There’s no pride in silence: domestic and sexual violence against women in Armenia

A bedroom in a shelter run by the Martuni Women's Community Council, Armenia.

A bedroom in a shelter run by the Martuni Women's Community Council, Armenia.

© Amnesty International

13 November 2008

National surveys suggest that more than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members. Many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.  

Violence in the family takes many forms, ranging from isolation and the withholding of economic necessities, to physical and sexual violence, and even murder, yet women have few options to escape situations in which they are at risk.

Violence in the family is not defined in law separately from other kinds of violence involving strangers, and abused women face powerful pressures not to report violence to the police. Strong family bonds are an integral aspect of Armenian culture and women who report violence are seen as threatening the family and are pressured to keep domestic violence a private “family matter”.

The social stigma associated with separation or divorce is worse than that associated with domestic violence. The pressure not to report rape is even more powerful and rape victims commonly encounter the attitude that they are to blame.

Women who try to report violence in the family often experience social isolation, as friends, relatives and neighbours reject them. This culture of preserving silence on violence extends to the police force.

Women often experience reluctance on the part of the police to get involved, and in some cases the police endorse the view that domestic violence is a "family matter".

Since 2002, a handful of shelters have been operating despite facing widespread criticism for their part in making domestic violence a public issue. These shelters, which are run by non-governmental organizations, are reliant on intermittent funding, and most of them have been forced to close or reduce their operations in recent years due to lack of funds.

While shelters are not a catch-all solution, they fulfil a crucial role in providing women who face violence with an initial, short-term step out of their situation. Establishing a network of shelters must be a key element in government strategies to address the issue of violence against women in Armenia.

The fact that some state officials now acknowledge that violence against women actually exists both signifies progress, but also the fact that there is a long way to go. Some positive steps have been taken towards addressing violence against women:
  • A draft law criminalizing domestic violence is currently under discussion.
  • Police training programmes have been initiated to implement guidelines for police responsibilities in responding to domestic violence.  
Amnesty International is calling on the Armenian authorities to clearly and forcefully condemn violence against women. They must also take other urgent steps to change wider social attitudes to domestic and sexual violence. These should include, though not be restricted to, the following:
  • Criminalizing domestic violence, facilitating its prevention and providing support to its victims and survivors;
  • Ensuring that victims of domestic and sexual violence have access to the criminal justice system without facing pressure to withdraw their complaints;
  • Raising awareness of family violence as a crime and a human rights violation.

Armenia: No pride in silence: Countering violence in the family in Armenia

Index Number: EUR 54/004/2008
Date Published: 13 November 2008
Categories: Armenia

Thousands of women in Armenia are regularly subjected to violence within their families on account of their gender. Amnesty International is concerned that these crimes and violations of women’s rights are both significantly under-reported and perpetrated with widespread impunity. This report addresses multiple forms of gender-based violence, including the violence against women perpetrated by husbands, other intimate partners or other family members, sexual violence perpetrated within the family context and the sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

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