OPINION

The gaze that follows us

The gaze that follows us

On the outside, it was a worn-out, forgettable apartment building in the central Athens district of Agios Panteleimon. Small apartment, lowered shutters. The few shots from inside the house are reminiscent of the beginning of a nightmare: cockroaches everywhere, scurrying around, on every available surface. The report also mentions rodents. They are not included in the video but the introduction alone in the report promises that the worst will follow. 

Indeed, it is the residence of three young children (2, 4 and 6 years old), their 30-year-old mother and her partner. Fortunately, these children are alive. Anonymous reports on the National Helpline for Children SOS 1056 resulted in the intervention of the authorities. Locals describe how the mother dragged and pushed the children, forcing them to beg in the street. Now that they have been transferred to a safe destination, their wounds will heal, with the proper care and support. It is the latest in a series of incidents that have been occurring with an unusual frequency in Greek society.

This case is added to the unthinkable story coming out of Patra, regarding the three dead girls. Until this case is fully investigated, the detained mother is testifying, and so is the father, while the blurred faces of the three young children in old photos, smiling, carefree, violently remind us of their untimely ends. Some time ago, the horrific death of a 7-year-old child in the district of Kypseli was revealed by members of his own family, and in the last days of 2021, an investigation in an orphanage in Attica brought to light the sexual abuse of children aged 7 to 11.

The cases are indicative. The obvious mental disorder is not a reassuring explanation – quite the opposite. It reveals an anguished society. Families with serious problems are not an exception to the rule. What reaches the surface is not just an individual incident. It is a crack that allows us to uncover the instability in its many versions. What must the state do to fight this? Welfare services must be on the alert, checks must be conducted and an effective child protection network must be created. And then? Do we sleep peacefully, or just change the channel? 

We see police officers bringing the 33-year-old woman accused of killing her child to court, in a tight circle of protection, while the people around her shout at her. She briefly turns her bent head, covered with her jacket hood. The lens captures her eye – unmovable, dark, icy, inaccessible. The gaze penetrates every wall, it is fixed on us.