Umberto Bacchi –
Confined to her home, it took Mary three decades of relentless marital abuse — violence, humiliation, isolation and control — before she finally broke cover and rang Bosnian police.
Officers dismissed her story as trivial.
Mary had been locked indoors and slapped around for years.
Contact with the outside world was strictly forbidden so the call she made for help in 2011 was a bold breach of rules.
“He used to forbid me to go out,” recalled the 56-year-old, who declined to give her real name.
Almost one in two Bosnian women have experienced some form of violence, mostly at the hands of their own partners, according to a 2013 United Nations-backed survey.
Yet only about 5 per cent of those seek help, the study said.
“Most families think that everything that happens inside the family needs to stay in the family,” said Sabiha Husic, the head of Medica Zenica, the women’s rights group running the shelter.
Some officers even advise victims to give their partners a second chance, ranking family unity above safety, said Husic.
Mary said it took five years after her call even to find a supportive officer — a woman — who then booked her into the shelter, where she found legal and psychological help.
Now a group of female police officers have launched a formal initiative to ensure women like Mary get quicker help.
The team has been training fellow officers on how to handle domestic violence cases, while also waging a wider battle from within male-dominated law enforcement for a more equal society.
“Domestic violence has not been treated as enough of a serious crime but we want to raise the level,” said Sanja Sumonja, who runs the initiative in the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two autonomous regions.
Police training began in 2015, with women training fellow officers — men and women alike — about how best to interact with abuse victims, Sumonja said.
Since these networks were started in 2011 and 2012, about 1,000 police officers have undergone training.
Over the same period, the number of domestic violence cases in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia’s other autonomous region, has remained steady at almost 900 a year — but arrests have gone up 46 per cent to 440 in 2018.
— Thomson Reuters Foundation