As with all court cases which involve intimate partner violence that receive a lot of public attention, this case will have a significant effect on attitudes towards domestic violence in society: the current court ruling gives the message that violence against women is a crime, the due punishment of which is a several year prison sentence.
As organizations that deal with cases of intimate partner violence, we find it important to point out in particular that the court legally acknowledged the credibility of circumstantial evidence, even in this case of violence behind closed doors. It deserves recognition that the court, in accordance with international human rights standards, paid particular attention to the human dignity of the victim and rejected suggestions for providing evidence that would have led to her further traumatization. It is our hope that the court’s decision will deter future defendants accused of committing sexual violence from trying to prove their innocence using staged pornographic movies in their defence.
However, we find it rather inexplicable that the court did not acknowledge the documented evidence of the fact that Damu had committed violence against women before as an aggravating circumstance, and why it was deemed a mitigating circumstance that before the rape a consensual sexual act had taken place between the parties. This latter explanation is all the more surprising because the court recognized at the same time that the sexually violent crime was “an act with a kind of disciplining goal, serving to solidify the hierarchical relationship between the two of them”; i.e. it was not an act of a sexual kind but an instrument used to express power and exercise control.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – which is not yet legally binding for Hungary but already provides guidance – also specifies that such crimes should be punished with the use of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. Taking this into consideration as well, we express our regret that the Budapest Metropolitan Court, by significantly reducing the original sentence that was handed down, sends the message that as court of appeal it considers the acts the accused committed only slightly dangerous to society. The series of acts that included a number of grave forms of psychological, verbal, physical and sexual violence has caused lifelong impacts to the victim in this case. Domestic and intimate partner violence is the number one cause of death for women between ages 15 and 44, and at least every fifth woman is at risk of it. In our view, it is the primary role of the justice system to recognize the fact that this phenomenon poses a serious threat to society. What depends on this is not merely protecting the legitimately called-for safety of women, but preservation of the lives and the mental and physical health of future generations as well.
MONA Foundation for the Women of Hungary