A woman is killed every week in Romania: how the state fails to protect victims

Despite the clear risk factors, the state is failing to provide the protection to female victims of domestic violence that might prevent femicides. Why? We set out to understand, using statistics on gender-based violence from Romania's justice ministry, the national police inspectorate and their local counterparts.

Published On: April 16th, 2024


It’s 16 February 2022. A man leaves Drobeta-Turnu Severin by train for Caransebeș. At the station, he takes a taxi to a nearby town and stops to buy a coffee on the way. At his destination he texts his ex-partner, asking to meet.

The woman, who had separated from the man earlier that month and moved in with her parents, arrives a few minutes later at the meeting place. The two walk together along a main road. When the woman’s phone rings, the man becomes violent. He takes the phone from her hand and smashes it. The woman tells him she is pregnant and will not keep the baby. At that point, the man pulls out a knife that he had brought with him and stabs her repeatedly.

The man notices blood stains on his right hand and washes it in a nearby puddle. He calls the taxi driver he had come with and returns to the station, where he takes a train home. The woman’s body lies in a field at the entrance to the village.

On the way, the man calls his brother. He tells him what happened. At 4 a.m., he turns himself in at a police station and confesses his deeds.

For several months, the two had been in a relationship. They lived together, alongside the woman’s 5-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. After the woman ended the relationship and took the girl to her parents, the man tried several times to get her to reconcile. On the day he killed her, his visit to her home was the third within a few days.

This report includes some of the data that the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police this year refused to provide, which seems to be a violation of the Istanbul Convention. This situation prompted 33 organisations to send an [open letter of complaint to the interior minister.

Neither did PressOne receive all information requested. The Romanian state does not collect certain vital data that could help prevent crimes against women at risk.

In parallel, we spoke to several experts, including a judge and a former judge, to better understand femicide in Romania and why the current protection offered to victims of domestic and gender-based abuse is not sufficient.

All of the above details are part of the case file* in which the man was held responsible for domestic violence. “Domestic violence” is not a crime in its own right in Romania’s penal code, but only an aggravating circumstance for other crimes that occur between family members, such as murder, assault and battery causing death or bodily harm.

*Decision no. 74/2022 of 14.11.2022 delivered by the Court of Caras Severin, RJ code g8839d325

Victims of domestic violence

Murder is the worst form of domestic violence. In February 2023, the Minister of Family Gabriela Firea, reported that in the last 8 years 426 women have been killed in Romania by family members. According to the UN’s Vienna Declaration on Femicide, which categorises 11 types of femicides, these women were victims of their intimate partners.

In a broad sense, femicide is the intentional killing of a woman, regardless of the nature of the victim-offender relationship.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), there is no standard definition of femicide at EU level, which makes the phenomenon difficult to monitor. However, EIGE believes that intimate-partner killings are the most common form of femicide in Europe.

Meanwhile, in Romania no specific crime of femicide exists. For intimate-partner femicide, the closest coverage is provided by the Domestic Violence Act.

In an effort to ascertain the overall situation, PressOne requested data from the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police (IGPR) and all county police inspectorates.

According to the IGPR’s response, between 2020 and 2023, there have been 319,381 interventions by police officers in cases of domestic violence nationwide. Most of them followed calls to the single emergency number 112.

In 2023 alone, the number of interventions was 108,831, an increase of 20% compared to 2022 and more than 63% compared to 2020.

In the same year, police officers issued 13,231 provisional protection orders (PPOs). As for the remainder of the interventions, police officers either did not identify an imminent risk requiring the issuance of a PPO, or the victim refused its issuance.

According to the Gender Violence Monitoring Report produced by the Filia Centre, a feminist organisation, there was an increase in police interventions in cases of domestic violence between 2020 and 2022, but this was matched by an increase in the number of victims refusing to seek a provisional protection order. This was indicative of the “low level of confidence in the effectiveness of this safety measure”.

Another response sent by the national police inspectorate to PressOne shows that between 2018 and 2023, there was an alarming increase in the number of offences committed under the Domestic Violence Act: the nationwide figure of 38,445 for 2018 had increased by 50% by 2023.

