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Domestic violence in Serbia: lenient punishments, weekends out, and violence again

20. Dec 2018.
Ilustracija: Đorđe Matić
When in prison, convicts for domestic violence are granted downtown outings and weekends out. In the last two years, a number of them were released on probation; one of them is Milan Lovrić who killed his wife several months after leaving the prison. Lovrić had previously used his time out of the penitentiary to intimidate his wife. 

On that July day in 2017, Olga Lovrić brought her three sons to the Centre for social work in new Belgrade to see their father Milan. The two of them had been in divorce proceedings, while Milan, convicted for domestic violence, had been released on probation three months earlier. The competent bodies established that the best thing to do so that the children could feel safe was seeing their father in controlled conditions.

The boys spent one hour at the room within Centre with their father: they played games, talked with him, and ate sweets. Then mother took the children home. While they were entering the car, Milan Lovrić ran to Olga and started threatening her. She ran to the Centre building, while Milan followed. The two older sons moved on after their parents. At the entrance of the building, they found their father hitting their mother with a brick. Then, as they told the police, an unknown woman moved them away.

Several minutes later, this event became the news item of the day: a woman who had endured domestic violence for years was killed at the Centre for social work in broad daylight. She was killed by her husband, twice convicted perpetrator on probation.

In 2016 Milan Lovrić was convicted to two years of imprisonment because of violence against his eldest son. While in prison, he was granted weekends out, when he would ring Olga by phone, while once he also went to the flat in which she was living with the children. In April 2017, he was released on probation. In May of the same year, Lovrić threatened Olga again, and she reported all these instances to the police.

Lovrić was granted these extra-institutional benefits at the District prison in Belgrade as, in the opinion of competent parties, he had been maintaining his working habits and correcting “his attitude towards the perpetrated criminal offence”. Sources from the Administration for enforcement of criminal sanctions stated for the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) that this conclusion was passed based on his behaviour in prison.

The District prison, in which in the past two years as many as 70 individuals were serving their sentences for domestic violence, did not file CINS data on the benefits enjoyed by these inmates, justifying this by protection of personal data.

According to the data from the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, penal policy against perpetrators of this criminal offence is very lenient: about every third violator is convicted to a prison sentence which range between the legal minimum of three months to six months of imprisonment. 

 

Milena Vasić, Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM

Foto: Media center Belgrade

Even with such lenient punishments, convicted violators are brought closer to freedom – in addition to weekends out and downtown outings, some of them are released on probation having served two thirds of their sentence.

Milena Vasić, lawyer from Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM, said for CINS that lenient penal policy to convicts for domestic violence speaks about normalization of violence in the society.

“Domestic violence as a social issue is not approached systematically, but rather ad hoc, as a rule from one side only, and only when it has already happened”, said Vasić and explained that it is even more important to resolve the economic position of victims, so that they do not depend on potential violators.

 

Awarded for good behaviour

Milan and Olga got married in 2007; according to Olga’s statements, she had been enduring violence all the time. The Lovrić family was registered in the records of the Centre for social work in June 2010.

At about midnight of 5 June, Milan dragged Olga out of bed and ordered her to sleep in the other room, and then in the bathroom. Then he threw her out of the flat, in a dressing gown. Somewhat later, Milan told her to come for the children, and when Olga came with another woman, Milan threw children in her arms, one by one. Then she tried to look for her bag, but was beaten instead – when he pushed her together with the son she was holding in her arms, Olga fell on the ground and Milan started to kick them and hit them with his hands both. Beating her, he dragged her back into the flat, but she managed to get out assisted by the person who had come with her, and went to the Emergency centre.
In 2011, Lovrić was convicted for this offence to five months of imprisonment, or three years of suspended sentence.

Four years later, in June 2015, Milan threw his eldest son, who was eight at the time, out of the flat. The child went to his grandmother’s but Lovrić found him there, drove him out in his pajamas and, having dragged him into the corridor, caught him by the shoulders and threw him on the floor.

On this occasion, Olga told the competent persons in the Centre that, following the expiration of Lovrić’s first suspended sentence, the violence “gained on intensity and cruelty”. She did not report violence as she was afraid, while she also feared for the lives of her children. The events were reported to the police by the boy’s grandmother, Olga’s mother.

Almost a year later, Lovrić was once convicted for domestic violence again, this time to a prison sentence.
 

 

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Convicting verdicts for domestic violence in 2016
Infogram

As stated in the written reply of the Administration for enforcement of criminal sanctions for CINS, Lovrić had observed the house rules and did not have any problems with other inmates or prison personnel.

