole qualifying element of a sexual act as rape.

The final introductory address was given by the Director of Clinic of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Viktorija Jovanovska, who stated that, as regards the Skopje Crisis Center, 40 employees of the Clinic had undergone training on clinical treatment of victims of sexual violence. In the first most vulnerable and emotional moments, the victim is treated by members of the medical staff who are aware of the deeper physical, emotional and social consequences of the sexual violence on the victim. Care is also taken to protect the privacy of the victim.

The introductory addresses were followed by a panel discussion in which Nada Tofoska, the Coordinator of the Center for Victims of Sexual Violence in Skopje shared the experiences they face in the operation of the Center.

The second panelist was Rozalita Dojchinovska, a police advisor in the Public Safety Bureau within the MOI, who clarified that attention is given to sensitization of police officers, as the first contact is most important and calls for a careful approach.

The Coordinator for Equal Opportunities within the Ministry of Health, Nermina Fakovikj, also addressed the attendees, stating that almost a year and a half into the opening of the centers, there is pronounced unawareness about their existence. She pointed out that these centers are not a project, but rather an obligation of the state, emphasizing that the services provided by the centers are completely free for the victims.

The discussion was closed with the address by the Director of the Inter-municipal Center for Social Work, Natasha Stanojevikj, who stated that in the past victims were treated by on-call staff in the clinics, as opposed to the current special department with mixed expert team available 24 hours. The centers also have specialized premises for children. Stanojevikj underlined that there has been an increase in the number of victims of domestic violence, but they rarely report that they had been simultaneously abused sexually by their intimate partners as well. The event was moderated by Adelina Marku.

You can read more details about the event on the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights` website and on the following link.

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