“We do not possess the data you requested”

We asked the police how many females were victims of the above crimes and how many of the crimes were committed by male perpetrators (when both parties were aged 18+).

We found out that, in 2023, among the 57,851 recorded crimes under the domestic violence law 51,110 were committed by adult male perpetrators. That’s over 88% of all crimes.

PressOne asked the IGPR and county police inspectorates for data on the extent of psychological and economic harm and, most importantly, how many of the crimes were committed by a male partner of the victim (husband, ex-husband, cohabitant). The answer? “Please note that we do not possess the data you requested.”

The problem with the numbers

Corina Voicu is a former judge and an anti-domestic-violence instructor at the National Institute of Magistrates. In her view, if the above figures are not backed up by information on the relationship between victim and perpetrator, they are somewhat meaningless.

“If we do not establish the nature of these domestic crimes, which have no aggravating factors and no qualification in the text concerning the victim-offender relationship, we will never gauge the real dimension of domestic violence in our country,” believes the former judge.

The situation is no different in terms of data collected by public prosecutors’ offices, she says.

“[That data] does not specify the victim-offender relationship, that is, a female victim and a male offender. It does not make clear whether the wife is killed by the husband or vice versa.”

Without such statistical data on the relationship between victim and perpetrator, the ages of both parties at the time of the crime, and any vulnerabilities of the victim, one cannot fully understand gender-based violence. The Istanbul Convention obliges Romania to collect detailed data on all types of violence. In practice this is not happening, says Andreea Braga of the Filia Centre.

For example, in 2022, according to data received by PressOne from the national police, there were 275 recorded cases of rape under the domestic violence law, with 257 male perpetrators and 102 female victims. However, in separate data provided to PressOne, this time by the justice ministry, the number of rape cases before national courts (judges, tribunals, courts of appeal) is 1,565.

Between these 275 and 1,565 cases, the Romanian state does not know, statistically, anything about the nature of the victim or the aggressor. 

“The available data on the workload of the courts cannot be disaggregated according to criteria relating to the situation of the victims,” explained the justice ministry.

“For the other victims, those not covered by the domestic violence law, the state does not collect data showing how many of them are women or men, how many of the perpetrators are men, or how many are adults”, points out Andreea Braga of the Filia Centre.

This makes it almost impossible to analyse the trends in violence against women. For example, one cannot know how many out of 1,000 complaints to the police have reached the public prosecutor’s office, how many of those have been prosecuted, or how many subsequent cases have been adjudicated.  

Intimate-partner femicides

A mother of five wants to see her youngest daughter, who has lived with the husband since they separated. The woman has a protection order for herself and the rest of the children, but not for the little girl left with her father. The man promises to let her see her daughter, so the woman goes to the man’s house. There she is killed in front of the child.

At a conference entitled “The causes of femicide in Romania”, organised by ANAIS, a women’s rights group, former judge Corina Voicu referred to cases of intimate-partner femicide as “deaths foretold”. Why?

In all cases of intentional killing of women by intimate partners there is a history of domestic violence. 

In the above case, the woman had experienced numerous episodes of domestic violence. She received legal and psychological support from ANAIS, which helped her to get away from her aggressor, and was also granted a protection order. So there was a history of violence that might have been a clear red flag and justification for action. For example, the little girl could also have been given a protection order: this might have prevented the perpetrator from getting access to the victim.

“We should think the way the ECHR thinks”, says the former judge. “Did the state institution – for example the police or the prosecutor’s office – know that domestic violence was going on? Did they take measures to prevent the killing? No. They did not.”

But how can domestic violence cases be prevented from turning into murder cases with female victims? By identifying risk factors.

The perpetrator’s goal: to destroy the victim

“Do we have criteria to establish a high risk of homicide?”, says Corina Voicu. “Specific criteria can be applied here. So do we have mechanisms, do we have tools? No, we don’t, because no one has been much interested in establishing what these situations would be where the risk of homicide is very high.”

Based on judicial precedent, however, the former magistrate has identified a number of risk factors. Firstly, divorce. When a victim of domestic violence wants to leave an abusive relationship, or to get a divorce, she is at increased risk.

