Domestic violence claims one life every 15 days. In just one decade, from October 2008 through to September 2018, the number of victims of domestic violence climbed up to 285. The tragic reality of this number is that some of the victims were children. At the same time, over 340,000 reported crimes, including homicides and rapes have also been connected to domestic violence.
The data provided by Victoria Police is shocking; placing the average of reported assaults of every kind to 44 per day. It is worth mentioning that the death toll has already claimed 14 women’s lives this year – all victims of domestic violence – proving that violence from men to women is out of control.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic violence, or family violence, is violent, abusive or intimidating behaviour in a relationship. There are many types of domestic violence, including social isolation; as well as physical, sexual and emotional violence. This also includes financial control over a person and all the types of behaviour that can result in a person living in a constant state of fear.
One of the most common forms of domestic violence is that of a partner against another current or former partner..
THE GREEK REALITY
In Greece, the number of domestic abuse incidents has significantly risen in recent years, as a result of the wider effects of the financial and social crisis in the country. In spite of the increased numbers, the real extent of the situation remains unknown as only one in 20 cases is officially reported to the police.
One of the core principles of the Greek family home demands that people not air their dirty linen in public, which is why the female victims of domestic abuse, keep it a secret and suffer in silence, in order not to embarrass their family and themselves.
“What will people say?”, “What will the neighbours say?” are questions that concern victims.
Drenched in shame and guilt, they never reveal what they are going through and have no one to turn to for help, resulting in isolation and in being trapped in tragic predicaments that are often fatal.
THE ISSUE IN OUR COMMUNITY
Whilst researching the extent of cases of domestic abuse within the Australian community, Neos Kosmos contacted social welfare group, Pronia, and the data given proves that, unfortunately, the problem is very real and deeply rooted within the confines of the Greek Community.
According to Pronia Social Services records, 76 cases of domestic violence were recorded in 2018 alone; 49 were cases of elderly abuse and 27 were incidents between couples. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the victims were female.
The interventions made were either to defend, provide long-term counselling, and/or refer to other services, organisations and authorities.
More specifically, Pronia helped the victims issue restrictive measures against their abusers and individuals threatening them; Pronia also held flexible support programs and provided interventions in conjunction with authorities and organisations to help the victims find permanent, secure and affordable housing.
Pronia’s records reveal that most reported cases of domestic violence were from areas in and around the northern suburbs of Melbourne with a consistency of 6.4 new reports per month. One quarter of the reports to the police were made from third parties, confirming the state of terror and prejudice that is attached to reporting such cases.
We asked from Mr Dimitris Bouras, a counsellor and community educator with Pronia on matters of domestic violence, to comment on the statistics and shed light onto the real dimensions of this issue within the community.
Mr Bouras focused on the political dimension of the issue within the Greek family unit and community and said that: “In the Greek community it is only when the individual or someone in their close environment is directly affected by domestic violence that they will report the issue or actively seek help. When the situation is at its worst. This is the bitter truth.”
“Things are especially bad when it comes to the abuse of elderly women,” Mr Bouras said, explaining that in most cases it is sons abusing their mothers while it is the mothers themselves that refuse to seek help and keep protecting their abusive sons for fear of losing face among other members of the community.
“This is how the vicious cycle of secrecy, shame and guilt continues.”
“Just three of the 64 female victims resorted to protective measures against their abusers and that was only after they suffered extreme violence.”
In an attempt to identify the reasons behind this phenomenon, especially when it comes to elderly abuse, Mr Bouras said that said behaviours are interlinked with the patriarchal archetypes of the Greek family where the male is the “man of the house”, where the son can do whatever he wants but the daughter grows up with restrictions. In many cases, the mothers play a big role in contributing to those negative stereotypes that ultimately backfire, directing the violence back at them.
THE VICTIM’S PROFILE
When outlining the profile of abused women, it appears that they are women who, aside from their extremely low self-esteem, also present intense feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. They seem to have a dated perception in regard to the roles within the marriage or the relationship; they guilt-trip themselves no matter what they experience to the point they become certain that had they been better they would not have been treated in such a way. They often use sex as a means to smooth tension, leading the entire relationship into a vicious cycle of violence-sex-normalised neutrality. Those three links are misinterpreted into the “he’s punishing me so that I can become a better person – we have sex, therefore he loves me – nothing bad is happening so we are good”.
