Archive for August, 2015

Abused women and children – too close to home

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After going through some of the most recent media coverage on rape and women abuse, I will talk today of what I know from my own experience or from other ladies. Following accounts which went through court, as well as statistics on women abuse, real life stories come as raw scraps of this gruesome reality many live through, are scared of and even too terrified to do anything about it.

Growing up in a family where no such abuse was present, I might have been inclined to thinks it doesn’t happen too often. But then, while a teenager, I was told by older girls to always stick with a group if I go to the local disco, to avoid the risk of being dragged somewhere and forced to have sex by older boys. A very good friend of mine in my High School years was raped when she was 14. Another Romanian lady I know left her house and lived in a shelter, while she filed for divorce from a drunken abusive husband who’d threatened to kill her.
And then there were the rumors whispered at corners about young girls being touched in inappropriate ways by older men. I heard them occasionally while growing up, and I can confess that I am no stranger to such an unpleasant experience.

Possibly one of the most disturbing such accounts I have overheard growing up was about a girl in our village, never knew whom exactly. A neighbour, an older man, apparently held her in his arms so she could reach and grab an apple from his tree. While doing this, though, apparently he started to touch her vagina through her panties. The girl wore a skirt. He must have done it long enough for her to wet herself, get scared and go home crying as she did not understand what was happening to her. She was of an age when urinating in her underwear was considered embarrassing.
Now I can say I was never intimately touched against my will by anybody so far. Well, that is if you take out that summer day, at 13, when I came back to my grandparents flat from the city and a foreign guy, seemingly a student (or of that age) followed me after I got off the bus and started to touch my breasts on the street, in full daylight. I cannot remember how I reacted on that occasion, my memories are completely blanked from that point on.

But I can say I was once kissed in the train by an elderly man at a younger age, and that a distant relative, then in his twenties, undressed and touched my bottom, then tried to persuade me to let him teach me how to French kiss. I did not allow him, so he gave up and left.
On the train I was with my grandad and my brother, whom both just went to the toilet at the end of the carriage. The elderly, seemingly a very nice person, having played with both of us earlier on the journey, caressed my calf and asked me if I liked playing like that. Then, shortly, he asked if he could kiss me. I took it as a sign of affection from an older person, and agreed. He then pressed his lips against mine and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. Puzzled by all this, I left and stayed on the carriage hallway with my family. Not much later, when we got off the train, I started to realise what just happened and rage grew inside of me. However, I did not mention anything to my grandad or back home as I felt I was stupid, I should have known better and should not have allowed that horrible old man touch me in any way.

The male relative asked me, before leaving, not to tell anybody about our “game”, it was our secret. Unlucky for him, I was a very talkative and intelligent child, so right away as my mum got home from the neighbours’, I told her. He was never allowed to come again to our house or be in touch with me in any way. Possibly my parents did not report it as in communist Romania of the 80s the case would not have been taken too seriously.

I was 7, if I remember correctly, when the subject of the “secret game” suggested by the man in his twenties. My father was at home, but busy in the garden, I was playing in the lounge with the telly on, and the aggressor was sitting on the sofa, where he managed to drag me as well for a short while.
On the train, I was 8. Fact is I realised what had just happened because in my foggy memory laid that bit of “instruction” about French kissing using your tongue. Otherwise, I might have been confused, but oblivious to the fact I was being sexually kissed.

While in High School, I felt the floor breaking with the heaviness of the news just being dropped on me. My friend was telling me she’d just been raped, by a stranger. She, 14, went to meet her then first boyfriend, a few years older. Actually, I think he was at least 18. She did not see him in the pub where he was meant to be and asked around, so a benevolent stranger, possibly even older than 20, offered to show her to her boyfriend’s. She followed and was lured inside a house where the door was locked behind, and she was raped with a knife at her throat and the threat he’d bring another 5 young men if she didn’t submit to it.
True, my friend did not fight. She was too afraid, not necessarily of the knife used to assault her, but of being then beaten up and punished by her father, then an alcoholic. So there was no bruising or any other evidence she had been raped. When I encouraged her to however go with me and ask for advice personally from one of our neighbours, a policeman, in his off work time, she agreed. First, she was deterred by being told that, considering her age, her parents would have to know. Then, without physical evidence or witnesses on her side, unfortunately there wasn’t much to be done. At most, the man would be accused of sex with an underaged girl, but her parents would have to be present in any investigation.
She gave up on doing anything about it. Our neighbour, the policeman, said he felt like giving a good beating to the rapist himself, but that would not help, in the end.