“In Romania it has been established that, for a year or 18 months after the parties have divorced, there is a high level of tension and this is when there is a high number of murders”, explains Corina Voicu.

Threats are another risk factor. According to data from the Filia Centre’s Gender Violence Monitoring Report, in 2022 there were 6,601 threat offences falling under the domestic-violence law.

“The fact that the threat is made, even that the ways of killing may be elaborated verbally – he may imagine killing the victim by strangulation or by stabbing, or by poison – means that he has fully conceptualised this action of destroying the victim”, says Corina Voicu. “It has become his habitual way of thinking. Then it can be easy for him to take action, because he’s used to the idea.”

Many domestic-partner femicides could be prevented

Ecaterina Balica is a sociologist at the Romanian Academy and coordinator of the Romanian Observatory for the Analysis and Prevention of Homicides (ORAPO). She says that other risk factors are the frequency of domestic violence, the severity of the injuries thus sustained by the victim, and whether or not the victim has a child from a previous relationship.

“If professionals in the field know that there are antecedents of violence, they can intervene and prevent this type of femicide”, she says. “It is a preventable type of killing, because you have the early indicators generated by domestic violence. These can help you intervene early and stop the progression of violence to the final homicide phase.”

And yet professionals in the field do not communicate with each other about such histories of violence, says former judge Voicu. There is almost no communication between social services and the justice system to keep track of individual cases.

It is known that domestic violence exists in a cycle that repeats itself. There is  a release of tension, followed by a period of calm, then a period of accumulating tension and then a release again.

“As time goes by and the aggressor is not sanctioned, the victim becomes more and more powerless”, explains Corina Voicu. “The cycle of violence repeats itself more and more often. The periods of calm are shorter and shorter, and the intensity of the violence increases. And in this situation where there is nobody to defend the victim, the aggressor may do anything, including killing her.”

How many women have been killed in Romania in recent years?

PressOne asked a number of relevant institutions about the current situation in terms of various offences – murder; homicide with aggravated domestic violence; aggravated murder; assault and battery causing death; and rape and sexual assault resulting in the death of the victim – where the victims were women (aged 18+).

The Ministry of Justice has told us that the system implemented by the Superior Council of Magistracy and the Ministry of Justice doesn’t allow to provide disaggregated data on victims or offenders, but only on the subject of the case.

In 2022, there were more than 2,000 cases of murder pending in all courts. But we do not know how many of these cases involved female victims, how many involved male perpetrators, or the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. We only know the total number.

In a follow-up to the Ministry of Justice, we focused on court cases in which the main subject matter is “protection orders” and domestic violence with female victims. PressOne asked the ministry to specify how many of those protection orders were requested by female victims.

We received the same answer: it is not possible to break down the data according to this criterion.

Bucharest Court of Appeal: “No statistics are held on homicide crimes specifically relating to the nature of the victims”

We also sent requests to various judges, tribunals and courts of appeal across the country. Although the Ministry of Justice told us that they could not provide detailed data on murder cases involving female victims, the situation was different in other courts. For example, the Bihor court informed us that between 2019 and 2022, there were three cases involving the crime of murder where the victims were women.

Similarly, the Galati court informed us that between 2018 and 2023, there were five cases on the court’s docket concerning the crime of aggravated murder where the victims were women over 18.

But other courts chose to follow the justice ministry’s lead.

Bucharest Court of Appeal: “No statistics are kept on homicide crimes specifically targeting the quality of victims.”

Cluj Court of Appeal: “As long as the system does not generate such reports and the court does not compile physical records based on the two criteria you mentioned (female victims over 18 of the crime of murder and aggravated domestic violence), we are not in a position to provide you with the data you requested.”

Constanta Court: “The records do not allow the extraction of this information, as this task involves processing operations that go beyond the powers provided for by Law 544/2001.”

Others did not respond at all by the time this article was published. Where we did receive answers, this was only possible because someone had simply picked out all the files concerning offences of murder, assault or injury causing death.

In conclusion, there is a problem of data entry, says former judge Corina Voicu.

“You don’t enter this data if you don’t have a column for it”, she says. “Because in statistics you can only harvest what you have entered. But this requires a change in the regulations on these records.”

