The last taboo

The latest statistics show violence against women perpetrated within the family is on the rise, but for the Greek community, mothers and daughters stay silent. Penni Pappas asks why.

Family violence is on the rise with 26 per cent more women likely to be assaulted and sexually attacked in their homes, according to new crime statistics released by Victoria Police.

The latest statistics reveal that family violence crimes rose during 2010 / 2011. Women made up 83 per cent of sexual assault victims and 45 per cent of assault victims. The statistics also show that 36 per cent of victims were raped by someone they were related to, lived with or were in a relationship with.

That the trend is not reflected in the Greek community doesn’t mean it’s not happening says Kia Antoniadis, counsellor, Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS). “A lot of people don’t come in to get help for [family violence] as it’s still considered quite a taboo area. I find it quite difficult because even though we talk about options, women are very reluctant to use those options. For example, they won’t press charges, they won’t go for intervention orders. There seems to be this idea of martyrdom; that’s your role as a mother, you just put up with that.”

Maya Avdibegovic, CEO, Immigrant Women’s Domestic Violence Service (IWDVS), tells Neos Kosmos ethnic communities such as the Greek community, stay silent when it comes to family violence.

“The big issue is that they’re not willing to disclose violence to anyone: to their kids, to their family, even their closest friends are not aware of it,” says Avdibegovic of the victims of family violence. “For the same reason they don’t approach Greek welfare services because of the shame of being out in the open and the community knowing it. We sometimes see women who finally ask for help but in some cases it’s even children who don’t want their mothers to disclose their violence.”

When it comes to family violence, ethnic women face many more barriers. They face cultural, religious and language issues. And given their attacker is more likely than not to be known to them, their barriers force them to stay silent.

Mary Stathopoulos, senior research officer, Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault (ACSSA), tells Neos Kosmos that “there is danger in disclosing” for these women. She says in some instances, migrant women have a history of trauma that can act as a barrier for them in disclosing. When asked about the Greek community in particular, Stathopoulos said the reasons for not disclosing are varied.

“Sometimes there is shame within communities as they are so close knit so women might not be inclined to disclose. They don’t want their partners or people who are hurting them to get into trouble.”

Seventy per cent of the clients Antoniadis sees at AGWS are victims of family violence with emotional and financial abuse being the most common.

“The most common scenario is there’s an adult son who has either got a drug addiction or a gambling addiction. His relationship or marriage has broken up and he ends up back at home and doesn’t pay bills, asks mum for money for him to go to the TAB, asks her to buy cigarettes, gets angry and upset with her when she hasn’t cooked him what he wants,” says Antoniadis.

One in three women in Australia will face family violence of some kind, says Avdibegovic, and in most cases, their children will witness this and it will have an affect on them too. And although she says the crime statistics by Victoria Police may show that family violence is on the rise – and IWDVS are working 20 per cent above their capacity – she believes that this is a reflection “of the system working a lot better”.

New legislation means that the Victorian police force now need to attend every incident of family violence, and if they attend an incident with women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, they need to employ the services of an interpreter.

“I think it has raised awareness of what is family violence and what classifies as family violence in Victoria,” Avdibegovic says. “But we still believe that even with those big increases, family violence is still hidden in the communities and people simply don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to take it out of their families and there is probably a lot more happening out there that we are not aware of.”

The IWDVS has seen cases of life-long family violence against ethnic women that at times the neighbours have been forced to intervene and call the police because the women won’t do it themselves. Antoniadis says that we need to educate our mothers, our sisters, our friends that even though family violence is out there and as a member of the Greek community you might think it’s “acceptable… it’s not like that anymore”.

“Things have changed and people don’t need to put up with it and there are lots of services available for help. The fact that they can access Greek counselling to help them understand how the behaviour has manifested itself and the role they play in it and how they can change the patterns that have been set up.

“Also, they have rights, they have rights financially, they have rights to ask people to leave with intervention orders. A lot of people think the only way to escape is for them to move out, they don’t realise they can get their son removed or their husband removed.”

Avdibegovic says it’s paramount to challenge cultural norms and religious beliefs if they are forcing women who are victims of family violence into the ‘quiet corner’ and with that lies the danger of continuing this behaviour through their children. IWDVS sees second and sometimes third generation women who are suffering from family violence because the cultural barriers are still there. She says these women “are entrenched by the culture, the shame factor that they don’t want to disclose violence to anyone”.

If you are a victim of family violence or know someone who needs help contact IWDVS on (03) 94136500. This is a confidential service and it’s free. There is a Greek counsellor available to talk to.