Sociology Mind
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 238-247
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Policewomen and the Policing of Domestic Violence in the
Centre of the Mediterranean
Jacqueline Azzopardi, Sandra Scicluna, Janice Formosa Pace, Saviour Formosa
Department of Criminology, Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta, Humanities A
(Laws, Theology, Criminology), Msida, Malta
Received February 3rd, 2013; revised April 12th, 2013; accepted April 29th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Jacqueline Azzopardi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
Domestic violence has its roots in culture and, in turn, culture constructs stereotypes about different sec-
tions of people. Although stereotypes may not necessarily be negative, they are the pillars that sustain pre-
judice and discrimination (Deaux, Dane, & Wrightsman, 1993: p. 218). Therefore, this paper will discuss
the role of police women and the policing of domestic violence in the centre of the Mediterranean. The
research focuses on a study carried out in the Maltese islands and in the region of Trapani, Sicily. After a
brief description of the two islands and their culture, the paper will continue by explaining and defining
the Mediterranean culture and police culture. The findings of the research will be explained in the final part.
Keywords: Policing; Domestic Violence; Policewomen; Mediterranean Culture; Machismo
The Centre of the Mediterranean
Right at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea one finds Malta
and Sicily. The Maltese islands comprise three inhabited is-
lands: Malta (the largest), Gozo and Comino and a small num-
ber of islets. The islands have a population of around 400,000
people. Being an ex-British colony, it has two national lan-
guages: Maltese and English. However, most Maltese speak at
least three European languages. The island of Sicily lies at the
foot of Italy and is a part of it. Sicily is about 120 km away
from Malta and is about 80 times bigger than Malta. It has a
population of around 5 million people. The national language is
Italian but most Sicilians also speak their dialect. Although
Malta and Sicily share a part of their history, Sicily was never a
British colony and, since it is part of Italy, Sicily was on the
Axis side in World War II. Therefore, when one compares these
two islands, the differences outweigh the similarities: Malta is
small—relatively Sicily is quite extensive; Malta’s economy is
based on tourism and information technology—Sicily’s econ-
omy is based mainly on agriculture, especially on the produc-
tion of wine and olive oil. Yet, although geographically and
politically separated, and although they do not speak the same
language, Maltese and Sicilians certainly have one thing in
common: the Mediterranean culture. This paper will explore
how this Mediterranean culture affects policewomen and the
policing of domestic violence in the centre of the Mediterra-
nean and whether policewomen can actually lead to a positive
change in mentality.
Policewomen and Policing Domestic Violence in
Malta and Sicily: Cultural Considerations
It is precisely this notion of culture that is under focus here.
Therefore, culture is constituted by the unofficial, undocu-
mented regulations, which are adopted in the conduct and atti-
tudes of people. It is this unwritten code of behaviour that var-
ies the conduct of people from one society/country to another
(Wilk, 1989; quoted in Makin, Cooper, & Cox, 1996: p. 247).
Sackmann (1991; cited in Chan, 1997: p. 68) defines culture
as “the collective construction of social reality”. According to
Chan (1997: p. 68), culture comprises every type of structured
knowledge held collectively by individuals. A common as-
sumption made by scholars in this field is that, culture is com-
posed of different elements, which exist at differing measures
of consciousness. Basic assumptions are very deeply ingrained
within individuals’ cultural construction. These comprise un-
conscious generalisations on ascribed suitable conduct and phy-
sical/verbal responses in particular circumstances. Basic as-
sumptions trigger automatic reactions from individuals as they
are internalised and accepted unquestionably. Values also play
a very important part since they regulate an individual’s per-
ception of how things should be and what deserves priority.
Persons may generally act without making the conscious effort
of referring to values however, if challenged, most people
would quote them.
Culture projects a particular perception of the world, but not
automatically a unique one (Eagleton, 2000: p. 37). This can be
clearly observed when studying the culture of Malta and Sicily.
Wettinger (1988 in Mallia-Milanes, 1988: p. 20) claims that
there “exists a traditional affinity with Southern Italian people”,
including of course Sicilians, “with whom” the Maltese “share
geographical, cultural and economic ties”. Therefore, the way
of life of the Maltese and the Sicilians tends to be very similar
consequently, one would not expect their cultures to be very
different (Clifford, 1997: p. 64). Abela (1991) describes the
Mediterranean culture as one based on the principles of honour
and shame wherein one hides facts that could jeopardise either
one’s quiet life or that of others—this is what is referred to in
Italian and Maltese as: “omerta”—the shroud of silence.
This culture is further cemented by Roman Catholicism (the
main religion of both islands). Roman Catholicism is permeated
by patriarchalism (Miceli, 1994: p. 87) and Maltese society has
its roots in Roman Catholicism. In fact, Baldacchino (2000: p.