Most of these stories I know closely have one element in common: the perpetrators were not strangers, but in fact people the victims knew. I am thinking of the lady who went to stay in a shelter, and I do not know how long the abuse was going on in her house. Did she wait for years so their child could grow up and go to University before she did anything decisively? All I know was the husband did not abuse the child. She did not give me much more detail and I did not press on to find out.
I am thinking of my friend who did not proceed with reporting it to the police because she was afraid of her father.

From information I have read last year in Glamour , statistics in the UK show as well that most women are raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know: friend, family member, husband, boyfriend, neighbour. It only makes abuse so much uglier and scaring. Being treated like an object of violent sexuality against your will by somebody you trusted can leave your life in pieces never to be picked up again completely.

At the same time, British media reported on how it has been suggested that a person accused of rape would need to show they had the consent of their sexual partner. It does make sense. True, on one to one accounts, without physical evidence or any witness, a new regulations like this introduced in the law would not make much difference. However, it could make the case if somebody was deliberately given alcohol or drugs so that they could not object later to whatever was done to them. And this would be a
step forward.

A small step, which would leave a lot of work to be done: acknowledgement, awareness, education, solidarity. Still a long way to go to make this world better for women and, unfortunately, even children.

 

 

 

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Rape IS a hate crime

Yesterday I read and left a comment to a post on Facebook about a woman being assaulted (touched without consent) in the Romanian subway and nobody intervening, but an old lady. Everybody else watched and did nothing. Today, I am reading an excellent opinion article on the same kind of topic: how rape is a hate crime against women.

VictimShutterstock

(photo: Shutterstock, via http://www.rawstory.com/)
Over the last month or so the Romanian Facebook caught on fire with #violulecrima, a hashtag initiated after a central newspaper uncovered and thoroughly reported on a case of rape by seven young men in a Romanian Eastern village (Valeni), against a High School girl (18 years old). They raped her for three hours, on a field, last November. They walked out of court first, and were only sentenced to “house arrest”, a joke, not a real consequence for sexual assault. The seven perpetrators’ families are well off, and the boys themselves are quite popular amongst the locals (four of them are football players in the village team). But all these do not explain or serve as excuses for the heavy support they got from the locals, who considered them victims and the girl just a slutty young female.

 
Apparently, as the case was uncovered and gained increasingly more media coverage, as well as wide support for the girl and more and more voices in society asking for the rapists to be sent to prison, the sympathy the seven of them gained became increasingly embarrassing. For the perpetrators, for their village, for that part of society which still cannot see the harm in such abuse against women.

According to reports in Adevarul newspaper and Realitatea TV, villagers in Valeni were saying things like:

– “Why should they go to prison for 5 years, for only 5 minutes of pleasure? This girl is ruining seven good families in our village, good people”

– “She did it on herself. She had it coming, why did she get in the car with seven young men? Had she been a good girl, nothing would have happened to her.”
She didn’t, according to media reports, she was picked up from the bus stop in the nearby city by one of the boys, whom she knew and who offered to give her a lift. On the way, he said he needed to pick up another friend. And then she was taken to this field, where others were waiting, was raped for three hours, sprinkled with alcohol when she fainted and threatened she’d be badly beaten up if she faked it again.

– The girl was not raped, but treated to a session of “surprise sex”.

After one month of Romania media roaring with information on this rape case, and after even the Romanian Prime Minister asked the Supreme Court to treat it with extreme seriousness, this Monday, the 17th of August, the seven young men, aged between 18 and 24, were finally sentenced to good years in prison, from 5 years and 5 month the shortest sentence, to 8 years the longest. They also have to pay the victim the equivalent of about £10000 moral damages, in Romanian currency.

On the day of the final trail session, expecting for the judge to reach the verdict, about 300 people gathered in front of the Court House in the city of Vaslui. Also, more than 400000 people have signed an online petition over the last month which asked for the seven to be re-trailed and condemned.
However, the court decision in not final this time either. The young men can still appeal for the case to be brought again to court. The first two judges decided, earlier this year, that, as the perpetrators partly admitted to the assault, they could be left to walk away and be “arrested” at home (meaning they could not freely walk around, but who would inforce this in a village with so many supporting them?).

As previously mentioned, the parents of these boys are mostly well off. The mother of one of them has, apparently, told other locals she had spent a lot of money to keep the boy out of prison. Probably, due to the media coverage being so high that the Prime Minister (himself actually on trial, but this is of no importance to the subject) felt he had to take action over the case, no matter what money their families would want to push as a bribe from now, it won’t work.

