The economic crisis in Greece has had obvious repercussions on the socio-political climate, however as Myrto Vogiatzi investigates, it’s the hidden consequences that may point to an even darker future.
It is possible to view the consequences of the economic crisis in Greece everywhere. My university’s closed gates, the journalists commenting on the dysfunctional health system and the hundreds of homeless people in the streets of Athens. However, what about the ones that cannot be heard nor seen? Those, that won’t be exposed during the 8 ‘o clock news, debated in parliament or fit into future history books?
I am directing your attention backstage, where the crisis is being reflected in less obvious or documented ways. Following these same consequences would take you to households where victims become offenders, laying their undeniable burden on their close ones.
Since last year there has been an increase of 47% in domestic violence against women in Greece, according to a new study by the General Secretariat for Gender Equality. Verbal abuse was seen in most of the cases, followed by economic blackmail, sexual humiliation, beatings and rapes. The findings were presented during the opening ceremony of a new women’s support and consultation center in Kavala. “These cases are not happening in countries with no regard for human rights. They are happening in modern day Greece and not in an old Greek movie”, stressed the general secretary, Ms Kollia.
A similar study, entitled “Greece of the Crisis and the Memorandum”, was carried out by the Hellenic Society for the Study of Human Sexuality (EMAS) and the Andrology Institute of Athens, last spring. The results, which were based on a sample of 600 men and 400 women interviewed over the phone, showed the same increase in violent behaviour by men towards their sexual partners, attributing it to intense job stress, pressing financial obligations and low sexual activity. Most of the interviewees said that the frequency of their sexual relations had been reduced by 34% and seven out of ten men said that the Memorandum signed by the government had affected their sexual life in a ‘very negative way’. “The economic crisis is automatic social and cultural, batting mostly male gender who has identified his strength, money and sex as absolute forces of masculinity”, explained K. Konstantinidis, head of the Anthropology Institute. “A man without money, without a financial basis loses his stereotype, his manhood, his ability to say that he is strong”, he added.
Compensating for ‘a manhood in doubt’, is often the excuse for abuse of power and extreme behaviour. The type of behaviour that is officially condemned but still tolerated by some social groups or even (far)-right political parties, such as the now infamous Golden Dawn. Their aggressive rhetoric (using words like “saviour”, “warrior”, “heroic patriot”, “inexhaustible power”, “secret voice of the blood”…) associates chauvinistic behaviour with patriotic resistance to the crisis, thus removing the guilt from those who are already prone to violent behaviour.
We cannot deny that the drastic deterioration of the economic situation of the country has led to an increase of domestic abuse. However, factors such as poverty and unemployment do not cause violence, they exacerbate it. If we take a moment and picture the offender, we quickly realize how easy it is to fall into stereotypes where alcohol, poverty and illiteracy play the dominant role. We don’t suspect that middle class men with a university education are violent to their partners or that successful women suffer it. Anyone can fit the profile. Class or status is irrelevant and suggesting that the financial climate generates domestic violence merely provides another excuse for this silent crime. According to Elena Apostolidou, consultant at the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, “we can only blame the economic crisis for intensifying the incidents and increasing their frequency, but not for creating violent men”.
Reporting the crime
Traditional stereotypes that reinforce notions of women’s inferiority and accept patriarchy as a form of asylum are deeply ingrained in Greece. They are often reproduced by the media, tolerated by judicial institutions and, most importantly, by the victim’s own social environment. As a consequence, women find themselves unable to rationalize their abuse or see themselves as worthy of seeking help, believing they deserved it. “The cases of family violence presented by the mass media are just the tip of the iceberg. Man is still considered the head of the family. Women are reluctant to press charges against their husbands, because there is the question of who will feed the children if the man is convicted and jailed”, explains Konstandinidis.
Very few women, indeed, take the decision to go to the police (especially when they are financially dependent) and if they finally do they are often stigmatized, treated with suspicion or are even sent back home. “Police see these women as poor little creatures and helping them is often only a matter of choice. But it’s their obligation to investigate the slightest psychological abuse even if there are no signs of mistreatment”, says Elena. According to her experience, police officers, judicial officials and investigators ask humiliating questions to the victim, who must endure a series of endless interrogations in order to prove that “it was not my fault”. The whole process can last several years (up to 9 years for rape), during which the offender is free to meet other partners and repeat his violent behavior.
Women’s stigmatization for reporting domestic violence isn’t of course something new, since violence and rape were always rarely discussed publicly in Greece. However, these last years of insecurity, people tend to underestimate most of the issues that aren’t directly associated with the financial crisis, ignoring – as an act of emergency – the rights of vulnerable social groups. As a popular saying goes, “why deal with this now when the world is on fire?”