The legal and psychosocial support program for survivors of gender-based violence – residents of Attica, implemented by the Diotima Center, for the period January – October 2021, with the help of the Bodossaki Foundation, has been completed.
The program demonstrated the multiple needs of survivors of gender-based violence in the midst of a pandemic and sought to respond to the increased requests for support that arose with the Greek #Metoo and the rise in femicides.
Indicative of the increased demand for support services from our organization was that before the start of the program, our goal was to provide support to 80-100 women. In the end, more than 150 Greek and immigrant women requested and received free psychosocial support and legal assistance in order to deal with the consequences of gender-based violence.
The profile of survivors
134 women received legal assistance (counseling and representation in court), of which 19 also received psychosocial support, while only psychosocial support was provided to 17 women.
The women were mostly Greek, aged 30-50, unemployed, and with children. Also, working women and students addressed the organization. The immigrant women served come mainly from Balkan countries (Russia and Poland), much less from outside the European Union.
The incidents concerned almost all forms of gender-based violence, predominantly domestic/partner violence. In addition to husbands and partners, other members such as the father and brother were also reported as perpetrators, mainly in cases of financial violence.
The women who sought support specifically faced psychological/verbal violence, sexual harassment, stalking, physical abuse, rape, and trafficking.
Beyond the geographic identification and targeting of the program, more than 30 women from outside Attica who contacted us received information and guidance from the organization’s legal team.
In the majority of them, the women turned directly to the organization for support, unlike previous periods when it was an exception. At the same time, there was also a category of cases that was referred to the Diotima Center from the known routes: the National Center for Social Solidarity and the Advisory Centers of the Network of the General Secretariat for Demographic and Family Policy and Gender Equality (GSDFPGE). The cooperation with the Counseling Centers has been particularly effective in connecting the survivors with hostels.
A pandemic of violence, femicide, #metoo
The large number of survivors in our services seems to be related to the aggravation of gender-based violence during the pandemic, a condition characterized by the Council of Europe as a “shadow pandemic”.
Also, an increased need and demand for help was detected especially during the Greek #metoo period but also after the heinous femicides that took place in 2021. Often the women who came to us stated that “their main motivation to ask for help is the fear of being murdered by their husband” says Despina Tsouma, coordinator of the program.
“Caroline’s femicide, in particular, acted as a catalyst in mobilizing many women to break free from abusive relationships. Many women who lived with the abusive partner left immediately, taking refuge in their families, an indicative of the importance of activating the supportive environment” notes Angeliki Kakanaki, lawyer of the program.
“There was difficulty with those who were married with children,” she emphasizes. “In these cases, either the women took refuge in hostels with the contribution of the Counseling Centers, while at the same time the Diotima Center ran all the necessary legal actions (restraining orders, temporary orders for custody, enrollment of the children in schools, etc.) or with the legal aid of the Center, they obtained a temporary order to relocate the abuser. Usually the spouses, after the mediation of the lawyers and the hearing and serving of the temporary orders, left the house without reaction,” she emphasizes.
The Greek #metoo seems to have played an equally important role in mobilizing women in the direction of seeking help and in general asserting their rights deriving from national legislation. In particular, it contributed to the mobilization of women who have suffered sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse. Characteristic was the self-organization and collective action of women who were victims of rape by the same perpetrator, who came into contact with each other and cooperated in order to seek information and legal help from the Diotima Center.
Breaking the cycle of violence
Most of the women had experienced chronic abuse with an exacerbation during the period of their treatment at the Diotima Center, while they also had to deal with the multiple consequences of gender-based violence (psychological, financial, etc.) either for themselves or their children.
It is worth noting that the women had not only the support of their children in trying to escape from the abuse, but in many cases, they were the ones who mobilized them towards their exit from it. “However, mainly in cases of immigrant women, the children were cautious about the involvement of the police and the criminal prosecution of the father-perpetrator”, as Angeliki Kakanaki points out.
As the lawyers of the program, Angeliki Kakanaki and Danae Kasimi, pointed out, all the legal actions were effective and the response of the judicial authorities was very good. In the 2 criminal courts (including many still pending due to covid) that involved domestic violence, there were convictions, one for the threat to life / physical violence and the other for attempted bodily harm, verbal abuse, and possession of a weapon.
Multiple forms of power
“What all the women had in common was that they were determined to confront the abuser. They reached the point of asking for legal help and most supported their choice with dynamism” emphasizes Danae Kasimi.
An example is the case of a woman who suffered psychological violence and threats against her life from her ex-husband and his mother. The court in a remarkable and not so usual decision ordered the removal of the perpetrator from the house (which belongs to him) and the residence of the survivor, with the adoption of restrictive measures not to approach the house.
As the psychotherapist Eleni Houvarda points out, who provided psychosocial support to those women who requested it, “one of the characteristics of the women was their readiness to proceed with actions to disengage from abusive relationships and actions to render justice”.
“Given that there are multiple forms of power in the trauma of gender-based violence, women gained access to that power. They made contact and recognized it. This gave me great satisfaction,” she emphasizes.
Need for a holistic support
In conclusion and with the aim of improving support services for survivors of sexual violence, we could mention the following points that we identified during the implementation of the program:
First, the lack of income and property is an important factor that keeps women trapped in abuse.
Secondly, the many and great needs of women cannot be met by the existing programs and support structures, either due to limited duration or insufficient availability: The free legal aid program of the Athens Bar Association in cases of gender-based violence, covers Civil Law requests ( e.g. injunctions, lawsuits, etc.) but it has been proven that on the one hand, the legal assistance is not from specialized lawyers in cases of gender violence, on the other hand, the availability of the lawyers of the program in question is lacking in the follow-up of complex and time-consuming cases, which are most of them. For criminal offenses such as filing a lawsuit, supporting the accusation at the criminal hearing, monitoring the course of a lawsuit, etc. there is no sufficient coverage.
Thirdly, the close cooperation between lawyers and psychologists/psychotherapists is deemed absolutely necessary, while it would be extremely helpful if actions to strengthen survivors followed.
Finally, the response of the police to emergency incidents that need immediate management should be immediately improved.
To break the cycle of violence, support from structures, the community, and from the family environment is needed to provide: free legal representation, temporary housing, psychosocial framing, and connection to the labor market in order to gain financial autonomy.
Consistency and continuity of free help
Women’s needs for free support and assistance remain great. Equally great is the need to continue the program through donations and/or funding in order to continue the multifaceted support of survivors of gender-based violence. The aspiration of everyone at the Diotima Center is to find the resources for this.