“They say you have your own life now; you are making your own family, this shouldn’t affect you, but it does! This affects you for your entire life, and there is nothing you can do because one single phone call from them is enough to bring everything back, like it happened yesterday”, CEP, victim of domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse, or domestic violence, is defined by the United Nations as a “pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner”. Domestic abuse is not just about violence, about hitting and hurting someone physically, but about everything that means a person’s physical and mental pain: “sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviours that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone”.
About one-third of women worldwide have gone through either physical or sexual abuse by their partners. Data from the last 7 years show that women’s acceptance of domestic violence has decreased in 75% of countries. Meaning, laws against these acts are only applied in 153 countries. Places like Northern Africa, Western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have countries where 43% and 35% have not accepted these laws, the same places where, however, at least 200 million girls and women have been victims of such abuses.
Domestic violence does not only occur when it comes to the life partner, although it is the most widespread, but also on children. They become secondary victims of the attacks, but suffer the most from them, because, being in development, the fingerprints of the abuse remain imprinted most deeply on their skin. WHO stated in 2020 that “Globally, it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year”.
In Romania, following a study done in 2017, it appears that more than 60% of citizens believe that domestic violence is a justified act and is seen as perfectly normal. It is estimated that around 30% of Romanians have experienced some sort of domestic violence, and that around 32% of women have experienced sexual abuse or sexual harassment. This is strongly fueled by the fact that only about 50% of Romanians trust the police and the justice institutions.
MIN got married at 18 years old. Her husband was 28. A year later, at the age of 19, she gave birth to their first and only child, a little girl, who would become the centre of her husband’s universe, but who would put MIN on the second place and made her the target of his abuses. “It wasn’t from the beginning like this, although we got married young and the age difference was huge, some would say. But the years went by and he became more and more violent. It’s not always physical violence, it’s the verbal violence. The worst is when he yells at me when we are not alone, when we have guests or we visit friends. I feel helpless in front of him and it’s hard to control my tears when this happens. But I got used to it”.
When asked how and why she stayed there for so long, if she was unhappy, she replied with a sad smile on her face: “It’s for my daughter, even though she loves her father more. And it’s easy for me, because now I spend more time alone at home. He’s a truck driver and he’s been gone most of the time in the past years. I rarely see him, and when it happens, things struggle to stay normal, even though we don’t share much.” After a short pause, she continues with a surprising hint of delight in her voice: “And I found a job! I’ve been working as a cook for several years now. I even managed to become their boss in the kitchen. I have my money. It’s harder when he comes home, because his money usually goes to our daughter, who is now 26 years old, so I have to do the same and support the family with what I earn”.
I asked MIN if she was aware that all these years she had been a victim of domestic violence, and her answer showed the way most women in Romania think when it comes to this aspect: “Honestly? No. When you say domestic violence, I am thinking of bruised women, in life-threatening situations. There are much more serious cases than what happens with me. People would think I was crazy if I claimed to be a victim of domestic violence. I think if I said something like that in public, he would really give me reasons to say that”.
MIP got married at 17 years old. Her husband was 23. At the age of 18, she gave birth to her first daughter, and after 4 years she would give birth to her second, who was about to be the victim of abuse. “I would come home in the evening, because at that time I would work wherever I could, and I would find her crying. She never spoke if her father was around. After a while she started talking about it, but extremely little. He abused her both physically and verbally. I’m ashamed that… I knew it was happening, but there was nothing I could’ve done. I was scared. I know how he acts when angry and I usually don’t intervene. That’s how it ends faster. Most of the time it was the words that hurt her the most”.
When asked if she saw the effects of these abuses, her answer came quickly and clearly. “Yes, yes I saw them. I realized it was serious, but I thought it was the best for her. It was seen in the way she behaved around him. She’s become cold around him, she stopped sharing many things with him. She seems to keep a safe distance. The abuse did not stop, but she learned to ignore it, although sometimes I find her crying, especially when I call her. She is 25 years old now. I can see she’s still affected, but I think that in time she will eventually get over it”.
When asked if she was aware that her daughter was a victim of domestic abuse, MIP said no. She still doesn’t believe that. “I think every family goes through harder times. There’s always something behind the walls. We’ve had this. His anger at her, for some reason. I think there are much worse things that can happen. I really don’t think that was domestic abuse”.
