Greece to launch campaign to tackle rise in domestic violence

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Greece will launch a public campaign urging victims of domestic violence to “speak up” after a spate of femicides. 

The initiative will try to ram home the message that there is help for women in abusive relationships, Greece’s gender equality minister told the Guardian.

“What we are seeing is very worrying, and our message is ‘speak up, we are here to assist’,” said Maria Syrengela.

“It’s very important that women understand the warning signs.”

Television channels, social media and the mainstream press will be enlisted as part of the effort to highlight a nationwide network of shelters and counselling centres set up to provide psychosocial and legal support. 

A free helpline offering support has also been established.

The drive, described as unprecedented for Greece in scope and scale, will expand on a pilot programme activated during the pandemic, when cases of abuse, attributed to long months of confinement, began to soar.

“So often women have been scared to speak. It was such a taboo they remained silent,” Syrengela said. 

“Now, even in the last village of Greece, we are saying there are services that can help, that they can start a new life.”

Greece’s gender equality minister Maria Syrengela (Photo: Maria Syrengela on Facebook)

Never has domestic violence been so publicly discussed in a country where entrenched patriarchal views have been slow to change and, outside towns and cities, traditional mores still hold sway.

“There’s been an increase in women coming in,” said Katerina Kostaki, a psychologist at a counselling centre off Syntagma Square in Athens.

“All these incidents have brought up a lot of angst and pain even for victims who may have completed their therapy.”

“Many feel guilt and shame that they are with violent men and anxiety they could be next [to be killed].”

From January to October this year, 12 women aged 19 to 75 were allegedly murdered by husbands or partners.

Femicides have not only piled pressure on the Greek government but led to fervent calls for changes to Greece’s penal code.

There are demands for femicides to be classified as a distinct crime to stop perpetrators using legal loopholes in an attempt to get more lenient sentences.

But Athens’ supreme court prosecutor weighed in last week, ordering jurists to fast-track cases of domestic abuse by adopting a system that would allow suspects to be indicted, arrested and tried within 48 hours of committing a crime.

The intervention was described as groundbreaking for a criminal justice system that is not only notoriously slow but regularly compared by legal experts to a relic of the 19th century.

“It’s a turning point,” said Maria Gavouneli, president of the Greek national commission for human rights.

“He has instructed prosecutors across the country to pay special attention to cases of domestic violence and reminded them of the [legal] toolbox.”

Greek prosecutors would now be encouraged to use every legal provision in the criminal code when dealing with femicides, Gavouneli said.

“They won’t just prosecute for murder but [will also] take aggravating circumstances into account. It’s very significant,” she says.

“The Greek justice system is extremely slow. It literally doesn’t work anymore.”

The government campaign is to be followed by other initiatives that will aim to convey the message that women are every bit equal to men.

Published by: The Guardian

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