This outrageous story, with many dirty hands involved in it, reminds in a way of the Indian girl killed after being gruesomely attacked in 2012, in a bus, after going to an evening screening of Life of Pi. Similarities? The perpetrators “excuses”: a good girl would not be in that situation, and she should cooperate, not “ruin” the aggressors’ lives. To be honest, I clinched my fist after typing this.
Both stories got wide media coverage, as well as becoming the source of social protests. I must admit, however, that while the Romanian case was unfolding, I started to feel more outraged of the lack of serious civil action other than furious posting on Facebook. I sighed in relief when the petition and a few protests were announced. There are still so many cases of rape and women being abused in Romania that more civil action, ranging from peaceful protests to sustained long-term campaigns, are needed in order to start to make a difference.

To get back to where I started, today I come across that excellent piece of journalism exposing evidence from well-known cases, as well as personal experience of how women are still abused even as they are the victims or just rejecting men hitting on them. With all the social progress and the laws set to protect and deter perpetrators, this world still does not seem, many times, as a very happy place for women to be in.
Some women though find their way out of abuse and set an example  even in remote and economically disadvantaged places. A touching and motivating example, the story of the ladies living in the village of Umoja, Kenya, where men are banned, shines through all the grim pieces of news which can overwhelm you. These African women have all escaped either forced marriage, abuse in mariage or being raped by British soldiers and then beaten up by their own husbands, who considered them to blame. The village came to exist about 25 years ago, and the women here still meet men, have children (there are about 200 kids around), but live in an exclusive female community. They say they could never share their life again with a man. They support and empower each other, and life in Umoja can be easily described in a few sentences:
Mary shows me a handful of dried beans that she will be cooking soon for dinner. “We don’t have much, but in Umoja I have everything I need.”

So is women empowerment and independence, as well as good education all we need to change the most rotten strains of this society we live in? Does it all start with raising awareness?
I personally believe so, as I believe in what media can do in this respect. Looking at the Valeni rape case in Romania, as well as the Indian girl killed three years ago, I can say media reports played an important role. The facts could not be buried, there was no excuse for the rapists, for the criminals. And there is still a lot to know, to bring to attention, to act upon, until more people acknowledge that yes, rape is a hate crime.

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The bitter taste of unmet expectations

A good friend of mine, who also lives abroad now, has texted me last week with an unpleasant (for her) piece of news. She has been fancying this guy at work for quite a while now and even felt a connection, but they never dated. However, apparently he told her he wasn’t in a relation, only for my friend to recently find out he is moving in with his girlfriend. She wrote me “how do I get over this bitter taste?”

The first thing which sprang to my mind was that, actually, he’d done nothing wrong. Many men, especially at work, prefer not to discuss or give much detail on their personal life whatsoever. Many of them only talk about any such matters with very close friends. Although I do feel for my friend, I see how her disappointment has little to do with the guy himself, but more with her own unfulfilled expectations. He probably didn’t even lie to her, considering, as she’s also told me, that he valued setting a clear limit between personal life and work.

Now I need to say I have known my friend for many, many years. She is the sweetest, most delicate introvert, with a sparkling sense of humour, which actually shelters a very shy, sensitive and emotional person. And, after years of not being in contact, we found each other again on, yes, Facebook and have kept in touch better via Viber and Skype. It feels just the same as in those days past when we sometimes confessed to each other by writing letters.

The bitterness which she possibly felt quite overwhelming we all experience, heavier or lighter, over and over. Every time an unmet expectation strikes us, it seems like the natural feeling, a little less heated than anger and a little more obvious than frustration. But then, at the same time, whichever the range of emotions, we can stop and ask ourselves: does this actually have anything to do with somebody else treating us unfairly or not? Did they do anything wrong to us, after all?
The more we think they did, the more difficult will be for us to get over it and move on.

Of course I am speaking out of experience. I do know a lot about lingering in the drama, about feeding my own frustration and keeping the flames of my own anger high. But I have also come to realise what I have probably read over and over again, and was told by some of the most helpful people I’ve met, that others do not have to react, behave or relate to me in the way I want or would like them too. As long as it is not offensive, what they do is their own choice and has nothing to do with me.
Once we realise this, we do not take things so personally any longer. It doesn’t mean our first reaction would be different or we would lose all of the bitterness, frustration or anger when our long learnt and practiced pattern has been to feel hurt, disappointed, mislead (if not, plainly, lied to), pushed aside.

However, in time and with good practice, we can come to understand that the way people behave has little to do with us. It has much to do with themselves, their life circumstances, their past and background, their life experience, their own state of mind.
Wherever we are, whatever the situation, it comes to us to consider our options and where we want to shift our attention to. Just the same as it is the others’ own business to deal with the consequences of their own behaviour, choices and expectations.

Writing about this made me think of a Paul Valery quote, which I knew in an approximate form in Romanian. According to Goodreads, this is what the French writer said: “Our judgements judge us; and nothing reveals us [or] exposes our weaknesses more ingeniously than the attitude of pronouncing upon our fellows.” 

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