Vulnerable adult victims of hate crime struggle to file complaints

Portuguese Minister of Justice Francisca Van Dunem attends a conference on 'Protecting Vulnerable Adults across Europe - the way forward' in Lisbon 30 March 2021. [EPA-EFE/ANTONIO PEDRO SANTOS]

Portugal’s minister of justice has said the main difficulty for vulnerable adult victims of hate crime or gender violence in Europe lies in making a complaint to the formal instances, as “fear” is the main barrier to overcome.

Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem, who was speaking to journalists after a high-level conference on “The protection of adults in Europe – The way forward” on Tuesday (March 30), noted that the main difficulties lie, “right from the start, at the moment they file a complaint or not” she said.

These victims often belong to minority groups and “have the perception that the formal instances are not available or do not have the capacity to receive their complaints”, the minister said.

In this sense, “the first big barrier to overcome is fear”, she said, stressing the need to “empower these people to gain confidence and express to them the state’s position as its duty to support them in that context”.

As for the participation of victims in trials, especially in accompanying the criminal process and providing assistance in the participation of evidence, the issue of fear again arises and the condition of the person in the country in which he or she files the complaint.

“Sometimes, [victims] are in an irregular situation and are afraid that, when they go to the formal instances of control, they will be approached about the legality of their stay and possibly be expelled,” she explained.

The minister also said that these victims “are afraid of the forces behind the hate speech, ” making them feel “very frightened”.

This is where, according to Van Dunem, civil society structures and non-governmental organisations, together with states, take on a vital role.

“Empowering the victims, empowering them that they do not have to be victims for discriminatory reasons and helping them at the level of the criminal process and the internal reconstitution that sometimes needs to be done” in the context of hate crimes, which are particularly violent and which practically crush the victims.

Van Dunem was speaking at the end of a high-level conference that brought together experts, governments and institutions for an assessment of the current state of protection of vulnerable adults – older people, people with disabilities and victims of hate crime or gender-based violence – in the European Union (EU).

Opening the conference, the minister advocated a European common legal framework that would allow full access to justice, effective protection and the full exercise of vulnerable adults’ rights.

The issue, she stressed, concerned all member states” and could not be adequately dealt with at the strictly national level, as there were still disparities between the laws of the member states on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of protection measures.

The European commissioner for justice and consumers, Didier Reynders, also attended the conference, called for specifically tailored support to meet victims’ needs.

The EU could not claim to be a guardian of the rule of law if it left vulnerable adults without support, whether victims, suspects or accused persons in civil or criminal proceedings. They had exactly the same right to justice as anyone else, and it was up to member states to ensure that this was so in practice in cross-border cases, he said.

The Portuguese ministry of justice organised the conference, the European Commission and the European Agency for Fundamental Rights under the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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