“In implementation of the second individual objective, which is ‘correcting of the attitude towards the perpetrated criminal offence’, steps ahead were noted, such as willingness to admit to having perpetrated the said offence, and stable behaviour in the penal environment with presence of self-control and tolerance”, reads the reply of the Administration.

Based on these grounds, Lovrić acquired the right to leave prison once a month already in December.

It turned out, however, that this rendered Olga Lovrić and the three children unsafe.

On the occasion of the following interview with the Administration in February 2017, Lovrić was granted weekends and holidays out of the institution. When he was out at weekends, Milan would call Olga on the phone; then, on 1 April 2017 – one day after the expiration of the restraining order so that he could not harass Olga and the children – he went to the place in which they lived.

According to the police, Olga let him in on her own free will. “On this occasion, he did not threaten her or beat her, but he requested her, in a raised voice, to sign at a notary’s that she would let him see the children every other week.”

According to the documents of the Centre for social work, Milan spent three hours in the flat and was not violent against children, but he did threaten Olga openly:

“I was living for the day when I would be out and face you, don’t you say something bad about me, you’ll get it back from me; you put me in prison, and it’s because of you that I lost two years of my life”.

The police informed the deputy prosecutor with the Third basic prosecutor’s office in Belgrade about this matter, but the deputy prosecutor established that there were no elements of a criminal offence. When asked by the journalist whether this was a threat and whether it was possible to inform the prison about this behaviour on part of Lovrić while he was using extra-institutional benefits, Ivan Marković, spokesman of the Third prosecutor’s office said that they believed it was only a family argument, and that there were no clues that an escalated incident may occur.

“At that moment, the damaged party said herself that there were no threats, that there were no physical assaults, while a raised voice between ex-spouses is not something of particular interest. Regardless of the fact that domestic violence had earlier occurred in this family, this was no criminal offence.”

Before the sentence, Lovrić had spent 15 months in custody before he started serving his sentence in September 2016. In February 2017, he filed a request for probation.

Three days after the incident and one day after Olga reported the incident to the police, Lovrić was granted probation. The Prosecutor’s office agreed with this.

Sources from the Administration for enforcement of criminal sanctions emphasize that Lovrić was using the granted benefits “without abuses”, i.e. that they were not informed by the Ministry of the interior to that effect. However, based on the documents from the centre it is obvious that the prison was well-informed about what happened on 1 April, but also that the information arrived on the day court decision on conditional release come into force.

Marković said for CINS that same as in all similar situations, the prosecutor’s office acted based on the opinion of the District prison, which stated a significant progress in the attitude to the criminal offence.

“There was an opinion that this progress had not been fully achieved, that it had been achieved only partially, but, in their opinion, further progress would not be possible in penitentiary institution”, says Marković, adding that “everything indicated that this was a person who would be successfully re-socialized”.

According to the documents from the Centre, employees from Counseling for marriage and family tried to schedule an appointment with Lovrić, as he had been referred for treatment for violators in partner relations, but Milan said that he was “totally disinterested in treatment and everything else on that topic”.

When he was released from prison, Lovrić continued harassing Olga. According to her report, in the end of May 2017 he blocked her way in his car, got out of the car, told her she had a week to “settle the matters”, and threatened her by sliding his finger along his throat.

A day later, Lovrić denied these allegations to the police.

On 5 July, Milan killed Olga, and committed suicide on the following day.

 

Rest from domestic violence

In the course of the first six months of 2018, in Serbia at least 20 women were killed due to domestic or partner violence, as shown by data of the Network “Women against violence”, coalition of non-governmental organizations extending support to women-victims of violence. They collect statistical data based on statements in media, as the state has not published data on the number of those killed as a result of domestic violence so far.

According to their findings, from 2010 to 2017 as many as 251 women were killed, or 31 a year on the average. This means that every two weeks a woman gets killed by a family member or partner. There is no data on how many women die as a result of long-term violence, or how many women have been injured so far.

Court may punish every injury by imprisonment lasting from three months to three years, i.e. up to ten years of imprisonment in the case of violence against children.

According to the data of the Statistical Office for 2016, sanctions for this criminal offence are on the legal minimum. Out of the total of 2,065 convicted individuals, including 100 women, less than one third – 620 persons – were convicted to a prison sentence. Most of them, 223, were sentenced to imprisonment lasting from three to six months. As many as 169 violators were sentenced to imprisonment lasting from six months to one year.  

 

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Sentenced to prison for domestic violence in 2016.
Infogram

Only eight individuals were convicted to between three to five years of imprisonment, while one person was convicted to between 15 and 20 years.

All inmates have the right to fringe benefits.

The convicts are separated in several groups, based on the duration of their sentence, type, and gravity of the offence, their “attitude to the criminal offence”, safety risks, and other criteria.

