Domestic violence knows no class, race or religious distinctions. Intensely personal, yet global in scope, it's an international problem.
As reported in the CityBeat story "Domestic Violence: An International Problem" (issue of Oct. 7-13, 1999), a delegation from the Cincinnati-Kharkiv Sister Cities Project was heading to Kharkiv, Ukraine, to meet with government officials, police, lawyers and grassroots, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help target domestic violence problems there.
That delegation -- comprised of Jody Grundy, co-director of the Domestic Violence Project; Pamela Sears, chief assistant prosecutor of Hamilton County; Ann MacDonald, executive director of Women Helping Women; and Jim Brown, Cincinnati Police Recruiting Unit -- spent 10 days in Ukraine (Oct. 15-25).
At a Sister Cities meeting on Feb. 21, the delegation members shared their thoughts on their experience -- what was accomplished and what still needs to happen. Also, a visiting delegation of education administrators from Kharkiv was on hand to share their thoughts about the growing problem of domestic violence in their country.
"I don't know what I expected," Sears said. "I was at once humbled and impressed. We were not visiting 'experts' on domestic violence -- we were already among experts."
During the week the team was there, they attended a major seminar (100-plus in attendance) at the Law Academy of Ukraine, visited a police training session at the Academy of Internal Affairs, met with NGOs, visited crisis centers and participated in a domestic violence roundtable. Once they overcame language barriers and got practice at speaking through interpreters, the group was able to participate in fruitful discussions about domestic violence
The public recognition of domestic violence as a serious problem is significant for the entire Kharkiv community. Representatives from several circles -- including police, social work, government, legal, and medical personnel -- participated in the week's events with the Cincinnati visitors.
Domestic violence is certainly an issue Ukrainians have thought a lot about. "In terms of understanding the reasons why domestic abuse happens, I felt like we (Ukraine and the United States) were on the same page," MacDonald said. "It's in the community response that we differ."
One of the biggest challenges Ukraine currently faces is drafting domestic violence laws. Assault already is against the law there. In fact, all the crimes involved in domestic violence -- including threats, assault and rape -- are illegal. But there's no law specifically targeting domestic violence, historically viewed as a "private" issue.
In the U.S., meanwhile, laws criminalizing domestic violence have been in existence since 1978. Just as in this country, public recognition in Ukraine of domestic violence as an issue is coming only after a long fight, and things are made more complicated by shaky economic conditions. Women's groups are beginning to network more, though, and the U.S. delegation was impressed with what groups there had done with few resources.
Regarding police response, Brown had the opportunity to speak with police officers in training at the Law Academy. "As here, the police in Ukraine are more reactive than proactive in domestic abuse situations," he said. "I stressed the importance of early intervention and being proactive in these situations, rather than waiting until it's too late."
But distrust of the police is common in Kharkiv. In fact, Sergey Razmetayev, who teaches at the academy and is visiting with the education administration group, told the story of a young girl who was gang raped by Ukrainian police. She had nowhere to turn, no support and no recourse. Through unofficial channels and connections, the police involved wound up being fired, but not for the crime of rape.
Until more specific laws are in place and supported by the community, Brown said, violence against women will go unpunished.
"Community involvement is so important for this issue," Grundy said, adding that she feels her exchange program grant -- initially for two years and recently renewed for two more --can have a lot of impact over time.
The group's next step is to bring a domestic violence delegation from Kharkiv to Cincinnati in June. Kharkivites and Cincinnatians will then attend a conference in Denver, where they will meet with the five other sister city pairs taking part in this international domestic violence project.