65) claims that the Roman Catholic Church is “clearly, the
strongest contributor to Maltese culture”. The Roman Catholic
Church in Malta exercises power through its teachings, thus
animating religious beliefs, tradition and attitudes (Cole, 1994:
p. 605) which constitute a good part of the local cultural bag-
gage. Thus, one may be correct when claiming that patriarchy
constitutes the backbone of Maltese society. In fact, Miceli
(1994: p. 87) describes how the “old concept of patriarchal
rule… prevails” while other authors (Abela, 1992: p. 19; Callus,
1998: p. 94) explain how Maltese citizens lead a “predomi-
nantly traditional way of life” based on patriarchy.
Until relatively recently, Maltese women who dared break
out of the mould imposed on them by the Victorian “patriarchal
ideal”, were shunned by both men and women (Carrier, 1988:
xi). Thankfully, culture changes even chronologically (Makin,
Cooper, & Cox, 1996: p. 247). Therefore, although one could
argue that the traditional mentality still prevails in Malta, gra-
dually but steadily, gender equality is gaining ground, there is
“an emerging concern for the freedom of expression” and the
participation of children and youths is encouraged in both fami-
lies and the community (Abela, 1994: p. 254). Since the 1980s
in Malta, liberty of speech has increased drastically to interna-
tional standards and pluralism has flourished. All this has cre-
ated a new culture that tolerates open criticism of the estab-
lishments. Modern methods of communication, coupled with
the ability of the Maltese people to speak English (and even
other languages), has rendered Malta less and less insular over
time. Consequently, Maltese society is no longer what it was.
For good or for worse, the traditional values have changed
(Abela, 1994: p. 260), however, one positive outcome is that,
nowadays, one could expect most Maltese people to know their
rights and Maltese society is no longer complacent in face of
any form of discrimination and domestic violence.
The situation is somewhat different in Sicily. Indeed, al-
though the roots of Maltese and Sicilian culture originated from
the same source, they have spread separately through different
historical events that have ended up shaping both islands, dif-
ferently. While Sicily always found refuge in its big sister—
Italy, Malta was left to fend for itself, being fostered—or rather
colonised—by different nations: the Phoenicians, the Romans,
the Arabs, the Knights of St. John, the French and finally, the
British. Malta remained officially a British colony until the 21st
of September 1964, when it was finally granted independence.
The last British troops left Malta on the 31st of March 1979.
English became the second national language and provided
access to the rest of the world. Sicily remained dependent on
Italy and it is not rare to hear Sicilians complain of being
treated as second-class citizens. Parts of Sicily are periodically
referred to as down south (profondo sud) by politicians (for
example see Debates of the Camera dei Deputati, sitting 17 of
October 2006), journalists (Corriere della sera, TG1 etc.) and
people in general. This does not only refer to the geographic
location of Sicily but it also refers to the way most people look
at Sicily and Sicilians—as backward, locked in a time warp and
governed by corruption and omerta.
Once described as the fruit-basket of the Roman Empire,
Sicily does not disappoint when it comes to agricultural pro-
duce and gourmet eating/drinking. In fact, its main economical
pillar is agriculture. With the exception of the cities, Sicily is
characterised with quaint little villages and extensive stretches
of fertile, cultivated (and not cultivated) land. Sicily might give
the impression of being small, however it is not. In fact, one
finds people living in remote places, with little or no access to
means of transport and/or communication. Naturally, the more
vulnerable the persons, the less access do they have to these
means. In addition, most Sicilians speak Italian and their dialect
which continues to limit their access to information. As a result,
unlike the Maltese society, the Sicilian one can be considered
as being very insular. This situation renders Sicily fertile
ground for a culture built on what is commonly referred to as
omerta (a code of silence), honour and shame (Cassar, 2003: pp.
Cassar (2003: p. 10) explains how honour and shame are the
persistent concerns in diminutive Mediterranean society such as
the Maltese and Sicilian one. However, these concerns get ac-
centuated by remoteness and isolation therefore, as one could
expect, Sicilians may be more worried about preserving honour
and avoiding shame (Cassar, 2003: p. 7). Pitt-Rivers (1965
quoted in Cassar, 2003: p. 10) defines honour as “the value of a
person in his [and honour is heavily associated with men] own
eyes, but also in the eyes of his society… It is the estimation of
one’s own worth… his claim to pride… his excellence recog-
nized by society.” Honour amongst males is pivoted on: valour,
fidelity and sincerity whereas, for females, “honour is essen-
tially a sexual matter”.
In the Mediterranean culture, men strive to preserve their
dominance and to constantly prove that they are worthy of
honour—of their family name. Therefore, their role is to secure
their honour, whereas the role of women is to avoid shame, by
keeping pure, by remaining loyal to their husbands and by
guaranteeing the continuity of the family lineage (that is by
giving birth, minding children and keeping the house). Cassar
(2003: p. 12) explicates how, in the Mediterranean world and
mentality, honour is under constant threat by outsiders—thus
their suspicion of strangers. They believe that women are the
most susceptible to this danger… “Honour must be responded
to, since claim to honour must be backed up or else the group
ends up in shame. Shame is therefore the other part of the equa-
tion”… the part concerning women. In fact, Mediterranean
women are expected to do anything to avert shame (Cassar,
2003: p. 12). Mediterranean culture dictates that whereas a
husband’s duties are economic and his rights are sexual (that is
he is provided with domestic service)… the wife’s duties are
sexual and her rights economic (since she is not expected to
work outside the home). The Mediterranean mentality ascribes
very rigid gender roles: the men provide for and protect the
women who can be little more than domestic carers.