“Every 7 days, a woman or girl is killed by a member of her own family”

We sent an information request to the public prosecutor’s office. They provided us with data on the cases prosecuted where the main offences were murder, assault or battery causing death, and rape followed by the death of the victim. Thus, in the last six years, 22,833 cases have been registered in Romania with murder as the main object, of which 530 were women:

  • 463 female victims (adults + minor) of homicide crimes
  • 62 female victims (adults + minors) of assault and battery causing death
  • 5 female victims (adults + minors) of rape followed by death

That’s over 88 women killed every year.

But we don’t know how many of these women were killed by a husband, or ex-spouse, or domestic partner, or a stranger. The same reply informs us that the institution “does not have statistical data for crimes of domestic violence under Article 199 of the Criminal Code in relation to Article 188 of the Criminal Code (murder).”

The Romanian Observatory for the Analysis and Prevention of Homicides has used data provided by the national police inspectorate to show how often a girl or woman is killed by her family members.

“We took data from the police and used this to calculate the frequency of murders where a girl or woman is killed by her family,” explains Ecaterina Balica, coordinator of ORAPO.

For example, in 2019, 51 cases of murder with female victims were registered. “This means that every 7 days a woman or a girl was killed by a member of her own family”, concludes the researcher.

10 metres of safety

In addition to the lack of data that could be the basis for effective public policies in the area of prevention, other aspects contribute to the phenomenon of femicide between intimate partners. These go from the way in which cases are processed to the protection measures offered to victims.

For example, in a case with a history of domestic violence, the victim may be granted a protection order in the first instance. This can stipulate that the distance between her and her attacker should be more than, say, 10 metres.

Laura Andrei is a judge at the Bucharest Court of Appeal and says the precise distance is up to the judge’s discretion.

“You have to assess it according to the situation”, she says. “You can give her 100 metres, you can give her 200 metres, but it should minimise the risk that the aggressor can get at her.”

The judge believes that magistrates should be better prepared to gauge risk when issuing a protection order. It is only by removing the victim from the aggressor can they avoid the build-up of tension that can lead to murder.

“During initial training at the National Institute of Magistrates, there is specific instruction on this question of types of protection order in domestic violence cases. And during ongoing training there are cycles of specialisation, for example on risk detection, identification of violence, how to interview the victim, how to interview the aggressor, what the available measures are, and how to detect the type of violence.”

During the first two years of magistrates’ training, all students take a module dedicated to family law, adds the judge. One topic covered is domestic violence.

“There are two or three seminars on domestic violence,” she says.

Afterwards, when the judge becomes a professional, he or she may undergo additional training. This is not compulsory for all judges: the National Institute of Magistrates selects those who must complete a training cycle.

“As a rule, everyone goes through at least one year of continuous training,” adds Laura Andrei. In addition, with the adoption of the draft European directive on combating violence against women, the initial training of future magistrates will contain more hours on the issue, she explains.  

No electronic bracelet in those counties with most female victims

According to data presented at the conference “Cases of femicide in Romania” organised by the ANAIS Association, former judge Corina Voicu revealed that the counties with the most cases of murdered women are Iași, Botoșani, Cluj, Ilfov and Vaslui. Although Botoșani is high on the list, the county has not yet been included in the electronic-bracelet monitoring system. In Cluj, Ilfov and Vaslui, the system did not come into force until 1 January 2024.

Former judge Voicu believes that such electronic monitoring is useful as a complement to protection orders, pointing out that “in none of the cases of murder did the perpetrator have an electronic bracelet.”

Why is it taking so long to roll out nationwide bracelet monitoring? For one, it would require training and education of officers in the field. This is especially true since, contrary to the original version of the law, the bracelet’s installation will now be done by the police officer who answers 112.

“Initially, the law provided for an officer specialised in the installation of the electronic system”, explains the former magistrate. “But the country was unable to come up with so many specialists, so the police officers who intervene on 112 have become the specialists.”

Moreover, even in counties where there is electronic bracelet monitoring, there are prosecutors who oppose the measure on the grounds that it would be too invasive.

