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Lawyers, psychologists and millions of dollars: how America helps victims of violence


Source: report

According to the WHO, every third woman in the world faces violence throughout her life. Most often, aggressors are relatives, partners and acquaintances - less than 20 percent of such crimes are committed by strangers.

Фото: Depositphotos

This leads to the fact that women are often ashamed to ask for help from strangers, so many countries have created special protocols for working with them. By request ""Journalist Daria Shipacheva understood how assistance is provided to victims of violence in the United States and what is lacking for those who struggle with violence against women in Russia.

“The more vulnerable a woman, the higher the chances of getting out of the water”

About 10 million American women become victims of domestic violence each year. About half of all victims contact the police with a statement.

Sexual abuse is worse: more than 43 percent of US women have been harassed and abused, and 21 percent have been raped. Most of them (63 percent) will never tell law enforcement about this.

“The rapist often rapes precisely because he feels his impunity. And the more vulnerable the victims (for example, they have small children, they are migrants, representatives of the LGBTQ community or with a disability), the more likely the abuser is to get out of the water dry. And it’s all the more cruel, ”explains Stephanie DeCandia, program manager for the Boston Crisis Center at BARCC.

She has been managing programs to help women who have been sexually abused since 2003, over 15. DeCandia graduated from the Faculty of Law at Northeast University of Boston in 1998. Prior to that, she received a bachelor's degree in social work.

BARCC was founded back in 1973, and has since been the premier full-service violence survivor center not only in Massachusetts, but also in the New England region, which includes six states in the northeastern United States.

All victims of sexual violence who have reached 12 years can apply to the center for free help - both psychological, legal and physical. The BARCC “coverage area” includes 29 cities, with a total population of 4,6 million people.

50 employees are constantly working in the center, and about 200 people are providing volunteer assistance. Crisis counselors work on 24-hour hotlines, receive calls and messages from victims, support them and tell how BARCC can help them out of the situation of violence. When a woman is ready to turn to the crisis center in person, she is provided with a psychologist specializing in work with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for free, assisted in finding the so-called shelter, special shelter for victims of violence, and, if necessary, legal advice.

According to DeCandia, sometimes trying to achieve justice in court is not the best strategy, because it takes forces to fight in court and publicize what has happened, and the victims don’t have it: like the rest of the world, the US also has a victim’s stigma and a public statement about its status can lead to dramatic changes in life.

“First of all, we explain to the victims what options they have. If they want to go to the police and sue the rapist, we will certainly support. But it is likely that they need other things more: the opportunity to stay at their current job, not to pick up children from school, to graduate from college, to get psychological help ... So if the victims do not want to report the criminal to the police, we will support them and try to help in what they really need for a speedy recovery, ”says DeCandia.

If the victim decides that she wants to go to court, the consultants explain to her that she needs to go to the nearest hospital. You can not take a shower, change clothes, it is advisable not to even go to the toilet - otherwise valuable evidence may disappear. If the victim still feels ready to go through a medical examination, a specialist from BARCC will meet her at the hospital at any time of the day or night and help her through the procedure as comfortably as possible. It is necessary to collect the so-called rape kit - the whole set of evidence of violence: a smear from the vagina, DNA samples of the attacker from the victim’s clothes and body, as well as from under her nails, which will later prove that she resisted. If a woman is beaten, you must also record the beatings and their consequences - bruises, fractures, and so on.

It will not hurt to collect evidence, even if the victim is not going to sue right now: they will be stored for some time (depending on state laws), and the victim will be able to return to this later.

The injured (by the way, in the USA they are called “survivors” in order to avoid the word “victim”) also undergo short-term psychotherapy to cope with the trauma of violence and PTSD. If necessary, assistance is provided to their family members, partners and other close people. If it was not possible to overcome the injury in a short time, the woman is sent to a psychotherapist from one of the trusted agencies, where specialists also know how to work with PTSD. In the case when she does not have insurance and cannot pay for therapy on her own, the state can subsidize treatment.

Finally, if the victim is ready to start proceedings with the criminal, she will be provided with free legal assistance. Specialists will discuss with her further steps by phone, go with the victim to the police, accompany her in court, find a lawyer and help pay for it.

Since violence is most often perpetrated by loved ones, the issue of security for the victim, who decided to break the cycle of violence, is especially acute, therefore consultants talk about how to protect themselves from the aggressor and help to find asylum.

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In 2018, the BARCC hotline received over 4,2 thousands of calls from victims of violence. The staff of the center escorted about 400 women to the hospital and helped more than a thousand people with the legal side of the matter. Over a year, more than 3,6 thousand sessions of group and personal psychotherapy for victims and their loved ones took place in the crisis center.