Before one attempts to explore the status of policewomen in
the centre of the Mediterranean, one needs to understand police
culture. Skolnick and Fyfe (Warren & James, 2000: p. 34) be-
lieve that police culture comprises four elements: “danger, au-
thority, suspicion and solidarity”. According to them (Skolnick
& Fyfe, 1993; quoted in Chan, 1997: p. 45), the “fundamental
culture of policing is everywhere similar… since… the same
features of the police role—danger, authority, and the mandate
to use coercive force—are everywhere present”. Reiner (2000:
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 239
pp. 87-101) claims that police culture is composed of the fol-
lowing elements: a strong sense of mission, action, cynicism,
pessimism, suspicion, isolation, solidarity with colleagues, prag-
matism and conservatism. Reiner (2000: p. 97) stresses that
police culture as “one of old fashioned machismo” whose
“masculine ethos” is underlined by police officers’ obsession
with discipline and danger, chauvinism, tolerance of poor work-
ing conditions and their support of authoritarian traits. Smith
and Gray (1983; cited in Heindensohn, 1995: p. 78) identified:
initiation rituals, group solidarity and discipline. However,
further research conducted by them reveals different key ele-
ments: “gross machismo… characterized by four elements: al-
cohol, violence, sex, and a lack of human sympathy”.
Police culture and the Mediterranean culture are somewhat
similar—especially where machismo and the code of silence
are concerned. Clearly, the traditional Mediterranean life-style
(in which family duties are primarily the responsibility of
women—whether they work outside the home or not) might au-
tomatically block women from pursuing a policing career.
Campell (1993; quoted in McLaughlin and Muncie, 2001: p.
77) describes policing as “the most masculinised enclave in
civil society”. In fact, although they are allowed to join the
police force, policewomen “suffered considerably” in the proc-
ess of getting integrated within policing (McLaughlin & Mun-
cie, 2001: p. 77) at the hands of male officers’ conservative,
diehard attitudes. Indeed, the rigid Mediterranean culture must
have made the introduction of policewomen in the region even
more painful for women police recruits. Cole (1994: p. 596)
claims that women are outsiders in Maltese society. It seems
that they surely are considered as such in the Malta police force.
In fact, strong authoritarian, conservative and sexist traits seem
to live on within the Malta police force (Azzopardi Cauchi,
2004) that help keep women out of this organization. In fact, in
the December 2012 police recruitment, only 3 out of the 95
police recruits were women. Azzopardi Cauchi’s (2004) re-
search indicated that: most Maltese police officers believe that
men are tougher than women and thus make better police offi-
cers; when it comes to promotion: the acceptance of police
women diminishes as the ranks get higher; gender stereotypes
are deeply ingrained in the Malta police force.
Unfortunately we do not have a similar research on policing
in Sicily; however from the contacts and conversations that the
researchers had, it is probable that similar results would be
found should such a research be undertaken. Although the Po-
lizia di Stato (Italian State Police) is not a disciplined force, it
still retains its historical legacy, the police band, the tradition
and its coat of arms (Polizia di Stato, 2007) and thus, its au-
thoritarian trait. Stone, Lederer and Christie (1993: p. 4) explain
that “the authoritarian personality syndrome’s essential core is
that the person fawns before admired authority (representing
strength) [high-ranked police officers] and loathes weakness
in… women or gays for example”. So, it seems that most police
officers believe that the “policeman and the policeman alone is
equipped, entitled, and required to deal with every exigency”
(Bittner, 1990; quoted in Heidensohn, 1992: p. 73).
Policing is certainly a field, which remains exclusively “ma-
sculine” and staunchly firm against the integration of women
(Martin & Jurik, 1996: p. 63). There might have been ad-
vancements in policing and in the way in which women are
considered, yet chauvinism still prevails in the Malta and
probably Italian police force. Azzopardi Cauchi’s (1998) study
indicates that the major problems encountered by women in
central Mediterranean police forces are:
The traditional idea of the role of the police;
Police culture and Mediterranean culture being rooted in
machismo and sexism;
The dual role of most Mediterranean women (domestic
carer and career seeker);
The lack of training endured by women who are generally
restricted to office-work;
The disrespect of female values;
The idea that only men are suitable for dealing with “real”
The disrespect towards the role of policewomen;
The stereotyping of women;
The idea that women are not able to manage effectively.
Indeed, effective cultural change is not externally induced
(Chan, 1997: p. 237)—it comes from within, animated by the
very officers who mould police culture. Cultural change has
also to be promoted by societal norms and mores. The fact that
European Union has gender equality as one of its priorities will
encourage Maltese and Sicilian women to pursue careers in
fields that were traditionally male dominated. These also in-
clude policing. Gender discrimination is no longer tolerated and
both governments have programmes which encourage women
to go into the labour force. This will undoubtedly lead to chan-
ges, changes that, it is hoped, will eventually be supported and
promoted by the police officers themselves.