Depending on the group, the convict is granted better conditions, which also includes extra-institutional benefits: downtown outings, visits to family and relatives at weekends and on holidays, while it is also possible to win prize leaves from the penitentiary institution lasting for up to seven days during the year, as well as annual leaves outside the institution.

Sources from the District prison did not file data on the number of convicts who had been using the benefits. According to the data from the prison in Padinska skela, seven convicted violators had been granted extra-institutional benefits and extended rights in the last two years.

 

Uncontrolled violence

Another murder took place in front of the Centre for social work only seven days after the murder of Olga Lovrić. On 12 July 2017, Marko Nikolić killed his common-law wife Maja Đorđević and their five-year old son.

Maja arrived at the Centre on request of competent persons to discuss her safety with them, as her sister later explained in TV programme Život priča on the occasion of the events in New Belgrade seven days before. It was Wednesday, and Marko had the right to spend time with their son on Wednesdays from 8:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon before the lawsuit on custody would be resolved.

Namely, in 2013, after reported violence, Nikolić was pronounced the measure that he could only see his child in controlled conditions, for one hour each Friday, which was in 2015 modified into the possibility to take his son from the kindergarten every Wednesday morning and bring him to the Centre in the afternoon.

In the course of the litigation, in 2016 Nikolić was subjected to expert evaluation of the medical commission from the clinic “Dr Laza Lazarević”. The report published in the aforementioned TV programme read that Nikolić “does not show signs of temporary or permanent mental disorder”, and that his “personality structure does not depart from the range of what is normal, but which in high stress situations may be prone to weaker control of impulses and modulation of emotions”.

The recommendation of the commission was even more lenient for Nikolić – they proposed to the court that Nikolić should be allowed to see his child twice a week, three hours at a time, outside controlled conditions.

The president of the commission was the then director of the clinic, now Minister for population policy Slavica Đukić Dejanović. She said for CINS that it is usual practice that the director of the clinic sits in the expert commission, if they are included in the list of permanent court experts, as she is.

Following the murder of Maja Đorđević, Nikolić ended up in prison, where he committed suicide in the end of 2017.

In the course of 2017, two convicts left the prison for visits six times and five times for a downtown outing, while they used weekends out twelve times; they were also granted prize weekends twice, while one of them also used the annual leave. In 2018, by the end of November, fringe benefits were enjoyed by five convicts, with the total of 12 visits outside the institution, eight downtown outings, 23 weekends out, three prize weekends, and three annual leaves.

Vasić from YUCOM says that extra-institutional benefits are granted for the purpose of re-socialization of individuals whose behaviour in the course of imprisonment indicates that the perpetrator could be “corrected”, that is, that he would not perpetrate the same offence again.

“It is certainly necessary to take into account the type of offence on such evaluations, and that each opinion is individualized in relation to the perpetrator in question, but you must provide an opportunity for re-socialization to each convicted individual, otherwise there is no point of criminal sanctioning; however, when you do not have a sufficient number of employees to work with convicts, the whole idea of re-socialization is bound to collapse”, said Vasić.

The following legal opportunity for the violator to be released before the expiration of the pronounced sentence is provisional release, which each convict may request having served two thirds of his sentence. The court passes a decision to this effect, based on the position of the prosecution and evaluation of the prison where the convict serves his sentence.

According to the data CINS collected for the territory of Belgrade, in the last three years the Second Basic court granted five provisional releases, i.e. to every fifth convicted violator. The reasons were similar as in the case of Milan Lovrić: two thirds of the sentence had been served, while the convict had acted in accordance with the prison house rules and had not been punished.

Out of this number, three persons were released from serving the sentence of five months, six months, and one year of imprisonment respectively, while two were released from house arrest.

As many as 16 persons requested provisional release from the Third Basic court in Belgrade, and release was granted to two of them. On this occasion, the Court was relying on reports of the Penal institute, reads the Court’s reply for CINS.

The Higher Court did not approve any provisional releases, while the First Basic court has not filed any data by the moment of publishing of this text.

According to Milena Vasić from YUCOM, in this process the issue is not only in individual evaluations, but it is also of legal nature.

“The whole criminal system neglects the victim and her position; likewise, the victim does not participate in these proceedings and does not have a say whatsoever”, says Vasić.


The text was created within the project “Nadzor javnih politika: prEUgovor prati reforme u poglavljima 23 i 24” supported by the European Union. The content of the text is sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect positions of the European Union.
From November 2018 to September 2019 the work of CINS is supported by Sweden, within the Belgrade Open School program “Civil Society as a Force for a Change in the Serbia’s EU Accession Process.

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