The stories and headlines have come often this year in Greece about women being killed by their husbands or partners, so many that the phenomenon of femicide became attached and led to criticisms little was being done to stop it.
The toll has been a woman a month, said the British newspaper The Guardian in a feature, reporting on a number of them, the most notable of which was the murder of Caroline Crouch by her husband, helicopter pilot Charalambos “Babis” Anagnostopoulos, in June.
That drew the attention for its grisly nature – she was suffocated with a pillow in a six-minute attack in front of their baby – but other women who mostly have remained nameless, along with their attackers under privacy laws, have died.
They included a woman who reported domestic violence in her building in the Athens suburb of Dafni in July, neighbors hearing it play out for 25 minutes before the police arrived – but they didn’t even get out of the patrol car.
“They just rolled down their car windows and left,” a neighbor posted on Facebook, the report said. “No stress, guys. Television only cares about the bodies. So when he kills her, I’ll tell a television channel to call you,” he said in mocking tones to the police.
Less than three weeks later, she was dead, murdered by her husband, who hasn’t been named to protect his privacy rights but the paper said he told police he was overcome by jealousy after he claimed she cheated on him and stabbed her in the neck as she slept.
At the time, she was the sixth women killed in Greece by a husband or partner or ex-partner, but the numbers kept growing, as did the headlines but not the outrage, except from activists and groups supporting women.
Of the 11 victims of femicide so far this year, two had previously tried to report their attacker for domestic violence before they were murdered, but none of the men had been charged or convicted. A third woman in the coastal city of Volos was in the process of trying to obtain a restraining order when she was stabbed to death by her ex-husband, said the paper.
Critics said even as the spotlight shone on femicide that police have failed to adequately deal with it
Lawyers and campaigners said lapses in the law have created a culture of impunity against attackers of women because they allow reduced sentences if a man claims he was “provoked,” in some way and killed out of passion.
There was, it was also said, leniency if the killer displayed good behavior before a murder or showed guilt or remorse later and calls have come for femicide to be written into the penal code as a deterrent.
SOCIETY PROTECTING MEN
Ioanna Panagopoulou, a lawyer who represents the families of several victims of femicide, told The Guardian: “No one in my entire career has ever taken full responsibility, confessing they planned the murder exactly as it happened. They try to make excuses and say it was a crime of passion or something else so they get a lesser sentence.”
“If the person cooperates with the police afterwards, that’s considered good behavior,” she also said, adding that she receives calls about domestic violence every single day. “Most days I receive two or three,” she said.
Families of victims said going easy on the killers has shown the Greek state doesn’t care about them and that domestic violence isn’t taken seriously even if women are attacked or beaten – leading to a greater likelihood of being killed.
“There is a culture of violence towards women,” said Anna Razou, a forensic doctor at an Athens hospital who assesses survivors of domestic violence, and she said it spikes during the annual vacation month in August.
“Everyone’s talking about how important it is to stop the violence, but we can’t do that just by saying it’s bad. We need laws, and to be strict,” she said, adding that few women even press charges and many retract accusations because of a culture in Greece that excuses violence against women.
A law recently pushed through Parliament by the New Democracy government over the objection of critics could even force women to share custody of children with their abusers.
Justice Ministry data, the paper said, showed consistently low rates of prosecutions and convictions under a 2006 law criminalising domestic violence. An average of just 3,566 men a year have been prosecuted for domestic violence since 2016 and only 23 percent were convicted, most handed suspended sentences.
The percentage of men serving prison time after domestic violence convictions also fell from a high of 16.4 percent in 2016 to as low as 6 percent, an environment that campaigners for women said discouraged crimes from being reported.
“There’s no option to talk – that’s why women don’t talk. Our society is patriarchal,” says Sofia Karasachinidou, who, with her sister, Maria, is mourning their mother, who was shot by their father earlier this year.
The sisters fear he will receive a lenient sentence. “We are both afraid for our lives,” said Maria.
The Hellenic Police said they have set up a new department to monitor how the police process domestic violence complaints and set up a network of 72 police stations across the country where at least one or two officers are trained in how to treat survivors of abuse.
Sofia Kyriacou, an officer in the new police department, said that the force is there to help. “Many police officers do their best and more within their responsibilities to help these victims,” she said, drawing snickers from critics.
“Gender-based violence is one end of a continuum. The other end is femicide,” saids Anna Vouyioukas of Diotima, a gender violence support group. “It’s become obvious in Greece. Domestic violence can lead to femicide, and that you cannot change because it means death.”