Policing Domestic Violence in the Centre of the
The term “family violence” or “domestic violence” includes
violence perpetrated by family members against other members
of the same family. Victims may comprise spouses/cohabitees,
children and elders, however for lack of space, this paper will
focus on the abuse of women. Forms of abuse vary and are
sometimes adopted concurrently. They may be physical, psy-
chological, emotional and/or sexual (Tifft, 1993: ix). Brehm
and Kassin (1993: p. 384) postulate that researchers can only
give an estimate of the incidence of domestic violence because
they can only see the tip of the iceberg. The “dark figure” of
crime still exists (Muncie & McLaughlin, 2001: p. 37) and a
considerable extent of domestic violence remains unreported
for various reasons. One plausible motive might be that people
have different perceptions of this crime. Perceptions on domes-
tic violence vary from one country to another, from one genera-
tion to another and from one culture to another (Muncie & Mc-
Laughlin, 2001: p. 234).
Azzopardi, Camilleri Cassar and Scicluna (2006) conducted
a brief comparative study on domestic violence in Malta and
Sicily (the province of Trapani). The aim of their research was
to raise awareness of the variations, complexities and negative
consequences of domestic violence. They concluded that do-
mestic violence may very well have its roots in Mediterranean
culture (as described above)—a culture built on the “cult of
masculinity” (Walklate, 1995: p. 117) that feeds on the patriar-
chal mentality wherein adult men are considered as sole bread-
winners, heads of families, supreme leaders and thus superior to
women and youths. Therefore, culture may equip individuals
with inexact pre-conceived conceptions and expectations (Ha-
zan, 1994: pp. 28-32) on women, youths and men. Therefore,
the Mediterranean culture might justify the abuse of women
and negate the existence of female-inflicted abuse of males. In
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
addition, traditionally, culturally and religiously (since it was
even supported by Roman Catholicism) in the Mediterranean,
physical chastisement was an acceptable method of correcting
loved ones… and this included wives!
Official Statistics and Legal Considerations
When attempting to assess the extent of domestic violence,
one needs to look further than the official statistics, however,
although just showing the tip of the iceberg, official statistics
help in assessing the work that the police and the law courts
face. Crimes of domestic violence are divided into two: generic
(sexual and battering) and abuse in the family (threats and daily
battering over a long period of time). During 2004, 150 and 135
cases of domestic violence were reported to the police in Tra-
pani (Sicily) and Malta respectively. These cases do not only
include women victims but even, children and youths that as-
saulted their parents, and children who were victims of domes-
tic violence. It is important to note that statistics on domestic
violence prior to 2007 were not registered as specific to the
category but as a subset to bodily harm, which renders detailed
analysis between pre and post 2007 difficult.
Updated statistics on reported offences for Malta show that
the trend has drastically changed from 116 in 2007 gradually
increasing to 849 in 2011; a result that could reflect higher
actual incidences, greater awareness of the law as well as a
higher propensity to report incidences. Based on new data from
the Police Incident Reporting System (PIRS) (Formosa, 2012),
Table 1 shows that whilst all categories experienced an in-
crease, stalking, which was a relative newcomer (as reported) in
2007 saw a 32 fold increase in 2011. However, the main areas
of concern, “Psychological Harm” increased from 15 in 2007 to
313 cases in 2011 and “Slight Bodily Harm (SBH) with Physi-
cal Force” which increased from 83 cases in 2007 to 468 cases
in 2011 (Figure 1).
Interestingly, taking the analysis a step further through the
use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Formosa
(2007) depicted those areas that report domestic violence in
terms of the location they are reported in, which reflects their
residential town. Analysing the data at the lowest data level
available, that of Census enumeration areas (130 - 150 house-
holds), which divides the Maltese Islands into 1000 areas, the
2006 analysis shows that some areas, particularly the Northeast
seaside town of San Pawl il-Bahar experiences a domestic vio-
Table 1.
Domestic violence reports: Malta.
Malta Sub-Categorised Statistics 2007 2011
GBH with arms improper 2 3
GBH with physical force 11 17
Psychological harm 15 313
SBH by arms improper 4 12
SBH by arms proper 0 4
SBH with physical force 83 468
Stalking 1 32
Total 116 849
Figure 1.
Domestic violence reports: Malta.
lence rate that is at least 10 times the national rate. Figure 2
depicts the areas that have a higher than national rate (the
darker the shade the higher the relative domestic violence rate).
The areas that show distinct rates can be found in the northeast
town of San Pawl il-Bahar (incidentally a town that exhibits
very cheap rents and has a major component on non-Maltese
nationals, an issue that is not tackled in this study but one
which requires future studies in the field), the towns of Msida
and Mosta (central zones), as well as Marsaxlokk and Birzeb-
bugia in the South.
When analysed through a graduated map, the areas’ relative
weight in terms of incidents reports becomes very evident in
that each round blue symbol depicts the number of incidents.
