Strengthening Health System Responses to Gender-based Violence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

A resource package

12. Reading Stories of abused women

Liuba is a teacher of literature and deputy head of a college. She is 37 years old and has three children aged 16, 14 and 4. She married Oleg, an amateur boxer, when they were students. Initially, she thought his controlling behavior was a sign of his love for her. The first time he hit her she was pregnant.
Fortunately, Liuba did not miscarry, but her vision was temporarily impaired. Oleg, who was drunk when he struck her, claimed afterwards he did not realize what he had done. “When I tell him about this today, he looks at me as if I am mad and says, ‘this is impossible’,” she says. He apologized when he was sober and said he did not mean to hurt her. However, his alcoholism grew increasingly serious and, according to Liuba, he is always aggressive when he drinks.
For the first five or six years of her marriage Liuba tried to get used to the violence by living in a way that would not provoke Oleg’s temper. “Then, on one occasion, he was sober and we had an argument, even though I think there was no reason to beat me. But he did and I flew against the wall,” recalls Liuba. “Our children saw it and started screaming. After that my then two-year-old son started stammering. That’s when I started thinking that maybe it is not alright to be beaten again and again.”
Liuba thinks Oleg is ill and that he has an extreme sensitivity to alcohol. She told Amnesty International: “He is different from other Russian men – just a small amount of vodka… is enough to make him lose control over his body”. Recently she realized that he may be using his alcoholism as an excuse for violence.
“I am a successful woman, I am a teacher and the deputy head of a college,” says Liuba. “I am well educated and know more than Oleg. I am also a good mother… I fulfill all the criteria for a good woman who should be protected and appreciated by her husband. My husband realizes that I am his equal and he does not like it. Even when he calls me a beauty there is something aggressive in the way he says it. Maybe he has a lot of psychological complexes. Men in this country don’t like successful women.”
One night, remembers Liuba, her husband came home drunk and was so angry at being served only potatoes for dinner; he threw the vegetables into the corridor, shouting, “I earn enough money to deserve better food!” He then beat her and when the children tried to intervene, he beat them as well. “Our small daughter was between me and him and I thought he would kill her,” she says. “We tried to barricade one of the rooms but he broke the door open. The children were screaming. Somehow we got out of the flat and went to my father- in-law. The next morning my father-in-law went to see Oleg and when he came back he simply said, ‘You did not serve your husband well; I don’t want to get involved in your marital problems’.”
Liuba told Amnesty International that it took her several years to overcome her own belief that somehow she may be responsible for the violence she was being subjected to. She said: “my husband thinks I am his possession, that he owns me and that I have to endure everything because I am his wife. He shouted at me, ‘you have been living with me for 17 years already and you still do not understand.’ I don’t know what there is to understand. I cannot accept his behavior. I went to a crisis center for women, because I wanted to find out if there is something wrong with me because I cannot accept his violent behavior and they told me that my feelings regarding this violence were normal.”

Oksana, aged 54, has two children from a previous marriage. Elegant and educated, Oksana had a well-paid job and was able to support herself until she married her current husband 15 years ago. She admits knowing he was violent before she married him. In fact, twice she failed to turn up for her wedding ceremony and had to be taken by force to the registrar’s office by her husband. She told Amnesty International that despite having been able to look after her two children on her own after her divorce, she felt pressured into getting married again. According to her, she felt less respected as a single mother and believed that for her life to be fulfilled she needed to get married.
After her marriage, Oksana’s husband slowly destroyed her independence. He made her give up her job and forced her to work in his company. He paid her only enough money to buy food. He created an atmosphere at home which put her relatives and friends off from visiting her. He had promised her an easier life if she joined his company, but she often ended up working late into the night, doing whatever he told her to. He did not help her with household duties.
When she failed to fulfill his demands, he beat her. Yet she never turned to the police. Twelve years ago, he pushed her against some furniture and continued kicking her while she was lying on the ground. Her back was so badly injured that she had to stay in bed for two weeks and could not walk. She thought he had broken her ribs. Her husband called a doctor he knew to look after her so that she did not have to go to a hospital where the doctors might ask her how she had sustained the injuries.
“Sometimes he would beat me and I don’t even know why, I can’t think of a reason,” says Oksana. She has to ask her husband for permission to invite friends or relatives. She has friends she can go to when he has beaten her, but they refuse to come and see her and tell her to leave her husband. On one occasion, four years ago, she went to see a friend who lived close by. Although her husband knew where she had gone, when she came home, he began kicking and punching her as soon as she entered the flat. He told her he had been extremely worried when it became dark.
Oksana believes that there are too many obstacles for her to seek a divorce. Instead, she tries to avoid confrontation. Her husband only needs to raise his hand to remind her of times when he nearly killed her. “Whatever he wants he gets, there is no point in arguing with him,” she says. “He is not interested in other people’s opinion. They do not exist for him. I do not understand how I got into this. Did I really believe him? How did I end up in this cage, chained?”