The victim ends up wallowing in depression to the point of isolation as the feeling of shame keeps growing exponentially.
For all those reasons, women that experience abuse from their husbands or partners rarely leave the family environment. They are afraid of the ramifications of the revelation and the abuser’s reaction. They are scared that their family won’t support them, either because the woman’s family does not have the means or because they see breaking up a family unit as a shameful act. In many cases the victims’ families encourage them to stay in the abusive relationship and be patient. There is still a lot of stigma that comes with a divorce and people still believe that it is a burden children will carry for the rest of their lives. Victims end up rationalising their predicament and keep telling themselves that their kids need both parents to grow up properly. There are very few cases of women actually taking the leap and leaving the toxic environment, even when they reach the point where they have to be hospitalised due to the abuse. A large percentage of those women admit that they are still in love with their partners and would return if the abuser changed their behaviour.
THE ABUSER’S PROFILE
On the other hand, the abuser is often described as an individual beyond suspicion that hardly demonstrates signs of violent bahaviour outside the home.
The transition to violence most of the time begins with a single outbreak, it is one episode that does not resonate with the abuser’s profile.
The first incident generally comes as a shock to the victim, resulting in doubt. The victim will likely question their own behaviour wondering whether it was something they did that offended and infuriated the abuser. In most cases, the victim will register the incident as an isolated event which will prevent them from taking immediate action and properly processing what happened. Unfortunately, it is hardly ever a one-off event and every other violent breakout is even worse.
The abusers are typically individuals with low self-esteem that, through their manipulative behaviour towards people with even lower sense of self worth feel empowered and live under the delusion of control. Abusers are usually bipolar with recurring depressive episodes; masking their phobia towards any form of emotional connection; they carry significant trauma from an early age and are often a by-product of abusive environments themselves, having suffered abuse or having witnessed someone close to them being abused.
Moreover, the abusers also abide by anachronistic stereotypes when it comes to equality of the sexes, commonly coming from lower education backgrounds.
There are, however, two types of abusive men. Those who are able to acknowledge their actions, feel remorse and regret their violent behaviour and those in denial, unable to admit that their actions are violent and unaware of the negative effect those behaviours have on the victim and the rest of the family members. They justify themselves, projecting external factors as the reasons behind said actions, putting the blame on financial hardship, alcohol or their wife’s provocative behaviour.
Drastic measures are necessary when dealing with such perilous and toxic situations. The woman needs to comprehend that she is in real danger, and that she is also potentially endangering the lives of her children. She has to find the courage to seek help and support. She could always think of and select one of the people closer to her to trust; she could contact to domestic violence services within the community or even get in touch with state and national support services in order to get as much and effective support as she needs.
Legal and psychological support are offered, as well as help with dealing with the immediate and practical problems that arise when a woman – especially a mother – decides to leave the abusive home without having to leave her children behind.
When it comes to the Greek Australian community, Mr Bouras believes that “as patriarchal stereotypes are being demolished, the perception of the average Greek Australian who thinks he can do whatever he wants to his mother, father, wife, daughter and so on… begins to change as well”.
“It is paramount that children are taught about that in school; the soonest the seed is planted the better.”
Most of us have been brought up with the idea that family and the home are synonymous to safety and peacefulness, our refuge. There, no one and nothing can hurt us. Sadly, for some this idea does not meet reality; the home for some members of society becomes hell, a place of torture.
This needs to stop. No culture, no shame, no fear-mongering justifies abuse. It shouldn’t be a taboo to expose family violence of any form as soon as it develops or as soon as it has been identified.
In the words of Greece’s Supreme Court Prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou, “when a woman is abused, a juvenile delinquent is born. When a child is abused, civilisation dies.”
Violence, no matter where it comes from, is a thorn in our civilised culture and that, in turn, is the mirror of our society”.
– 000 Victoria Police
– 93889998 Pronia – Ask for a domestic violence counselor
– 1300 368 821 Seniors Rights Victoria
– 1800 015 188 Safe Steps (Victoria’s 24/7 family violence support service)
– 1800 755 988 Intouch (Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence)
– 131114 Lifeline
– 131450 Interpreter