Figure 3 shows that the higher reports are centered in San Pawl
il-Bahar, with most reports occurring in the conurbation (mid-
eastern towns centered around the Grand Harbour) with lower
reports occurring in the rural areas and in Gozo, which suffers
from double insularity and has one small city and 13 rural vil-
lages. Note that the total population of Gozo is slightly less
than the town of B’Kara which has the highest population in the
Malta Island.
Taking the study to a higher detail level and focusing on the
San Pawl il-Bahar, Figure 4 depicts those enumeration areas
hosting the highest rates on the island with the symbol in the
center of the figure showing a rate of 23.3 times the national
These figures will be updated as the 2008-2012 data are spa-
tially georeferenced and a better picture on changing trends can
be elicited. In addition, such data, if available in other countries
would also help researchers to identify similar trends as related
to the CRISOLA (crime, social and landuse) parameters which
can help identify the relationships between the three pivots that
impinge on the generation and mitigation of offences (Formosa,
2010; Formosa & Formosa Pace, 2012).
An overview of the power of the law courts and legislation
governing the issue of domestic violence, in Malta and Sicily
would give an idea of the legal framework that surrounds the
issue of domestic violence and contribute to a better under-
standing of this phenomenon in the countries concerned. As
both countries do not have a specific law that deals with do-
mestic violence, it would be impossible to present an overall
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 241
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 2.
Choropleth domestic violence enumeration areas: Malta. Source: Formosa (2007).
Figure 3.
Graduated domestic violence enumeration areas: Malta. Source: Formosa (2007).
exhaustive explanation of the law. This is neither possible nor
desirable as it goes beyond the scope of this paper. What is
presented here is a flavour of the laws on domestic violence
found in the countries to give a taste of what is available in
Sicily (or Italy) and Malta.
The Italian law, and until recently the Maltese law, did not
recognise the concept of domestic violence. There is general
violence that can be aggravated by the fact of being perpetuated
by family members. The Italian 1930 criminal code recognised
a number of crimes against the family, such as bigamy, incest,
maltreatment and the kidnapping of minors or disabled but
there is no specific law against domestic violence (Virgilio,
2002: p. 213). Physical violence is usually dealt with under
generic articles of the law such as assault and battering. Marital
rape is not a legal concept. Both countries recognise simple and
aggravated rape under their respective criminal codes. Rape
that occurs between husband and wife is considered aggravated
because it is perpetrated on a family member. However these
types of rapes are extremely difficult to prove and rarely, if ever,
end up in court. Here again marital rape is dealt with under
Figure 4.
Graduated domestic violence enumeration areas: Malta—San Pawl il-Bahar. Source: Formosa (2007).
generic law as is forcing someone into prostitution and to pose
for pornographic photos. Important amendments, regarding do-
mestic violence arrived in the Italian law in 2001. Law number
154, safeguards the rights of family members. This law, entitled
“Measures against violence in family relations” introduces va-
rious amendments to already existing laws. This is not a new
law, it enriches the tools available to the civil and criminal
judge, who have the responsibility to decide these cases. These
amendments have been made to the procedural code, entitled
“the removal from the family home” [(l’allontanamento dalla
casa famigliare, art. 282-bis)] and the civil code entitled “the
protection order against family abuse” [(l’ordine di protezione
contro gli abusi familiari (art. 342-bis)] (Virgilio, 2002: p. 212).
This law does not only legislate on spouses but also mentions
partners, making it possible to prosecute those perpetrators who
are not married but live together. The amendments of the law
also make it possible to remove from the family home another
family member, not being the spouse or partner, who is being
abusive towards the family members. This makes it possible for
violent children to be removed from their family if they are not
controllable. In this law there is a civil and criminal part. Be-
fore the enactment of this law, the judge in the civil court could
only intervene if there was no case in front of the criminal court.
Where there existed a case in the criminal court the civil court
had to wait until the procedures of the former court were fin-
ished. By accelerating interventions, this law has facilitated
many of these cases.
Today, it is possible for the judge to intervene in both cases.
This law provides for:
Custody of the children;
The care of those who have the custody of the children;
Restriction orders.
The distancing of aggressors from the family home when the
victim asks for it through the presentation of a report on which
the judge must act immediately.
In case of alimony, the judge, after receiving a request from
the public prosecution, may order an amount of money, to be
given on a regular basis, to the person (usually the victim) who
takes care of the children. This happens when the carer does not
have the adequate financial means to support the children. The
periodic amount to be given is determined by the judge who
may order that the money be directly taken from the perpetra-
tor’s pay check. In these cases it is possible for the judge to
investigate, with the help of the police, the financial situation of
the perpetrator so that a fair amount in alimony is set out.
When it is established that the perpetrator of domestic vio-
lence puts in manifest jeopardy the lives, liberty or morality of
the other members of the family, although the actions might not
be criminally sanctioned, a judge may order that the perpetrator
leaves the family home. The judge may also order the interven-
tion of social workers. When necessary and possible a media-
tion process would be undertaken. In certain cases the judge
may also order that the victims are taken in a shelter for abused
women and children.