Marina, aged 36, was thrown by her partner of three years from the window of their third floor flat. Her neighbor called the police and instigated a criminal case against Marina’s partner. Marina had been to the hospital previously after being injured by her partner and the hospital sent her to the police. But once there she always told the police that she had been attacked by a stranger on the street. “I felt sorry for him.”

My name is Magda I was born in Korce in Albania in 1984. Last summer when I was walking to a friend's house a car drew by and two men offered to drive me to my friend's house. One of the men was a cousin of my brother's friend. Instead of driving me to my friend's place, they took me to a house in Vlore, where a few other girls were staying. They told me that my brother wanted me to go to Italy, where I could work for an Albanian family and earn mone to support my family. They also threatened me that bad things could happen to my family if I would resist them or try to run away.
One evening we were taken from the house and brought to the seashore: a long exhausting journey began, that ended in Antwerp. The same night one of the men told us that we had to work in prostitution. I told him that I didn't want to work in prostitution, but he threatened me severely. That very night I was forced by another man to have sexual intercourse. He told me that this would be a preparation for my new job. I cried and said that my brother would never agree to this. They told me that my brother was in Albania and wouldn't be much of a help.
I worked for one month in a window. I had several clients a day and was forced to hand over all the money they paid me. I was heavily guarded by those people and beaten up on several occasions. They often threatened to kill me or harm my family if I wouldn't comply. I was afraid of them as I knew they carried guns and were on drugs.
One night police came in the window and took me to the police station. I stayed for several hours at the police station and told my story. They referred me to the Payoke shelter where I have been staying for three weeks now. They helped me to contact my family. My father told me that my brother had been receiving threats by this gang in Korce. The social workers from Payoke are assisting me and are currently arranging my return to Albania. They also contacted an organization in Albania to assist me upon my return home.
Source: (access 07.10.2011)

My name is Fatime, and I am twenty years old. I was born in L. in a northern city of Armenia. I have three sisters and two brothers as well as my father and my mother. We have always been living under a patriarchal mentality where the man of the family has the right to judge and decide for everything and everybody.
A neighbor next to my house told my father that a cousin of hers was interested in marrying me. She told my parents he was rich and had serious intentions towards me. I told my father I was not going to say yes to her and her cousin. I had other plans for my life than getting married.
One day as I was coming back home as usual, a car stopped at my feet and two men kidnapped me by force. They used violence; it was late afternoon and for my bad luck nobody was walking by. They kept my eyes closed and I found myself in the city of D. near the seaside.
We stayed there for one week. When I opened my eyes I could easily tell who the persons were. One of them was the guy that was supposed to marry me. I could not believe my eyes at first, and then I understood their real intentions. In the meantime, in D. they abused me physically, sexually and psychologically as well. Then we moved to the city of Fatsa. As soon as we arrived there we met some other girls that were there for the same reasons. Once there we stayed one night only, and we left for Italy by speedboat. We all had to work as prostitutes in the streets. One time when I could hardly withstand the torture, they threatened to kill my family and to kidnap my little sisters who were only children at that time, so I accepted the work.
Once I tried to get hidden in the house of a priest, as he offered to help me. There were some other girls there as well. He called the police in order to help us. We stayed at the police station one night and they deported us to Armenia. But very soon the pimp found out were I was and for a second time we went illegally to Italy in the city of Milano where I worked for about nine months.
During this time I met with a guy, who used to be my regular client. He respected me and showed compassion for my story and experience. We decided with V. (the guy I met) about the possibility of getting married one day, sooner or later, but I was still an illegal immigrant, without regular papers. So I decided to come back to my country, I went to the police and told them about my situation. They deported me to Armenia. I went to live with the nuns for some time and then in a safe place in Armenia. There they helped me to contact my family, to set up the relationships with them. This was a hard process at the beginning, but after time, things settled down. Now I am trying to start a new life with him as well as with my family.

