By Gyöngyi Forró-Erős, school psychologist
In partnership with IWC, UNOSZ, the Association of Unitarian Women of Romania, addressed violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence – at the 6th module of the leadership training for Unitarian women, Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureș, September 21-23, 2018.
Domestic violence is not one’s own business: its ramifications are far-reaching and profound, going beyond the scope of the family. The phenomenon is a deep societal issue that needs to be addressed, and community leaders have a crucial role in combatting such gender-based violence.
About 40 women participated in the three-day training. Mental hygiene specialist and Unitarian minister Dr. Enikő Ferenczi and psychologist Dr. Éva László talked about domestic violence and its types, manifestations, as well as effects on the surrounding environment. They emphasized that domestic violence does not exclusively mean physical aggression: a partner can resort to verbal, emotional, spiritual, or financial abuse; disparagement of one’s faith or religious convictions is also a form of abuse. Jail psychologist Erika Moldován focused on the relationship of domestic violence to patterns of conviction: males exposed to domestic violence as children are more likely to engage in domestic violence as adults; instances of abuse are more frequent in cases where husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused.
Participants were also informed of the current Romanian legislation against domestic violence and the policies in place to protect victims. If a victim of domestic abuse kills her intimate partner in an act of self-defense, she must be tried, since Romania does not recognize justifiable homicide.
An interesting topic was why victims stay in an abusive relationship. The answer is manifold. Domestic violence has its own cycle: abuse is followed by a honeymoon phase, during which the victim becomes more convinced that her partner will change and that leaving the relationship is not necessary. Then tension builds, and abuse begins again. The surrounding environment – whether in a narrower or broader sense – is often unsupportive and unaccepting: traditional attitudes such as “women must bear up” are deeply ingrained in society. In many cases, the abuser is known as a gentleman, and so people around do not accept the fact that he does not behave like a gentleman at home. Victims often lack information or resources: they don’t know from whom and where they can ask for help. Many lack courage to speak up, feel ashamed, or are afraid of the future.
What can community leaders do? First and foremost, they cannot sweep this topic under the rug: they must talk about it. They must be attentive to warning signs and help victims of domestic violence. They can put together safety plans, find shelters, offer psychological support, and report abuse incidents to the authorities. Domestic violence is not a private matter: we must all do our part for the good of everyone, for the safety and well-being of our society.
A participant in the violence awareness training shared her thoughts with us, anonymously:
What this weekend training offered I cannot really put into words. I didn’t talk much, I didn’t share my story, I didn’t talk about what happened to me – but I can tell you that the training has changed my life.
I had experienced all the manifestations of domestic violence that the experts talked about. After years of suffering and hope, I got a divorce. I had always hoped for change. I convinced myself that in time our life would be better. That time never came – instead, the situation became worse and worse. That is why I decided to file for divorce. But that did not mean an end to my ordeal. My family, relatives, and acquaintances blamed me and told me that I should have endured. That I shouldn’t have gotten a divorce. My child should have been raised by her own father. This is the reason why she is also divorced. Confronted with such charges, I could only become filled with self-guilt. I blamed myself for my failures and the failures of those around me. Then various illnesses started…when the leadership school was launched, I signed up. The training sessions filled me spiritually. Every time I came closer to myself. When I went home from this training, I sat down and thought it over. Again and again. Then I told myself I am ready to forgive myself.
My heart is filled with gratitude. Thank you, for making me unburden a heavy load that others kept piling on my shoulders; a load that I silently carried and even added to…which I could hardly bear any longer.
I forgave myself! How odd this sounds but how much power it carries. Now I know that I wasn’t the reason for our lives not working out together. I am grateful to the experts and the organizers for helping me to forgive myself and finally breathe freely, unburdened, giving thanks to the Almighty that I am. And I am who I am. Thank you!