The judge, in ordering the aggressor to leave the matrimonial
home, helps the victims of domestic violence to feel protected.
There are various forms or orders that a judge may issue. At its
most extreme form, the judge could force the aggressor to to-
tally abandon the family home and never return, if not with a
specific authorization from the court. In other instances, the
court may order that the offender returns to the matrimonial
home at specified hours. In these cases, the court would deline-
ate the time and hours of the aggressor’s return. The order can
also include the banishment of the offender from certain areas
or places that are frequented by the victims. These places usu-
ally include the work place and the houses of members of the
victim’s family of origin. The court order should not be longer
than six months although in certain cases an extension of the
order is possible. However the law stipulates that these orders
should be removed as early as possible.
Should the perpetrator try to fraudulently hide his/her earning
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 243
or refuse to pay alimony, he/she could face a prison sentence of
up to three years or a fine from 100€ to 1000€. Should a person
try to diminish the value of a property, the sanction may be up
to a year imprisonment or a fine up to 300€. The law lays down
that punishment and court procedures are always to be initiated
through a formal complaint by the victim. However, to make it
easier on the victim, the law forgoes payment to initiate civil
procedures by the victim. This means that the victim is facili-
tated in lodging a complaint as there are no further financial
burdens involved.
These amendments of the law deal with those persons who
are still in a relationship, either through marriage or through
living together. It does not take into account people who are se-
parated, as these are taken care off in another section of the law.
As a matter of fact, should the couple separate the procedures
started under these sections will be stayed. This law does not
have the power to regulate the actions of those persons who
have undergone separation procedures.
Malta has only recently changed the law to include the term
“domestic violence”. Like Italy, the Maltese criminal code rec-
ognised crimes against the family. It also punished more se-
verely crimes that were committed by family members on other
family members, but there was no mention of domestic vio-
lence per se. For the first time the term “domestic violence”
was included and defined in the Maltese legislation by Act XX
of 2005 (Chapter 481 “Domestic Violence Act”). The act de-
fines domestic violence as “any act of violence, even if only
verbal, perpetrated by a household member upon another
household member and includes any omission which causes
physical or moral harm to others” (Chapter 481, Sec. 2). This
definition does not only include married people, but also any
person who has lived in the same household for at least a year,
including partners and other adults, living in the same house-
hold. This definition also encompasses children, foetuses as
well as parents. Here the legislator is also seeing the possibility
of having children who abuse their parents.
This act introduces a “commission on domestic violence”
whose function is to increase the awareness, initiate and con-
duct research, introduce intervention strategies for victims and
offenders, facilitate communication between the agencies work-
ing with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, intro-
duce care and intervention strategies, and co-ordinate, on a
national level, the policies on domestic violence. The commis-
sion’s role is mainly policy oriented however this act was also
responsible for changes in the Maltese criminal and civil codes.
Prior to the change in the law, the executive police could not
initiate criminal proceedings in the cases of domestic violence,
if there was no formal complaint by the victim. This caused
problems as victims had to seek a lawyer, before any proceed-
ings could be initiated. With the change in Maltese legislation
the police are now empowered to act ex officio. However the
victim still has the power to stay procedures in court. When this
happens the court would have to decide for the interest of all
concerned. Special attention would also be given to the children
(Chapter 9, Sec. 543.e). Unfortunately the legislator did not feel
it necessary to introduce punishment with the changes in the
law. Punishment is still tied up with the “old” crimes, such as
those against the morals of the family, assault and battering,
prostitution, rape, and so on, with an increase in punishment
when the crime is perpetrated by a family member.
The Maltese civil code already recognised “cruelty, threats or
grievous injuries” as a condition of separation (Chapter, 16 Sec.
40), but the amendments in the civil code have further protected
the victims of domestic violence. Today it is possible for the
hearing of a separation case involving domestic violence to be
initiated within four days. In these cases the court will hear both
the victim and the perpetrator and decide on alimony and who
shall reside in the matrimonial home. If necessary the court
may issue a protection or treatment order on the perpetrator.
When a protection order is issued the perpetrator would be
restricted in visiting certain places where the victim resides,
works or spends time. The perpetrator would not be able to
speak or visit the victim. This is similar to the Italian provision.
Treatment orders can be issues up to a maximum of three years.
The perpetrator may be forced to attend treatment, either on an
inpatient or outpatient basis.
So, the authors are inclined to agree with an Italian judge (an
interviewee) who stressed that domestic violence legislation is
adequate. The problem of domestic violence is mainly cultural.
Mediterranean women may have economic emancipation but
not cultural. Being financially self sufficient has helped many
women take the decision to leave their abusive husbands, but
this still has left them in need of assistance, as they are usually
faced with raising their children alone, with the relative finan-
cial burdens. However, although domestic violence in Sicily is
a hidden phenomenon and no one seems willing to discuss it or
seriously tackle the problem, the same cannot be said of Malta.
