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Survivors’ Forum, the first national forum in Romania dedicated to women who have experienced domestic violence, took place on March 7th in Bucharest. Watch here the video of the event. Over 50 women who were interested to meet other survivors and share their own stories about overcoming abuse responded to our invitation. Participants coming from Bucharest, Iaşi, Cluj, Braşov, Sibiu, Craiova, Lupeni, Timişoara interacted with great interest and demonstrated that Romania has a huge resource of strength and courage, precisely where most people only see weakness: in the women who experienced with violence from their partner. Every woman who stands up and dares to break the silence about intimate-partner abuse, despite the threats and humiliation she faces,  should be considered powerful, not weak.

Domestic violence is like a cage that gradually cancels out your freedom. A girl’s dream of having a family prevails – as from early childhood we are told that this is the only way we can lead accomplished lives –and many women do not realize they are abused. “I thought violence was about broken ribs,” says Loredana Kaschovits. “When I dared to confess for the first time that I might be a victim, I felt like I was betraying my family,” says Crina. “Everyone around me was getting beaten” remembers Alina, but the desire not to repeat her mother’s unfortunate destiny motivated her to stop accepting this treatment. All these women dared to step into the unknown; although it has been very hard, they have managed to transform their lives. Many of them still face the stigma of being a single mother, as Cynthia Loris’s shows in her art exhibition VIO and the stories of single free mothers.

We asked the participants what improvements are needed in order to have more women escape violence before it is too late. First of all, they say, it would help to have a drastic change of attitude on the part of the government and public institutions: when a woman calls for help, she should be welcomed, encouraged and told that violence is the fault of the perpetrator, not hers. Those who interact with women should stop blaming the victim and stop asking her questions as though she would be guilty of a crime.  They should stop discouraging the women when they call the police, their statements need to be taken separately from the aggressor and they should stop screaming at the women. The police should follow the protection orders: it is not enough to issue the order, to evacuate the aggressor; the violations of the protection order by the aggressors must be seriously sanctioned; otherwise protection does not exist. The message is valid for everyone around us: not to share a common ground with the aggressors. Ana Bella Estevez, the woman who started a real phenomenon in Spain, helping thousands of women to get out of the abuse, told that for 11 years her suffering was invisible to her relatives, who saw the traces of violence but chose not to ask about them. Whenever a perpetrator is not held accountable, whenever justification is sought, we do nothing but encourage violence, raise those who commit it, and lower the women who bear it.

Women who have been through violence say it is important that intervention is specialized: police structures, legal court, support services. Those who come in contact with abused people should first be trained for this and refrain from inappropriate comments, by expressing their own prejudices. This also applies to judges, in the process of gaining custody of children, or in the proceedings for the issue of the protection order. In cases of separation involving children, aggressors use the little ones almost always, to maintain control of the former partner. Judges should be aware of this, women say.

One of the most important needs discussed at the Forum is the organization of survivors’ communities: psychological support groups, as well as groups of women who are actually helping, for example by accompanying other women to the police when they want to make a complaint or when they have a process to the court of justice. One week after our meeting, the survivors’ have already done a closed facebook group, which they called the Survivors’ Network, through which they continue to communicate with each other. One of them proposed that the survivors’ living in the same city should develop a local help guide: what are the services you can rely on, which lawyers have experience in the field, with which kindergartens they had positive experiences, or, on the contrary, what other women should avoid. Support groups for women who have been confronted with domestic violence exist in Sibiu, managed by A.L.E.G., and in Bucharest, managed by ANAIS. As a next step, A.L.E.G. will contribute to the development of local support groups of survivors and support communities in which they can encourage each other and build a common voice. The communication campaign #șieureușesc will grow and bring into the public eye as many examples of women who have managed to get rid of abuse. Interested women can contact us at contact@aleg-romania.eu or call +4 0753 893 531.

This is part of the project “From Victim to Survivor”, run by the Association for Liberty and Equalityy of Gender (A.L.E.G.) with support from Ashoka Romania through the Ashoka Localizer program and funded by Global Rights for Women (Global Voices Initiative) and AVON. The project aims to adapt in Romania the Ana Bella model from Spain, about which you can find information here.

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