ATHENS – Women in Greece – those who survive – are coming out to report domestic violence that has become endemic in the county, with 5,705 cases in the first 10 months of 2021, when there was a rash of femicide.
That was a 60 percent increase from 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, with indications it was in part related to people locked in during lockdowns, confined to their homes for long periods of time.
There were 16 women murdered during that period, attacks from husbands and partners that put a grim spotlight on the country that is still dealing with a #MeToo movement showcasing sexual abuse and rapes, mostly against women. Nine were killed during that period in 2020.
In a report, The New York Times showed the scope of the problem in a country where men rule and it took Olympic gold medalist Sofia Bekatorou to say she had been raped years earlier by a sailing committee official to raise awareness of what’s happening to women.
The official wasn’t prosecuted because of a statute of limitations but other women spoke out in a number of sectors and cases were brought against the former head of the national theater accused of raping minor boys, actors and complaints of harassment.
But while Bekatorou got instant support from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, politicians and others across the spectrum, none have rallied around Georgia Bika, 24, who said she was gang raped at a New Year’s Eve party in Thessaloniki.
The murders were brutal, the newspaper noted: one woman was suffocated, her body found next to her baby. Another was pushed off a cliff. Yet another was stabbed 23 times.
The report said the cases, along with the big jump in domestic violence – some 95 percent of rapes aren’t reported – brought focus on the phenomenon in a country where brutality against women is an open secret, and condoned.
“For decades, the Greek justice system showed leniency to abusers citing ‘crimes of passion,’” Clio Papapantoleon, a prominent lawyer, told the paper. She said she’s now seeing a line of women asking her to represent them in domestic violence cases.
The New Democracy government has taken action, but not enough, critics said although there was a national video campaign urging women to leave their abusers – many have no where else to go though.
Now, she notes, she is receiving a surge in requests for representation from victims of domestic violence.
They were offered free emotional support and legal advice but not shelter although the campaign used sharp visual images – The video flashes apologies — “I didn’t mean it,” “My baby,” “I’m sorry” — in knife-shaped blocks of text. The police have opened special offices to deal with domestic abuse cases but activists said law enforcement is part of the problem because police dismiss domestic violence as incidental or inconsequential and are slow to react.
The cases did bring more awareness although they quickly petered out after some sensational headlines and responses, fading back into the background, popping up again with each new murder or rape.
TAKING A BEATING
Vasiliki Petousi, a sociologist and head of gender research at the University of Crete told the paper that, “the significance of the family in Greece, and its unity, has typically spurred many women, and often their relatives, to conceal their abuse,” hiding their hurt physically and emotionally.
She said it was Bekatorou speaking out and then the most publicized of the femicide cases, the suffocation of Caroline Crouch by her husband, Charalambos Anagnostopoulos, a Greek helicopter pilot, to rivet attention.
Katerina Kostaki, a psychologist at a counseling center in Athens, one of a national network of 43 such centers, said the violence shocked more women to come out and say they were victims. “Women were so scared that they’d be next that they started talking,” she said.
Support centers got 5,491 visits in 2021 and a 24-hour hotline reported receiving 6,797 calls, news of the cases becoming more prominent apparently spurring victims and the fearful to reach out.
“The figures show the impact of the pandemic on abuse,” Maria Syrengela, the Greek deputy labor minister in charge of gender equality told the paper. “The violence has certainly increased, but so have appeals for support as women listened, learned and trusted that there are facilities to visit and experts to listen to them,” she said.
Supreme Court prosecutor Vasilis Pliotas said domestic cases should be prosecuted faster in a country where the courts are so slow it can take years for them to be brought to trial.
She referred to “extreme, inconceivable, unrestrained, abhorrent and exceptionally harsh homicides that have stunned society,” but which keep continuing despite that.
Greek police have opened 73 domestic abuse offices in the past two years and Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos said that more would be added because the cases just keep coming, undeterred by laws or campaigns.
Giorgos Kalliakmanis, the head of the police union for southeastern Athens, where a women was killed after police were slow to respond said that officers are overwhelmed with a range of calls.
“Officers are overworked, dealing with cases ranging from checks on COVID measures to thefts,” he said. “If 90 percent of domestic cases they’ve responded to in the past are simple arguments, they might not give enough weight to the more serious incidents,” he told the paper.
Greece has long tolerated so-called “crimes of passion,” in seeing abusers and killers get lesser sentences because they said they acted in the heat of the moment or an argument or been provoked.
The major rival SYRIZA – which reduced the seriousness of rape and brought lesser penalties while in office – has, however, pounced on the government and said there should be longer sentences for femicide cases.
In December, 2021, Mitsotakis rolled out an “action plan for sexual equality” aimed at dealing with domestic violence, including the awareness campaigns and said he would deal with violence against women.
But Petousis said that “there is a huge silent majority that are still not speaking out.” She added: “There is much, much, much more to be done.”