Speaking out on family violence

Every year, more than 4,500 cases of physical abuse of children are reported to the authorities. Some of the victims never reach hospitals. However, the sheer number of reported incidents is enough to indicate a serious social problem that cannot be captured by police statistics alone. Experience tells us that numerous cases of family violence simply never come to light. Even sick situations like the notorious Kostalexi incident had been kept a secret for years by a narrow circle of relatives and neighbors. However, something significant seems to be changing. The «dark number» – that is, all those cases that are never reported to the authorities – remains high, but victims are increasingly asking for help from the responsible authorities. Seeking out help in cases of family violence was extremely unusual in the past, so we cannot be certain whether the problem is actually worsening or not. While there may well have been more violence in the past, there has certainly been no improvement in the overall situation that can justify the lack of state concern over the issue. Family violence is a complex matter. Tackling the phenomenon, much less preventing its occurrence, remain extremely difficult tasks. Physical abuse is related to the cultural norms and moral values of every country – some forms of violence being acceptable in certain communities or social groups. The problem becomes even more complicated given the sanctity of family life, which discourages outsiders from informing the authorities. Yet public silence can have tragic consequences. A father was recently denied custody of his daughter after he was found guilty of beating his little girl. The poor child was finally mutilated by her mother. Obstacles and difficulties, however, provide no excuse for evading the question. The issue of corporal punishment has been a long-running subject of debate in the developed countries of the West. In Greece, however, we have continued to insist on turning a blind eye on family violence, hoping – as we do with other diseases afflicting the private sphere – that such incidents will go away as society gradually progresses. Official data leave no room for relaxation. We must start dealing an important societal issue that has largely been buried under a wall of public silence, like the crying voice muted behind the walls of the family home.