Gülsen (28) got married when she was only 18. Her husband soon started beating her but she did not tell anybody about it because she was too ashamed. After one especially violent attack, she left the flat and lived for some time on her own. His relatives found her and convinced her to return. Soon the violence resumed. She did not call the police once. One day in winter he made her undress, put on a swimsuit and pushed her out of the flat. She went to the neighbors, who let her in and rang the police. Her husband followed her and apologized for the “mad” behavior of his wife. After that Tamara left for good.
In another case, Tamara was harassed by her ex- husband’s family, after she had left him. She was stalked and insulted publicly by her ex-husband’s father, who also called the workplace to abuse her verbally and blame her for ending her marriage. Her complaint against the father of her ex-husband was rejected by a court, as she had not been physically attacked.

Anastasia is a lawyer who has represented survivors of gender-based or sexual violence. She told Amnesty International that she had been living in a violent relationship for nearly 15 years but never filed a complaint against her husband, a well respected professor and head of a faculty.
The first seven years of her marriage were without violence. When Anastasia earned more money than her husband, he began to extort money from her and tried to humiliate her by beating her. He made her buy him expensive clothes and a weekend house in the countryside. At the same time, he tried to prevent her from spending money on herself and on their daughter. Anastasia found that the higher he rose in his position, the more obedience and servility he expected from her and the more money he demanded.
Anastasia’s husband was never drunk when he was violent. Until recently he beat her only on those parts of the body where marks would be less visible or could be covered up. He pulled her hair, and kicked her in the stomach and on her arms and legs. When the couple decided to have separate bank accounts, he started hitting her on the face as well. A black eye would prevent her from going to work, which would lead to her earning less money. Anastasia told AI: “Sometimes I think my husband is using me for some kind of psychological experiment… He tells me that there is nothing I can do against him; no one will believe me, because he is a respected professor and has a good reputation.”

A young woman, who married her husband shortly before he went to Chechnya, approached the Soldiers’ Mothers after her husband’s return. He had fits and became aggressive without any obvious reason. He would tell her that he wanted to protect her from what he had seen. He had difficulty sleeping, was irritable, but would not tell her why. His wife was scared as he still owned a weapon. He complained that none of the promised opportunities for rehabilitation had materialized and that he felt people looked down on him. After a quarrel, during which he pushed his wife against the wall and handcuffed her so she would not leave the house, she left him for good. Her husband signed up again for service in Chechnya.

Olga T.’s husband fought in the 1970s as a young man in Afghanistan. He told her that he was the only survivor of his unit of young conscripts. She believes that his trauma is the source of his psychological problems. Olga suspected that he used drugs and that this was contributing to his mood swings and violent outbursts. “He is very strong and many people are afraid of him,” she says. “They can’t understand how I can live with him. He is a tyrant. Sometimes he beats me without any prior argument... I am very small and it does not take much to knock me against the wall.”

Only once did Nina P. bother to get a forensic certificate recording the injuries she had sustained when being beaten by her partner. She needed to take sick leave as her face was covered in bruises and she felt uncomfortable about going to work and being seen in such a condition. “People think it is your fault, once you live with him, that you like it that way,” she says.

Source: adapted from Amnesty International Report 2005: Russian Federation: Nowhere to turn to: Violence against women in the family