Posts Tagged police

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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Lost in London

An old man, Vasile Belea, got lost on London tube while visiting his son. The poor man had been drifting God knows how and where before he had been found and reunited with his family. You can read all about the news here.
This is one of those stories which, when you read them, make you laugh and feel sorry at the same time. Well, if you’re British or any other nationality, the funny detail would most probably escape you. But for Romanians, the poor old man’s name is the reason. In Romanian, if you emphasize on the first syllable of Belea, it’s a family name, well known one. But if you place the accent on the second syllable, it becomes a completely different word, meaning trouble in a somewhat funny way, the kind of innocent trouble people sometimes get into. I can only but imagine people back in this man’s village or small town talking, when he goes back, a celebrity by now: “Old uncle Belea got himself into belea while in London”. And this sounds really funny.

 

On the other hand though I can’t help but think of how terrified he must have been. Apparently people have been nice to him, but still. By looking at him and the way he is dressed I can tell that he seems to be a countryside man, who maybe lived and worked his whole life as a farmer, tending to the vegetable garden, the poultry and probably a pig in his own backyard. He wears a typical lamb fleece hat and a typical vest called cojoc, which you wouldn’t really see elderly in the city to wear, unless they are just retired there with their family, after a lifelong spent in a village.
Then I wonder how he lived for three days while he was lost and completely cut out from his family. Did he sleep in a park? Did anybody feel sorry for him and gave him some food? How did he feel being lost in such a crazy busy city like London?

 

What worries me is that he tried to approach police and that was unsuccessful. Chatting to one of my house mates last night, he said something like “people don’t care” and reminded me of the movie “The Terminal” saying a true story about a man who lived for about 5 years in an airport, they all knew he was there and nobody really cared, until they’ve decided to grant him political asylum. While it can be understandable that people would think a grown man, fit and healthy, could take care of himself one way or another, I find it concerning that police would just ignore an old person trying to approach them.
Of course we can’t tell how it happened. But think about it: in the end, Vasile Belea took a newspaper with his photo in it and went to show it to the police. This underlines couple of things: the old countryside man from Romania found a way to help himself, in a world completely different from the one he’d known so far. And also, he wasn’t afraid of police and he knew that they would be the ones to finally help him. So I doubt it that the first two times he tried to get their attention he’d been too bashful or hesitating.
When police ignore or fail to help an elderly person, who clearly doesn’t look like a London regular, just because he doesn’t speak the language, I find it concerning. This man could’ve been from any country in the world, doesn’t matter. They couldn’t understand him? Keep him around, get somebody to take him to the police station, show him a map of the country, then Europe/the world and he could’ve said or indicated to Romania. Get him to the Embassy and problem solved. No need for the vulnerable elderly to spend three days and nights on the streets of London, all alone and miserable.

 

Compared to the police failure to help him, some people’s comments on the discussion board of Huffington Post seem mere frivolities. But they aren’t. When frustration has grown to such a level to which they mock a vulnerable person’s traumatizing experience just for being Romanian, it means it’s the same old story of a still immature society. Society as a group still functions for some to take advantage and for others to take their frustrations over others.

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Me happy, dad tired, after six hours of strolling through London

This might be quite a strong statement, but it literally made me sick to read comments like “so when is he going back then?”. Yes, I find these comments oozing with racism. I mentioned it, and I got in reply the very intelligent and refined answer “stupid woman”. Right.
My father visited me here in October. It was his first time in the UK, but he had previously travelled to Austria and the neighbouring countries, former Yugoslavia and Hungary. Although he’s been brought up in a countryside household and he keeps a vegetable garden, poultry and all the rest, he is a priest, with four years of University studies. He’s a big fan of British documentaries on history, he watches old movies (without subtiles) on TCM and he’s a person with a certain degree of cultural information. He can speak basic English, although he is quite bashful when it comes to this. But he could manage if he’d get lost.

 

When he was here, for two weeks I took him all around the area. We’ve visited Hurst Castle, which was lots of fun for both of us, of course as a big history lover he thoroughly enjoyed it. We even faced the very strong winds on the spit with smiles on our faces. We went to Southampton and he could admire the old fortifications there. In Bournemouth we took a stroll on the beach, we’ve visited the old priory church in Christchurch. And we went to Beaulieu National Motor Museum for one day. Then, before him flying back home, I dragged him all around Central London, to all the important landmarks.
During those two weeks, none of the people who served us Chinese, Mexican or pub style food (The Harvester), who sold us tickets or were just around us in any of those place asked us “so, when is he going back?”. It would’ve been quite stupid, really. My father was here so I could spend my money showing him around, so why would they?

 

I want to conclude this article by saying the following: people who can make such comments to such a story show not only a big load of frustration, but also being insensitive and lacking in that human trait that makes us more than animals – empathy. They have probably never thought what if it was their father, lost in a city like Bucharest, all foreign and crazy for them. But I realise it would be difficult to find a place which could put their fathers in the same kind of situation. Fortunately, if an English elderly person would get lost in Bucharest, almost everybody could understand them saying that they are lost and need help and could offer them help. Lucky that English is spoken by so many people in today’s world that people from English speaking countries don’t even need to bother learning any other language.
Well, for an old countryside man from Romania being unable to speak English meant three days on the streets. I bet he never imagined he would get in such a situation. Him being safe and back with his family can even make us smile when reading about his story.  

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