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Life in fear

 

Ten years are not enough to erase the trace of violence

 “Now I am free. It’s awful to live in fear all the time, and going to bed just waiting for something to happen and that he would simply decide to beat me again.”

 Although almost 10 years have passed, even now it is hard for Sara (the name is changed) to tell her story. Remembering the details, her eyes show despair and fear for a moment, but then she says: “ I am not afraid now. My husband died a few months ago, and now I am really free.” 

 Sara was 15 years old when she got married. She had no parents and lived in an orphanage in Russia.

  “ I was always waiting for that one day when my parents would visit me, but it was useless,” said Sara. “I also hoped that one day I would have my own sweet family, but unfortunately I couldn’t manage to fulfill this dream, either.”

 The desire to have her own family was the reason Sara agreed to come to Georgia and to get married. “My husband’s mother took me from the shelter and we came to Georgia,” said Sara. “We got married, and after that she went back to Russia.”

  Marriage became a real challenge for a 15-year-old girl.

  “The beatings began after the marriage, even when I was pregnant. He was not only beating me, but also torturing and humbling me.  I didn't know what to do. At that time I didn’t know Georgian, I couldn’t leave the house, I didn’t have anyone. Every time he came home, he could do everything with me. He always said that I am an orphan and one day I will die as alone as I am now, and that no one will care.”

 The situation worsened when children were born. “I have three children, two of them are twins. Once there was a month we had only bread and water. My children became weak and my son began to have some health problems. My husband was beating them, too. One time he just threw us out of the house. It was winter time and we spent hours outdoors in the yard.” The situation was so bad that neighbors collected money and gave it Sara. Statistics compiled four years ago in Georgia show that 35.9 percent of women experience acts by husbands/partners intended to control their behavior, and that 1 in 11 married women has been a victim of physical violence.

 A free hot line reached by dialing 122 received 1,997 emergency calls concerning domestic violence. According to statistics from  “Atipfund Georgia” (state fund for protection and assistance of the victims of human trafficking), there are 32 times more calls now than in 2010.  

 After these calls, many women get help by moving into special shelters. There are five shelters in Georgia. At the three shelters operated by the government, about 100 people stayed the maximum three months and took a rehabilitation course that included special psychological, medical and legal support.

 Sara’s family eventually spent two weeks living at a railway station before police took them first to a rehabilitation center and then to the “Safari” shelter.

“My kids were very small. The elder one was five and the twins were two. Here everything changed.  I was taking medicine, but I was sleeping without fear. My kids have clothes, and they are not hungry anymore.” Sara took some massage lessons at the shelter and now she can work.

  “The main problem for most of the women who come to us is that they have very low self-esteem. They think they can’t do anything without their husbands. It is a result of psychological violence,” said Ana Jgenti, a psychologist who has worked many years at the “Safari” shelter. Psychological, physical or sexual, Jgenti thinks that all these types of violence are interconnected.

 “Of course the most visible is a physical violence with blood, but life is much more complicated,” says Agnieszka Dudra, a young researcher from Switzerland who is doing her doctoral work on this issue in Tbilisi.

 She is convinced that one of the ways to overcoming these problems is economical empowerment of women. “How to survive with kids when you earn 300 lari per month working 10 or 12 hours a day here is a problem,” says Dudra. She quotes quoting Marina Tabukashvili, general director of the NGO “TASO”: “Give women enough money and 70 percent of the job will be done.”

 “Not enough money goes toward the economical empowerment of these people,” Dudra says. “Maybe you don’t have money for such basics as taking a bus, or visiting a doctor. I can’t say directly that a woman who has money will not be a victim of violence, but it would help a lot of women to have more choices.”

 Statistics shows that 71.5% of women who suffered from violence have no independent income. (National research on domestic violence against women in Georgia, 2010)

 “Victims face great financial problems, especially housing problems. They have no place to go,” says lawyer Baia Pataraia, who is the executive director of the “Safari” shelter. “State shelters offer three months of help, but that is not enough time to be able to get a job which will help to pay the rent and other costs as well.  Most of them have kids, and they don’t want to leave them.”

 Pataraia is also one of the co-authors of an article on domestic violence that was added to the criminal code in 2012, after which state shelters opened in Tbilisi, Gori and Batumi. “Criminalization is a step forward, but much more implementation must be done,” she said. “A good law is not enough. Guidelines are needed for domestic violence in Georgia.”

 “Domestic issues are their problem. I shouldn’t get involved in that because it is not my business.  This is the general approach of many of us,” says Pataraia. “I have heard of a lot of cases when people are complaining that their neighbors are killing each other, but they never actually call the police.”

  Statistics support that stereotype: 78.3 percent of women think domestic violence problems should remain within the family.  (National research on domestic violence against women in Georgia, 2010).

 “The victims don’t want to speak, and they don’t call the police,” Dudra says. “They are not looking for help because they are ashamed. There is a culture that worries about  how  society reacts, and we  see how the silence builds up collectively.”

Though the law now helps protect women, several NGOs are working on this issue, and there are shelters providing women sociological, medical and legal support, not all end results are happy.

“They are really fighting to survive with very little support from society, friends and family members,” Dudra said. “They are really strong people.”

 Although 10 years have passed, Sara continues to battle the effects of violence, She dreams about happy family. Now her children are in shelters and she can only visit them, but she is hoping one day they can live together, and finally fulfill her childhood dream.