Domestic workers often fall victim to violence, harassment and fraud

Research in the United States and Europe has revealed extensive psychological, physical and sexual abuse of domestic workers. Such cases have also been reported in Greece, though few of them have come before the courts, due mainly to domestic workers’ fear of dismissal or deportation, but also because of their fuzzy legal status. Typically, there is no accurate record of the number of foreign domestics. «The majority of these women have been treated badly in some way, from fraud and broken contracts to sexual harassment and even physical violence,» says Giorgos Alevizakis, member of the Athens Labor Center (EKA) and secretary for economic migrants at the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE). Threat of police One case that never came to the attention of the police was that of a young woman from Eastern Europe. She was in a dire psychological state when she sought help from EKA because the elderly man in whose house she worked was blackmailing her. He claimed that valuable items had gone missing and that he would report her to the police as having stolen them unless she submitted to his sexual attentions. Such cases are common. Some women give in. «Others have left Greece, terrified,» says Alevizakis. «Some subjects have always been taboo in Greek society. Let’s not forget that in postwar Greece the sexual harassment of young women from the provinces who worked in Athenian houses was widespread – we can see it recorded in the films of the time. Everyone knew what was happening, even the wife of the man who was responsible for the harassment, but they kept silent.» «Something similar is happening now, this time at the expense of foreign women, and especially of women from the former communist countries,» says psychologist and family counselor Maria Lasithiotaki, who has worked with migrant women. There are also frequent complaints about the behavior of Greek women to their domestic staff, including breaking contracts and not paying wages. Elena, 52, who studied language and literature and had been a writer in her native Bulgaria, was forced by poverty to come to Greece five years ago. She found live-in work looking after an elderly, bedridden woman. She slept in the same room as the woman for four years, treated her with the respect a cultivated person shows to someone at the end of their life, and held her hand at the moment she was dying. But instead of thanking her, the dead woman’s daughter, who no longer needed her services, refused to pay her wages. Sofia, 40, is from Romania. She came to Greece 10 years ago with her husband, leaving their 2-year-old daughter in Constanta to be brought up by her parents. «My husband started working at the construction sites and I as a domestic. Both of us had hard times, but I think it was worse for me. You don’t need fluent Greek to work as a builder’s laborer, but it’s different in a household with children. «I remember how, in the first house I worked, I couldn’t understand what the children I was looking after were saying. I used to get constant comments from their father and mother that I couldn’t understand, but their manner was as aggressive as their tone of voice. There were times that I wanted to run away.» «I’ve met some of the worst and some of the best people during my years in Greece,» says Katerina from Georgia. «When you meet the worst ones, you stick to the thought that you have to hold on and keep sending money to your family. With the best ones, you take heart; you think there’s kindness everywhere and that better days will come.»