Domestic violence and abuse can come not only from parents, but also from grandparents. NIM is now 18 years old, and has gone through domestic abuse between grandparents and grandchildren. “I was born when my mother was still very young – her first and only child; a boy. I wasn’t really accepted by her parents, by my grandparents. When I was 4 years old, she went abroad and left me with them. Grandpa was the one violent in a physically way; grandma was more the violent talking one. He used to drink, which gave him more courage to hit me. I was hit with brooms, with belts, with pieces of wood over my fingers, with nettles. On some days I would stay and help them with work around the house, all day long, but on other days I would run and stay away from home as long as I could. A few years later, I told my mother. She didn’t believe me at first, she thought I was exaggerating. My luck was that he listened to me and truly heard me after a while, so she returned home. With the money raised, we left her parents’ house. It was hard at first, but I was very happy just because I wasn’t there anymore. We still keep in touch with them, but I keep a distance that makes me feel safe”.
CEP is 28 years old and is preparing to become a wife. The wedding is a few weeks away, and she still has moments when she hides and cries because of the traumas caused by her father.
“It happens more often now, considering that the wedding is coming. He calls me and tells me how I’m not doing anything right. The conversations usually end with me giving up and turning off the phone because it’s too much”.
When asked if she remembers when it all started, she answered after a long pause: “It all started when I was little. I was nothing in his eyes, and I’m still nothing. There were physical abuses, but few or short. Most were verbally made. From him and sometimes from his friends, and he never defended me, so I ran to my grandmother and hid there. I only returned home in the evening, when my mother came from work. I was told to be patient, because I know he gets angry quickly and not to say too much, especially to my grandparents. I was the one held accountable. Most of the time I was scolded by my mother because I was complaining too much”.
For CEP, the peace of mind did not come even when she left home and found her boyfriend, with whom she plans to marry and leave the country. “My dad loves drinking. He doesn’t agree with my fiancé now, because he doesn’t share this love for alcohol like my dad does. This was almost a reason important enough for us not to get married, in my father’s eyes. So we took a step back. I moved as far away from him as I could, but the idea that he will be at the wedding terrifies me”.
When I asked CEP if she was aware that she was and still is, to some extent, a victim of domestic abuse, she answered slowly, as if for herself, that she doesn’t know. “I didn’t know then. I don’t know now. Somehow, you’re afraid to say those words. You know that once said out loud, they become something real, something that happens, and I don’t know if you’re ever ready to accept that this is happening to you. All I know is that when I was little, I was scared and angry. Angry because of my helplessness and that of those around me. Angry on my mom for never stepping in and speaking out for me. Now… Now I’m just sad that it happened and that it came to affect me so much. Sometimes I find myself sad, or even crying, without anything triggering this, something simply happens that makes me relive certain moments, and that’s enough. I’m lost. They say you have your own life now; you are making your own family, this shouldn’t affect you, but it does! This affects you your for entire life, and there is nothing you can do because one single phone call from them is enough to bring everything back like it happened yesterday”.
Paul Ioan is a police officer in a town in the north-eastern part of Romania. He says that in the last twenty years, cases of domestic violence have risen alarmingly and that the authorities are increasingly called upon for such incidents. “Things seem to have gotten out of hand, and the main reason for these incidents is usually high alcohol consumption. For example, we have a case where the husband, and father of 4 children, is a very hardworking man, with a day job, but the second he gets his hands on alcohol, it’s like he’s losing his mind, he’s very violent, he’s beating his wife. The worst and lowest point was when he ran after her with an axe. She made complaints to the police, we have whole files with his name on them, many fines and he was even locked up in psychiatry for a few years, but eventually a small window is found in the system and they return to society. Don’t ask me why the wife doesn’t take the 4 children and leave him, I really don’t know”.
Paul Ioan gave another example of a case of domestic violence, but this time between a child and his parents – their son being the abuser. “Their case has been in our attention for over 15 years. Something is wrong with that man. His parents are old, tormented people, but they receive a pension. It is enough for him to stay around. He beats them, he humiliates them. The mother had a broken spleen and the father was stabbed. We have a protection order against him, he was detained and he is now being sent to court, sentenced to suspension for non-compliance with the court decision and a case for domestic violence. And that’s because of the neighbours who saw or heard what was happening, because the old couple said nothing. They were afraid. The worst thing that can be done by those who are abused is to remain silent. They have to ask for help, although the biggest pike blockage is psychological, brought by fear and we understand that. But you must have the courage to raise a hand, so that we can grab it and get you out of there”.
With the number of cases of domestic violence increasing in Romania, the laws are starting to take shape around the situations. However, this is happening at a slow pace. One of these small aids is given by a new law from 2020: “Until today, if the victim dropped the complaint, the aggressor was as white as a lily. From now on, even with reconciliation, every slap will have consequences,” said Adriana Saftoiu, an MP who has looked over the adopted amendment for more than two years. Domestic violence and abuse can only be stopped if we raise a hand too. To say “Stop”, and offer it to those who can pull us out of these situations; who want the best for us and who can help us.