It was Friday, towards the end of 2020. Somewhere around midnight, a woman doctor at the Psychiatric Clinic in Kragujevac was called to check on a patient who drank hydrochloric acid in an attempt to kill himself. When she asked him why he did it, he said that he woke up, saw that his wife had passed away and that he could not bear it.
However, that was a lie.
His common-law wife had previously reported him for domestic violence and left him. The court therefore issued him with a restraining order. However, this did not stop him. He beat her with his hands and feet until he killed her.
During the investigation, he defended himself by remaining silent, and said in court that he did not feel guilty because “he dedicated himself to her, as well as to his family”. He claimed that he did not know how to lie, and he sent a letter from prison to his nephew in which he tried to convince him to testify in his favor in court.
For this femicide case, a murder motivated by hatred of a woman, he could have been handed a life sentence. He wasn’t, because the prosecution didn’t qualify what he did as aggravated murder, but as a “regular” murder where lesser punishments are given.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
This is just one of the 117 cases of femicide analyzed by the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS), and that went to court between 2014 and the end of 2022. More than half of them were not characterized as aggravated murder, enabling those who commit femicide to get away with lesser punishments. In some of the cases, judges cited bizarre mitigating circumstances and imposed lesser sentences, while shifting part of the responsibility onto the murdered women.
Kosana Beker from FemPlatz, one of the associations that has been fighting for years to make femicide an aggravated murder offense, says that more severe punishments would have a preventive effect on potential abusers.
“This system sends a message to women that their lives are not valuable. On the other hand, it sends a message to abusers that they can probably get away with a lighter sentence if they have a good lawyer.”
Because femicide does not exist as a criminal offense in our country, the courts do not have statistics regarding these cases. They are treated as aggravated murder, where sentences range from 10 years in prison to life imprisonment, while the sentences for murder or domestic violence resulting in death are lower – the maximum is 15 years in prison. CINS journalists requested to see the final verdicts for such cases from all higher courts in Serbia, for the period between 2014 and the end of last year.