Corina Voicu elaborates: “This is about how to understand the specifics of domestic violence, about being sensitive to the victim’s concerns, and about understanding how to monitor compliance with the obligations in the protection order if there is no bracelet. Because the aggressor can go to the police once a week for a check-up on the protection order, but in the remaining time he can go to the victim’s home or to their work.”

That is what happened in the case of a nurse who was murdered at her workplace by her husband. They had been separated for some time.

Special orphans – ignored by authorities

Special orphans are rarely discussed. These are the children left behind after their mother is murdered and their father imprisoned – if he has not committed suicide – after killing his wife. Some stay with grandparents, and some end up with extended families or in residential care.

Ecaterina Balica, the sociologist at the Romanian Academy, provides an example: “In my research, I came across the following case. A small child was found next to his mother in an orchard. The mother had been murdered and it was over 24 hours before they found her. The child managed to survive and it was only a year after the murder that he was reunited with his grandmother.”

Until the grandmother was located, the child had been placed with a professional foster carer.

“During follow-up by local social workers, there have been such situations where the grandmother was herself unable to overcome the tragic event [the death of her daughter]” adds the researcher.

A working group is currently meeting at Romania’s National Agency for Equal Opportunities to amend the law on domestic violence. This might also include clarifications on special orphans.

“I must now look for evidence to prove that these children are special compared to others and that we should give them some help, for example a special benefit payment until the age of 26”, says Ecaterina Balica. “That is because it’s very hard for them to get through this time without help from us, from the community and from professionals. But other members of the working group told us not to bring up emotional arguments.”

What can be done? First: changes to the penal code

According to former judge Corina Voicu, Romania does not necessarily need to recognise the crime of femicide between intimate partners. It is more important to recognise aggravating circumstances for domestic violence in relation to other crimes.

“In the penal code we have an aggravating circumstance relating to the crime of murder of a family member”, explains the former judge. “But the notion of family member, in the criminal sense, only includes the spouse at the time. If they have been divorced for three months at the time of the murder, it has no criminal relevance, it is no longer aggravating. That is unfair.”

She adds that “the Istanbul Convention says that it doesn’t matter whether the partners are current or former. In fact, the former relationship may be the source of much of the tension, given that the aggressor is not a stranger to the victim. There are ex-partners who harassed their victim even 20 years after the break-up.”

Corina Voicu believes that there should be an aggravating circumstance for deprivation of liberty. This way we will not have situations where the offender follows the victim, puts her in his car and brings her back to the house which the woman left.

Similarly, she believes there is a need to recognise the aggravating circumstances of  threats, and of destruction of property.

“Destruction of property normally relates to another person’s property. But the destruction of common property may be done for the purpose of intimidation, as a form of psychological violence. And yet it is not currently an offence. If he, for example, takes the victim’s phones, the children’s phones, and smashes them against the wall, or throws the stove or the fridge down the stairs, he is only liable if he hits someone with them. If he destroys everything in the house, the TV and everything else, nothing can be done because it’s common property. It’s not considered a crime in itself.”

There is also a need for stricter monitoring of compliance with protection orders, coupled with much stronger surveillance of the offender. At present, such orders are not preventing offenders from approaching their victims.

“Electronic bracelet monitoring could be the solution”, believes Laura Andrei, the judge at the Bucharest Court of Appeal.”If it were to be used in all counties it would probably reduce the high-risk situations. There are situations that you cannot fully anticipate, that depend on the temperament of the offender. And then there are situations where it is possible to intervene, to take any weapons that the aggressor has, to monitor him at all times, to supervise the execution of the protection order, to keep him away from the victim and to intervene if he violates the established distance.” Alongside better initial training for magistrates, such reforms could prevent the death of the next victim.

And last but not least, there is the need to collect data. Only data can reveal the true extent of the problem and thus suggest the best response to it.

Since the beginning of the year and to date, at least 11 Romanian women and girls have been killed in Romania and abroad. This figure is from the Romanian Observatory for the Analysis and Prevention of Homicides, which monitors the phenomenon by analysing press data.

Original source: https://pressone.ro/exclusiv-in-fiecare-saptamana-o-femeie-este-ucisa-in-romania-cum-esueaza-statul-sa-ofere-protectie-victimelor/

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