Violence – An Issue and Why it is One

Violence Against Women in Serbia

During the last several years, violence against women has become a recurring subject in local media. Reporting about violence is a means to educate citizens, increase their "sensitivity" and awareness, and even to prevent new instances of violence. However, not all forms of reporting about violence are fair, useful and in the interest of the public. It is for that reason that the Heinrich Boell Foundation Belgrade published this series with the aim of contributing to the public's dealing with this issue in a manner it calls for.

During the last several years, violence against women has become a recurring subject in local media, and that is a good thing. It is a matter that concerns all of us as it deeply involves the subject of human rights, gender discrimination, even the levels of democracy, justice and progress of a society. Reporting about violence is a means to educate citizens, increase their "sensitivity" and awareness, and even to prevent new instances of violence.

After reading and watching reports on violence, women can learn and be made aware of instances when they were actually abused, and men can see the physical and mental effects of exchanging "words" with partners, mothers, daughters, colleagues or friends. Ignorance about violence and its consequences is a one reason why VIOLENCE is still very much an ISSUE. Despite hundreds of media reports in the last couple of years, there are few of those who know that violence against women is not violence against a particular woman, but against all women in general, regardless of their relation to the abuser. There are even fewer of those who know that violence does not imply a single, physical dimension, that abusers are also those who subject women to psychological abuse, stalking, denying freedom of movement, freedom to work, speak or communicate with the surrounding, who go into daily jealous rages, constantly scream and break things around the house, or who pathologically count each penny spent or who in any way undermine and threaten someone's integrity.

This is no fad, nothing about it was fabricated for any political reason: violence has been present for decades but was kept quiet due to tradition, mentality, and the infamous "disgrace". It was kept quiet not only in families or areas which had witnessed violence, but society in general. There were either more pressing issues to report about or journalists simply avoided the issue (for any number of reasons).

Thanks to various campaigns the situation has changed. Truthfully, it has changed up to some extent, but the change has not always been for the better. Up until some months ago, there were daily reports on women being murdered in their households, within families. Recently, homicides committed "out in the open" have become more frequent: from the quintuple homicide in Žitište inspired by jealousy to, for example, slitting partner's throat in front of the bakery where she worked.

The tragic deaths of two women and one child at the steps of the Centre for Social Work is a separate subject, because in addition to exposing system weaknesses – poor security measures, inability of those in charge to protect the lives of their protégés, the helplessness and exposure of women and children to abusers – it also unveiled systemic long-term inability to deal with the issue of violence against women. Both murdered women were victims of many years of terror by their partners, they've reported violence, they've warned about possible outcomes, only to be left alone and undefended at the end.  

The inevitable question is so, why engage in all this? Why report about this? Why analyze and discuss the issue when things are only getting worse? And why is the Heinrich Boll Foundation joining in on this? The answer is simple – because things would have been even worse if it hadn't been for the women who have realized they have been abused, who have been encouraged by stories of other women and decided to fight for themselves and their children, for their basic human rights; violence must not be met with silence, because violence thrives in silence; because we live in times of equal rights of women and men.

Not all reporting on violence is fair, useful and in the interest of public. Stories revealing the abuser's identity (and therefore the victim's identity), stories which speculate on the reasons why a woman was a victim of violence (as if there could be a reason), stories dissecting each detail, bruise or wound... these are not the stories that contribute to public debate, education, awareness and finally to progress. They are counterproductive as they endanger and humiliate victims, and serve the sole purpose of boosting circulation and ratings.

The same applies to the analyses, which under the guise of gender equality send serious warnings that men are actually the real victims, because that type of violence is rarely discussed. Violence against men certainly exists, but it is incomparably less frequent than violence against women.

Finally, it has become evident that all those media reports, conferences and debates have proven themselves insufficient, because there are still women among us who are beaten daily, women stalked by their partners, daughters whose fathers do not allow them to go to school by themselves, mothers beaten by their sons for not giving them money. There are still women among us, educated and capable women who remain married and continue to live with abusive husbands for "the sake of children" or in order to "avoid shame". There are still many of those who live in fear, with bruises, weak and helpless.

That is why violence is STILL an ISSUE. And that is why you will read about it here.