Such large-scale assistance costs a lot of money: the annual budget of BARCC is 5,1 million dollars, of which 70 percent is state funding and grants. The center collects the remaining money with the help of fundraising events, income from trainings and private funds. And only 7 percent of the organization’s budget is personal donations from citizens.

The state’s attention to the problem and an integrated approach to solving the issue of violence is the result of the introduction of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the USA in the 1994 year, which was developed to prevent and stop violence against women, to help victims receive better assistance, and law enforcement to actively punish aggressors. After its introduction in the United States, budgetary funds began to be allocated to finance centers such as BARCC and the construction of asylum networks.

Due to this, from 1994 to 2011, the number of women seriously affected by domestic rapists has decreased by 72 percent. But most victims of violence continue to be silent about the crimes committed.

Фото: Depositphotos

“The moment the victim decided to leave is the most dangerous for her.”

The culture of violence that most of us still live in is to blame, says Stephanie DeCandia. In this culture, the word “no” is not always a reason to stop interacting. If the victim did not escape, then she wanted to be raped. If the wife did not leave her husband beating her, then she wanted to be beaten. These are the attitudes of people brought up in such a culture.

Many underestimate the damage that a tyrant can inflict, against which a woman dared to go. “The moment the victims of domestic violence decide to leave is the most dangerous moment for them,” says DeCandia. If a domestic rapist has already reached the point of causing moderate or severe bodily harm, his next step is killing. And at this moment, the victim needs to be especially careful and careful in their actions.

In such cases, the United States has a system of protective orders - it prohibits a criminal from approaching the victim before the end of the investigation. If the rapist violates the order, he can be arrested right there - just one call to the police. And if the survivor manages to go through all the circles of hell and not give up, she has a chance that the aggressor will be in prison.

But in the end, only 20 percent of cases of domestic violence end in court. DeKandia said that in the fight against this problem in the US, some police departments initiate special training programs, in which officers receive training on how to interact with the victim of violence so as not to injure her, and how to avoid blaming the victim.

The rape situation is even more complicated: only 5 out of a thousand rapists end up in prison.

“If we do get to the trial, we’re more likely to get a conviction when the rape was committed by a stranger. But to prove sexual violence from a friend and even more so a partner is a very difficult task. Such rapists - and most of them - most often leave the courtroom with impunity, ”complains the head of the Boston Crisis Center.

On the subject: 'I began to live only in prison': the story of a victim of domestic violence

She cites the example of a more progressive country in this respect - Sweden, the first in the world to begin to change the situation with violence from its very sources. Since July last year, the law on consent was adopted in the country, according to which any sexual intercourse without explicit verbal consent is considered rape. The culture of consent suggests that only a clear “yes” is an excuse to continue to do what you do, and includes a zero tolerance policy for violence. In July, the law was first applied: the rapist received 8 months of imprisonment for intimate communication with a woman who was passive and did not express her explicit consent to sexual intercourse.

A similar law is also valid in several other European countries - in the UK, Ireland, Iceland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Cyprus, and since the beginning of the 2019 year in Ukraine. Some US states are also considering bills like the Swedish Consent Act. “While these are small initiatives, we are still a long way from the introduction of a culture of harmony throughout the country. But it seems that we are moving in the right direction. I have been dealing with this topic for a long time and I see that society has become less tolerant of violence, ”says DeCandia.

Фото: Depositphotos

"Complaints about violence are called 'sexual fantasies'"

In Boston and its environs - in the territory with a population of 4,6 million people (three times less than in Moscow) - there are six official crisis centers, and the Massachusetts authorities in 2020 year intend to allocate more than 38 million dollars for the further development of crisis centers in the region - and this is not counting federal funding.

In Russia, the share of state grants allocated to help victims of domestic violence, including the development of a network of shelters, is 0,12 percent of the total grant fund, or several million rubles.

Until 90, percent of Russians who experience violence will not go to the police. And while in the United States with a population of 325,7 million people over 10 years, about 18 thousand murders were recorded as a result of domestic violence (up to 1,8 thousand women a year), in Russia, with a population of 146,5 million at the hands of domestic tyrants, according to human rights activists, about 12 thousand women.

Only 3 percent of victims reach the trial in the criminal process. Usually, a case is brought if the victim has serious injuries, but more often than not, domestic beatings take place as “not causing harm to health”. According to the order of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of Russia of 24 April 2008 of the year No.194н, the criteria for damage to health are temporary disruption of the functions of organs and (or) systems (temporary disability) up to three weeks from the time of the injury (up to 21 day inclusive), abrasion, bruising, soft tissue bruises, superficial wounds and other injuries that do not entail loss of general working capacity.

