ATHENS – As schemes being set in motion to try to slow rising brutality against women in Greece, police in the country’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, said they arrested a man who reportedly told them he killed his wife, who would be the 14th victim of femicide this year.
Coupled with women being beaten by their husbands, partners or boyfriends, and up to 95 percent of rape cases not being reported, there is worry about the soaring phenomenon during the resurging COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his New Democracy government has in the last two years activated 73 special services in the Hellenic Police for dealing with domestic violence, with many police officers trained to deal with such incidents, such as opening six pilot departments for dealing with domestic violence in Alimos.
He also referred to the 24-hour phone line at SOS 15900 where victims can ask for help and advice, the 43 counseling centres around the country where women can find support, 19 women’s shelters where they can find safe haven and also special programs to find employment for abused women.
That comes after pressure built on his government to do something after a spate of femicide cases and violence, in a country with a patriarchal system that critics said has contributed to society tolerating it.
An initiative will urge victims of domestic violence to “speak up” and deliver a message that there is help for women trapped in abusive relationships, Greece’s Gender Equality Minister Maria Syrengela told the Guardian.
“What we are seeing is very worrying, and our message is ‘speak up, we are here to assist’,” she said, and that it was critical that domestic violence victims knew help was at hand. “It’s very important that women understand the warning signs.”
TV stations, social media and the mainstream press will be asked to take part in the effort to provide information about a nationwide network of shelters and counseling centers set up to provide psychosocial and legal support, and a free phone helpline.
A pilot program had begun as it became apparent that cases were jumping during the pandemic that saw people locked down together for months at a time with little chance to get out with non-essential businesses closed.
“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.”
It also represents a chance in attitude in Greece’s predominantly male-driven society, spurred too by the #MeToo movement that highlighted cases of sexual harassment, abuse and rape, including allegations against top officials.
Katerina Kostaki, a psychologist at a counseling center off Syntagma Square, the capital’s main plaza which includes Parliament that, “There’s been an increase in women coming in.”
She added: “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.)”
Athens’ Supreme Court Prosecutor earlier directed 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, if they’re detained.
“It’s a turning point,” Maria Gavouneli, President of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights and Professor of International Law at Athens University told the British newspaper.
“He has instructed prosecutors across the country to pay special attention to cases of domestic violence and reminded them of the (legal) tool box,” adding that prosecutors are being encouraged to use every legal provision in the criminal code when dealing with femicide.
“They won’t just prosecute for murder but (will also) take aggravating circumstances into account. It’s very significant,” she said.