Policing Domestic Violence in the Centre of the
Mediterranean: Responsible Policing
The Malta police force has a special unit which deals exclu-
sively with domestic violence: the Domestic Violence Unit
(DVU). This is a specialised branch, housed at the police Head-
quarters. However, since the role of every police officer is con-
sidered as crucial in the fight against domestic violence, all
police officers (recruits as well as those on in-service training)
in Malta get basic and theoretical training on domestic violence.
The training is conducted by the domestic violence unit of the
state funded care agency Appoġġ.
However, police response to domestic violence is discretion-
ary the world over. For example, the Commonwealth Secre-
tariat signals that:
Research from many countries, such as Australia, Bangla-
desh, Britain, Canada, India and New Zealand, indicates that
the response of the police is not always as satisfactory as it
could be. Crimes against women and children tend to be treated
with less seriousness than crimes against men or property. Even
homicide of women in domestic relationships can be responded
to as less problematic than public stranger crime by the criminal
justice system, beginning with the police (Commonwealth Se-
cretariat, 1999: p. 22).
The Commonwealth Secretariat adds that unsatisfactory re-
sponse from the police on the safety of women and children
remains a major problem, as the underlying effect is lost confi-
dence in disclosing crime carried out in the home and of wo-
men feeling wary of reporting assault in intimate relationships,
which triggers off further victimization and also direct attacks
on their children.
In Malta and more so in Trapani, women tend to have a sub-
ordinate position in society and in family life, as is clearly sug-
gested in the “culture” section of this paper. Data which draws
on an interview with a woman police officer in Trapani sug-
gests that the worst problem existing is the lack of awareness
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
by women in violent relationships. They fail to consider them-
selves as victims of domestic violence. Similarly, the findings
of a study carried out by the Ministry for Social Policy in Malta
in 2003 signals that “subtle, patriarchal attitudes may still shape
the Maltese way of thinking about the phenomenon of domestic
violence” (Ministry for Social Policy, 2003: p. 35) which is still
considered acceptable under circumstances such as provocative
behaviour. Moreover, it is often the case that the police are not
encouraged to review their methods of work and to seriously
consider whether, consciously or unconsciously, inaction is
allowing men to behave in abusive ways towards women. “One
telling sign that this is occurring is… blaming the woman for
the violence she suffers rather than taking action against the
man” (Commonwealth Secreatariat, 1999: p. 16). For example,
in a seminar organized for police officers in Malta in 1997, a
list of guidelines for police intervention at a scene of domestic
violence or when abuse is reported at the police station or on
the phone, remain on paper until today (Commonwealth Secre-
tariat, 1999). However, despite efforts by the Co-ordinated Res-
ponse Team at the Ministry for Social Policy for the guidelines
to be approved by the commissioner of police in Malta and for
them to be incorporated in the recent domestic violence law,
these guidelines remain on paper. The police in Trapani too
lack official guidelines for dealing with domestic violence. A
study respondent working for the police force in Trapani sug-
gests that police duties are varied and there is no special squad
that focuses specifically on domestic violence. Moreover, col-
laboration with professionals in the field is based on personal
contacts which, she adds, are indispensable for such work.
In Malta, when cases of domestic violence are reported to the
police, the Domestic Violence Unit (within the Malta police
force) either refers the victim to the national support agency, or
issues a warning to or institutes court action against the perpe-
trator. Azzopardi Cauchi’s (2004) doctoral thesis indicates that
most Maltese police officers consider any corporal, sexual or
psychological maltreatment at home and neglect as domestic
violence. Klein, Campbell, Soler and Ghez (1997: p. 88) claim
that the police do not take domestic violence seriously. How-
ever, this research suggests that, when it comes to responding to
reports on domestic violence calls, the majority of Maltese po-
lice officers always take immediate action.
In fact, Table 2 indicates that the vast majority of Maltese
police officers, no matter their gender, would always take ac-
tion if a battered woman approaches them for help. There are
no statistically significance differences. From all the respon-
dents, 77.6 per cent claim that they would always intervene,
followed by 17.6 per cent who would mostly take action and a
mere 3.9 per cent who admit that they would sometimes get
involved. On the other hand, only three participants declare that
they would never assist a battered woman. The responses of
both genders confirm that promptness of action has little to do
with the police officers’ gender. However, perhaps worth men-
tioning is the fact that, a higher proportion of policewomen
declare that they would always help a battered woman. In effect,
a marked 84.8 per cent of the female respondents claim that
they would always intervene when compared to the 76.4 per
cent of the male respondents who claim that they would always
intervene if a battered woman approaches them for help. This
could indicate that Maltese policewomen are more sensitive to
the plight of victims of domestic violence.
Yet, Azzopardi Cauchi’s (2004) study also reveals that, al-
though the majority of Maltese police officers refer victims of
Table 2.
Declared promptness of respondents’ intervention if a battered woman
asks for their assistance by gender.
