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The traumatized collective consciousness of the Serbian people is understandable given the war and strife the country has experienced in recent decades. These events coupled with pervasive poverty and patriarchal cultural norms have created a disturbing trend of domestic violence. A recent article by the Associated Press highlights that 54% of Serbian women have faced domestic violence in their lifetime. This statistic is extremely shocking compared to the 30-40% of women worldwide who have faced abuse and 25% in the United States.

The AP provides two harrowing accounts of violence. One account focuses on Mica, a woman who set her husband on fire after enduring years of abuse. The husband died of his injuries several days later in the hospital. The other describes a Serbian veteran who killed 13 relatives and wounded his wife in a mass shooting spree. The husband’s violent tendencies, typified by his habitual beatings of his wife, were never reported to authorities.

One of the major reasons that violence has perpetuated within Serbian society is the presence of deeply rooted patriarchal social norms. The image of the strong Serbian man and the submissive woman is a generally held view as opposed to an egalitarian relationship found in more liberal societies. This deeply held belief coupled with severe economic misery only compounds the problem. When frustration is pervasive, violence tends to follow.

There is also a severe lapse of authority with regards to Serbian officials preventing instances of abuse and prosecuting those responsible. Although the Serbian government has recognized the problem by enacting targeted legislation, the recent economic crisis has drained budget resources to the point that adequately funding these legal mechanisms is troublesome.

Furthermore, local authorities have shown a complete lack of interest in seriously prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent of the law. Most cases are resolved with warnings to the perpetrators. Shockingly, UNDP has discovered that the vast majority of cases involving domestic abuse resulted in the prosecutor failing to even interview the victim and the perpetrator 79.5% of the time. And 66.7% of the time criminal charges were dismissed, citing lack of evidence. It seems as though tolerance for this type of violence is rooted not only within individuals but within the public institutions charged with punishing perpetrators.

UNDP has created a project to help solve the crisis of domestic violence. The Integrated Response to Violence against Women in Serbia is attempting to change these deeply held beliefs within the country by creating preventative programs such as youth education on gender equality and gender based violence, programs aimed at reaching out to perpetrators, and campaigns focused on raising public awareness and altering stereotypes.

The Associated Press points out that perhaps awareness for this problem is gaining traction among authorities in Serbia. For instance, in the case of Mica, the judge issued her a minimum sentence of five years in jail for the murder of her husband. The judge even seemed to show sympathy for all the years of abuse she endured.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: UNDP