That is, broken lips, bruises and abrasions, the mess of the victim instead of the face is superficial damage. For such beatings, family sadists are punished with fines of five to thirty thousand rubles, administrative arrest for a term of ten to fifteen days, or compulsory labor for a term of sixty to one hundred and twenty hours.

“Even if the rapist beat his wife repeatedly during the year to minor injuries, this remains a matter of private prosecution. In practice, this means that it is this frightened woman who must go to all levels and prove that she has suffered at the hands of her husband, ”explains Anna Rivina, director of the Russian Center for Work with Violence“ ”.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in the 2014 year, is still not ratified in Russia: there is no law on the prevention of domestic violence in the country, there are no protection orders, beatings are decriminalized, victim assistance protocols have not been developed, and a network of shelters is poorly developed where a woman can hide from a rapist with her children, recover, get help and support in order to start a new life.

In total, in Russia, according to Rivina, there are about 200 organizations, mostly private ones, that provide assistance and support to women in need. These are not only crisis centers and shelters - some activists collect money and organize “secret apartments” themselves, where a victim of violence can temporarily hide. There are about 1620 of “official” beds for victims of violence, whereas, according to the Istanbul Convention, there should be one for every thousand people.

“In multi-million Moscow we have only one state shelter for women, which has several branches. I can't say how many beds there are, but the count goes to tens, not hundreds and thousands, as it should be in accordance with the Istanbul Convention. To get to the Moscow Crisis Center, you need a residence permit in the capital. Fortunately, there are a few more non-state shelters who are not so worried about the bureaucracy: they accept both nonresident and undocumented migrants, and our center “” was recently opened. But, nevertheless, the problem remains - we have too few safe places for women, ”says Anna Rivina.

In particular, the law on consent to sex is not even being considered in Russia. When a similar law was adopted in neighboring Ukraine, it was ridiculed in social networks by both Ukrainian and Russian users. Moreover, many began to fear that such a law could be abused: supposedly, what would prevent a woman from slandering her husband or lover and imprisoning him as soon as she didn’t like something? In fact, the percentage of false "denunciations" of rape is extremely low - from two to seven percent of all allegations.

“The trouble is that at the state level we do not have such a problem as“ domestic violence ”. The absence of a law on the prevention of domestic violence, the decriminalization of beatings, the unratified Istanbul Convention - all this leads to the fact that violence behind closed doors is considered a “family matter”. And since there is no problem at the social level, no attempts will be made to solve it, ”explains Anna Rivina.

On the subject: Captured by a narcissus: how to recognize psychological abuse and end a relationship

The Violence.Net Center allows only psychologists who have been tested and trained by the psychologist to the victims - otherwise the harm to the victim of violence may exceed the potential benefit. In December last year, the center trained about 15 volunteer psychologists, and now there is a selection of participants for the next set.

“Even qualified psychologists make mistakes when working with victims of violence. For example, they try to sit down next to the victim and the aggressor and try to “reconcile” them - and this is completely useless in the case of a victim who is scared and afraid to say an extra word in front of the rapist. Particularly "gifted" psychologists call complaints of violence "sexual fantasies" of the victims of women, "- Rivina is indignant.

Her words are confirmed by the recent incident with the Strela fund for helping victims of violence: a woman who came to the fund with a desire to cooperate and told her own story about domestic beatings (though long lived), received accusations that she herself provokes her husband to aggression. She was advised to "be more flexible, give warmth, warm interest, support and say only what a man wants to hear." Later it turned out that the psychologist of the fund that advised the woman, in fact, does not have a specialized education and works as a cosmetologist, and the fund itself is not registered.

However, the problem of violence in Russia is beginning to gradually become more visible, says Rivina. First, there was a huge uproar in the media and social networks in connection with the decriminalization of beatings, then there were high-profile cases: Margarita Gracheva, whom her husband cut off his hands for trying to leave, Galina Katorova, who was tried for the murder of her husband who was strangling her, but later acquitted, recognizing her actions as self-defense, and finally, the case of the Khachaturian sisters, who told how they suffered bullying, physical and sexual violence from their father for several years.

Recently Anna Rivina received a letter from the Federation Council with a request to clarify her position on the draft law “On the Prevention of Domestic Violence”, which was also written by lawyers Marie Davtyan and Alexei Parshin and activist Alena Popova. A petition demanding to consider it was signed by more than 792 thousand people, while on the site of the Russian Public Initiative, which has more weight for the government, a similar initiative at the time of publication of the article gathered less than 10 thousand votes.

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