A battered woman comes and
asks for respondents’
intervention. Would they take
immediate action? Male FemaleTotal
Always Number 217 39 256
Column % 76.4% 84.8% 77.6%
Mostly Number 54 4 58
Column % 19.0% 8.7% 17.6%
Sometimes Number 10 3 13
Column % 3.5% 6.5% 3.9%
Never Number 3 3
Column % 1.1% 0.9%
Total Number 284 46 330
Column % 100.0% 100.0%100.0%
domestic violence to the victim support unit, many Maltese
police officers still attempt to reconcile the couple. Buzawa and
Buzawa (1990: p. 47) claim that police officers make “rapid
value judgements” based “on their own beliefs” and act ac-
cordingly. Consequently, they avoid making arrests (Berk &
Loseke, 1980; cited in Buzawa & Buzawa, 1990: p. 69) and re-
sort to acting as social workers. They might justify this type of
intervention because (as the data reveals) they are weary of
victims who repeatedly forgive, protect their aggressors and
drop court charges. This vicious cycle of events was also dis-
cussed by Buzawa and Buzawa (1990: p. 31). Perhaps it is this
weariness of forbearing victims that dampens their enthusiasm
to intervene effectively in domestic violence cases.
In Sicily, the lack of awareness coupled with omertà, makes
the situation worse for Sicilian victims of domestic violence.
The Sicilian police usually have personal contacts with the so-
cial agencies however, if the abuse is within the family, it is
difficult, if not impossible, to solve the problem. The police
respondent living in Trapani claimed that there is a mixture of
reports that come from women and men. The interviewee
pointed out that the police in Sicily are merely investigators of
cases of crime and their role is to provide evidence for the
magistrate of the court. Prior to proceeding, the police must
have the querela (formal complaints form) from the victim who
has a 3-month period to decide whether to take the case further
or forgive the aggressor.
Policing is certainly no easy task, but when the very victims
are reluctant to approach the police for help, the job of police
officers gets even more difficult. It is like fighting an invisible
enemy. In Malta, the situation for victims of domestic violence
seems to have improved over time, however, the same cannot
be said of Sicily. One gets the impression that Sicilian victims
of domestic violence do not speak up because they are afraid of
their husbands and feel ashamed in front of society. They seem
to be silenced by omertà (the code of silence) and when they
seek help, it seems to be only for their children’s sake, not their
own. In Malta, the authorities seem to be constantly raising
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 245
awareness about domestic violence and its adverse conse-
quences, insisting that this issue should be taken seriously by
all and providing adequate, if not exceptional, services for these
victims (and perpetrators). In Sicily, this does not seem to be
the case. In fact, domestic violence has been described as a
hidden phenomenon and the impression given is that little, if
anything, is being done to help victims (and perpetrators) of
domestic violence. So, one would not expect Sicilian law en-
forcement officers—whether males or females—to be particu-
larly receptive and responsive to victims of domestic violence.
Hence, this paper could present the following recommenda-
tions to Maltese and Sicilian authorities: render the enemy visi-
ble by raising awareness on domestic violence, its adverse con-
sequences on families and Mediterranean society in general;
empower central Mediterranean women, particularly Sicilian
women—by making them aware of, not only their responsibili-
ties towards their children, but their rights as spouses/life-part-
ners and mothers as well as of the services available to them.
They should learn that respected, content and healthy mothers
have healthy and well-adjusted children; where adequate ser-
vices do not exist for victims/survivors/perpetrators of domestic
violence, they should be created—especially emergency ser-
vices; but more importantly, what is needed in the centre of the
Mediterranean, is a change of culture/mentality, particularly as
regards gender issues and domestic violence.
Chan (1997: p. 235) recommends a focus on leadership, on a
strategy of “coercive persuasion” in situations “where elements
of the old culture are dysfunctional but strongly adhered to”.
This could imply that Maltese policewomen could lead by ex-
ample, sensitize the central Mediterranean police forces on the
issue of domestic violence and instigate police officers to re-
spond more promptly and effectively to domestic violence calls.
However, this certainly will not come about easily since, as
Schein (1985; cited in Chan, 1997: p. 235) explains, for cultural
change to occur, police forces (such as the Mediterranean po-
lice forces) must be “unfrozen and ready to change” and as
Chan (1997: p. 237) warns, “change is traumatic” especially if
police culture is cemented by the rigid Mediterranean culture.
Yet, a change in mentality is not impossible. However, if it is
ever to happen, “change has to be directed and continuous,
people must be willing to change” (Schein, 1985; cited in Chan,
1997: p. 237).
Chan (1997: p. 236) insists that if one is to significantly and
permanently change police culture—to make it more sensitive
to the needs of victims of domestic violence—one must bring
about “a host of related changes in the field to reinforce the new
culture: law reform; external and internal monitoring systems;
quality reviews; reward and accountability structures; the em-
powerment of citizens (such as women)… to influence poli-
cies; …” If this happens, central Mediterranean policewomen
could lead towards an improved policing of domestic violence
cases. However, in accordance with Chan (1997: p. 237), if
they are ever to address the needs of domestic violence victims,
central Mediterranean police forces should “create a suitably
supportive climate to encourage and reward such leadership”…
but realistically, the authors believe that considerable time will
pass before policewomen are encouraged to lead the way on
any issue in the centre of the Mediterranean!
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