Breaking the cycle of family violence

According to a recent survey by the General Secretariat for Equality, one in three women fall victim to violence within their own family. While «family values» has become a catchword, the state either doesn’t want or doesn’t dare pull back the curtains on this form of crime that largely goes unseen. Violence perpetrated behind the walls of the family home continues to be part of many people’s daily lives, according to the General Secretariat for Equality. Women are still the main victims of abuse, both in public and in private, yet this is not just a «woman’s issue» since it has wider psychological, medical, legal and sociological repercussions. The secretariat encourages women to break the cycle of silence and ask for help in rebuilding their lives. Disagreements On November 25, 2005, the justice minister tabled a bill on dealing with violence within the family, co-signed by the ministers for public order, education, economy and finance, health and social solidarity. The move was greeted as a positive step forward by women’s organizations and society in general. However, the bill has been under scrutiny and objections tabled, along with suggestions for amendments to it. It attracted criticism that it left key issues untouched, that it was unclear, and that it raised serious questions as to whether its real purpose was to deal decisively with what is an ongoing crime or whether it was just an «aspirin» that would merely perpetuate inequality faced by women. Criticism has come from organizations such as the National Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International’s Greek branch, the Feminist Network and the Greek Monitor on Dealing with Violence against Women, among others. A point that was raised by a number of these groups is that nowhere in the bill – not even in its introduction – was there any mention of the «substance of the problem,» that is that the violence was inflicted upon women. In its report, signed by its president, Professor Aliki Yiotopoulou-Marangopoulou, the National Committee for Human Rights observed that among other things, the legal penalties referred to are neutral with regard to sex, therefore it covers perpetrators and victims of both sexes. Moreover, the acts which it penalizes – apart from rape within a marriage – are already covered in the penal code. In addition, «minor» forms of physical abuse, such as slapping, are not covered at all in the bill, even if the act threatens the quality of marital cohabitation. For Amnesty International, one of the positive aspects of the bill is that it recognizes rape within marriage, as well as the particularly vulnerable state of pregnant women, children and the disabled, whether they are the victims or witnesses of abuse. As for what it sees as the mistakes and significant omissions, Amnesty says, «The bill does not consider the results of long years of scientific studies of the phenomenon, nor international practice.» It adds that modern legislation should recognize that violence within the family is gender-based, that is that it is perpetrated mainly against women. According to sociologist Katy Papariga-Kostavara, coordinator of the Greek Monitor on Dealing with Violence against Women, the bill «not only does not solve the problem but creates another because of the general spirit that pervades it, particularly with the introduction of a mediation process (between the perpetrator and victim).» She said the mediation procedure suggested was «unacceptable.» «What is presented as an advantage in this procedure, in which the victim supposedly has the courage to report the act, shows ignorance of reality,» said Papariga-Kostavara. «Experts who deal with this problem know that women who report the abuse are usually very confused, anxious and insecure. They are seeking help and support, not a conversation with the perpetrator of the violence.» She also said that the way the articles are set out as a whole gives the impression that the entire procedure was created to protect the perpetrator. For example, it states that if the perpetrator says he will give the prosecutor his word that he will not commit violence again, then the case is filed away. Husbands are most often the aggressors against wives in domestic violence disputes A total of 1,477 female victims of abuse visited the General Secretariat for Equality counseling centers in Athens and Piraeus between January 1, 2002 and October 31, 2005. Of these, 68 percent were married while about 20 percent were divorced or separated. The generally accepted belief that abused women are also poorly educated turned out to be untrue: About 70 percent had at least a high school diploma,and some were graduates of technical institutes or universities. About 60 percent were also financially well off. The perpetrator in 83 percent of cases was the victim’s husband, in 10 percent the companion, and only to a lesser extent the father, brother, son or other relative. The aggressors came from all socioeconomic and educational groups. About 60 percent had a secondary or higher education, while about 25 were university graduates. Just 10 percent were unemployed and about 33 percent of them used narcotics, alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs.