She entered the office hesitantly. Her young face stood out for its gentleness. P. is a student, around 26.* She went to the Diotima Centre a year ago when she decided that she would no longer tolerate (domestic) violence from her partner.
At that time, she had received support from our legal service. The perpetrator sat in the dock and was convicted of the offense he had committed. She has been on the run from an abusive relationship for a year and agreed to talk to us about her experience.
“The truth is that I want to write it all off,” she tells me, right off the bat, though she doesn’t stop responding to my questions. “Our relationship lasted two years. At first, we both lived together, with my mother, but over the year we decided to live in separate houses.”
“He wasn’t violent from the beginning of the relationship. The violence started after the first year. It was physical and verbal. There were times when he became very aggressive, especially when he was drinking. In the last two months, the incidents were quite frequent, weekly. The assaults always started with wild swearing.
As soon as I saw him like that I knew it was starting again… He would hit me, spit on me, talk to me in a degrading way.”
“Most of the time the incidents started because of my relationship with my mother, other times it was about jealousy. Besides, he wanted to know at all times where I was and what I was doing.
Of course, from a certain point onwards I could not understand what was the cause or the reason for the fights. There was no logic. So I felt constant fear. I was waiting for the next outburst, which could happen at any moment.”
“After each violent episode, he would apologize, cry, and tell me he would change. There followed a period when everything was good until the violence reappeared. All of this had put me under a lot of strain. I was constantly sad, scared, and depressed.
Sometimes I even blamed myself or my mother for what was happening. I felt guilty. The strangest thing was that I was very confused and everything that was happening seemed blurred as if I hadn’t lived it, as if I wasn’t sure of my experience.”
“Of course at that time I had no confidence at all. I didn’t believe in myself. Besides, he was constantly demeaning me, he wanted me to be lower, and he often told me: ‘You’re nothing. You always listen to other people.’ So I stayed in the relationship. I was patient. I believed he could change. I’d seen his good side, and I thought it would be like it was before.
Other times I felt sorry for him. I told him to go to rehab, thinking that was the answer. Other times I made excuses for him because he was under pressure at work and didn’t have the courage to claim what was his due.
It was also my first relationship and I had no other experience of how to handle it… From a certain point onwards I was afraid to react, in case this triggered even more anger and violence.”
“The truth is that my friends, when I confided in them, also advised me to keep trying. They told me to calm him down and treat him in a good way so that he would stop being violent. They themselves had experienced domestic violence in their family homes and seemed to think it was normal.
Gradually the knot was coming to a head. After one incident where I was belted for an hour, I told my mother everything I was experiencing. My mother and sister insisted that I leave, telling me that this was not going to stop.”
“Indeed a short time later, something even more extreme happened: he violently dragged me out of the taxi, hit me, and took my cell phone. When my cousin asked him to hand over the phone, he arrived at our apartment building, along with his brother. He made a lot of noise and broke the glass in the common area.
Then I thought, in a flash, that not only am I in danger from this man but also my family members. In the midst of this chaos, I went outside and called two police motorcyclists who were randomly passing by nearby. They had probably been called by the neighbors. I don’t know for sure.
The police check found heavy tools, in their pockets, that could certainly do harm. The officers insisted that I press charges and pointed out that if I didn’t he would do it again.”
“Eventually, although I hesitated, I pressed charges, and the next day he went through in flagrante delicto. Then I also visited the Diotima Centre for legal help. The lawyer and the psychologist supported me and explained all the options I had. The trial, which was set after two weeks, was initially postponed, but a restraining order was imposed by the court.
This was decisive in ensuring that he did not approach me again. When we got to the courtroom he kept saying that he loved me and that it was all my mother’s fault. After the conviction, he permanently removed himself from my life, and only once did he come to see me and apologize. Throughout this whole process, my mother and my sister stood by my side and that helped me a lot.”
“A year later I think that these are the worst moments of my life and I’m trying to erase the whole thing. I think I should have walked away the first time it happened. However, I am now on my feet and I feel very good that I moved on, that I got away, and that I reported what was happening to me. I would advise the same to any woman who suffers violence, that is the only thing that can stop it.”
Severe penalties for domestic violence
Domestic violence is one of the most widespread forms of gender-based violence, globally and in our country. It takes many forms: verbal, psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, and economic. The vast majority of victims are women. At its extreme, it can lead to femicide. According to a report by the European Parliament (2017), fifty women lose their lives every week in the EU due to domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a criminal offense, punishable by stricter penalties under a law passed in our country in 2006. As defined by the legislation, domestic violence is violence between (former and current) spouses, (former and current) permanent partners and parties to a cohabitation agreement, parents-children, siblings, etc.
The acts punishable by law are bodily harm (punishable by 1-15 years depending on the manner in which it is committed in accordance with the specific provisions of the law), rape (5-20 years), indecent assault (up to 10 years), coercion of a family member by force or threat and domestic threat (6 months – 5 years), insulting sexual dignity by a particularly degrading word or act (up to 2 years), threatening a witness or family member with the purpose of obstructing justice (3 months – 3 years).
Rape outside or within marriage (5-20 years) and indecent assault (up to 10 years) are punishable under the Penal Code.
All of the above acts are prosecuted ex officio, i.e. without the victim necessarily having to press charges. This means that information or witness statements or any evidence is sufficient for the police to form a case and that the victim cannot withdraw (i.e. drop) his or her complaint.
This is important because most of the time victims back down, out of fear, threats, or because of pressure from their social environment. Complaints for domestic violence offenses are filed without a fee and victims are entitled to free legal assistance for the injunction procedure.
This article is part of the Don’t Skip column, which includes articles, texts, interviews, etc., aimed at informing and raising awareness of the general public about the daily, global phenomenon of gender-based violence. The column is part of the “Don’t Skip – Don’t Skip Gender-Based Violence” campaign, which is implemented with the kind support of Papastratos.
*The personal and demographic data of the woman do not correspond to the real data, to ensure her anonymity.
Interview: Natasha Kefallinou, communications manager of the Diotima Centre