Women keep silent about sexual violence


Interview with Diana Sargsyan, head of Public Relations department of the Women's Rights Center NGO.

The Women's Rights Center (WRC) is planning to hold a 16-day campaign for women from November 25 to December 10. What are its goals and what events will be held?

The 16-day campaign for women will be held from November 25 to December 10 not only in Armenia but also in many other countries. November 25 is the International Day  for the Elimination of Violence against Women. So for 16 days various NGOs hold various events trying to attract the attention of the society to the phenomenon of "violence" and raise awareness on it.

WRC has been functioning already for 14 years and since 1997 was always holding different events from November 25 to December 10. For instance, last year we performed theatrical shows on the domestic violence topic explaining what it was and how to prevent it. We distribute educational booklets and leaflets. By violence people always understand physical violence, beating; however, it is manifested not only physically; there is psychological violence which is stronger and has deeper consequences and impact.

This year events are in the planning stage, I don't want to open the brackets; but I can say that we will have some 3-4 events.

What does the statistics of violence against women who applied to your NGO show, which women rights are violated more often?

We deal only with domestic violence against women and have no information, say, about the violence against women in workplace.

In the family women experience violence mainly from their husbands; there are cases when girls experience violence from their brothers, or daughters-in-law from their mothers-in-law or mothers-in-law from their daughters-in-law. The number of those who experienced psychological violence is the biggest; cases of physical violence are on the second place. There are few calls on sexual violence not because it does not exist but because it is often concealed. When talking to a psychologist most women first speak about psychological violence, then they become more sincere and report also physical violence, and only later - after atmosphere of trust is formed, they report sexual violence.

In general women do not speak about sexual violence though consulting is confidential and we never tell the name or the place of women who applied to us for the sake of their safety. Maybe they are ashamed or think that it is the right way.

We have the following statistical data: there have been 1,782 telephone calls to our 0800 80 850 hot-line in January-September 2011 and 1,348 of these calls were about domestic violence. 489 women applied to us, the rest of the calls just repeated. Of these 1,348 calls 854 were on psychological violence, 481- on physical, and only 13 - on sexual violence.

As compared with the same period in 2011, the number of hot-line calls has grown by about 500; however, we think that the reason is not the increase in cases of violence but that women's awareness has arisen. Mainly young and middle aged women of 22-45 apply to us.

What is the reason of violence against women in your opinion - is it our mentality or the fact that women are not sufficiently informed about their rights and do not know how to protect themselves?          

I think men use violence against women because they want to control them by force to show that they are higher. And there are many factors contributing to it - mentality, upbringing, complexes, use of alcohol etc. Women should never be blamed for violence used against them. Many of the women that applied to us said that they applied to difference offices expecting support where they were told: "You are to be blamed, you provoked the violence". Women should not be blamed, they simply don't know their rights and how to protect them. There are also other factors that restrict their actions - they are ashamed of the society, or they think that if they report against their husbands they may lose the children, or they have no place to go, they financially depend on their husband etc.

Women do not call us after the first beating, they are mainly victims of regular domestic violence. They call when their cup of patience is filled.  

How does WRC support women who experience violence?

We provide 24-hour free consulting, we have hot-lines also in 4 provinces. The consulting is both psychological and legal. If necessary, the lawyer helps in arrangements up to filing a suit, helps with the alimony for children etc. 

If the telephone conversation is not sufficient to stabilize the women's state of mind, they come to the Women's Support Center where we have groups for women's support. Women talk to each other, share their problems and feel relieved. Here the psychologist specially emphasizes the raising of women's self-assessment. If the self-assessment grows, the mentality changes, the woman wants to work, to earn her own income and become independent to be able to protect her rights. 

If there is danger for the life of the woman or her child, if there is threatening from the husband, or the women divorces her husband and needs a place where the husband cannot find and beat again, in such cases we place them in our temporary shelter where they live until the danger is over.

NGOs dealing with women's rights protection have become very active recently and it seems that it was due to what happened to Zaruhi Petrosyan. What should the state do in your opinion?

It would be great to have the state next to us. We are now working on the Law on Domestic Violence stipulating punishment for those who use violence. The role of the state will be to adopt this law and provide full-valued punishment not only for killing and beating but for every manifestation of domestic violence.

As for Zaruhi's case, our one-year fight was not in vain: her husband was given a 10-year sentence. This is a lesson for those who think that they will go unpunished and do whatever they want. It would be very good if the society does not stay indifferent either: in Zaruhi's case the neighbors, relatives had seen how the husband and the mother-in-law were beating Zaruhi but had stayed silent thinking it was not their business. The result, unfortunately, was Zaruhi's death. 

Is the elimination of gender discrimination an issue of far future in your opinion?  

In my personal opinion it is. This phenomenon does not recognize geographical borders; it existed always and will exist. I hope that with the lapse of time, the awareness of women will grow and they will be able to better protect their rights.

Interview by Mary Alexanyan
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