“Many Roma women still don’t have their own phones”: why domestic violence has become an even bigger problem in a year of war and what to do about it

It seems that during a year of the full-scale war, it has become difficult to surprise Ukrainians with any manifestations of violence. And that creates a new problem, now even less attention is paid to gender-based violence, and law enforcement officers do not have enough resources to find and punish the perpetrators. It is especially evident in sensitive population groups, such as Roma communities. Learn why the activists’ attempts to help remain futile and what to do about it from the article by Djanes, the Arca organization media platform.

What do the statistics say?

All-Ukrainian statistics show that in the first half of 2022, the National Police received 104,295 complaints about domestic violence, which is 27.5% less than in 2021. It is evidenced by the YurFem Analytical Center report. Unfortunately, decreasing the number of appeals does not mean improving the situation. The reason was the forced separation from the family and the occupation of some territories where Ukrainian law enforcement officers could not record crimes.

The topic of problems in family relationships is still taboo in Ukrainian society, and therefore it is impossible to calculate the exact number of domestic violence-specific cases. You can talk about the problem based on all-Ukrainian statistics and specific issues faced by Roma organizations.

Every year, at least 600 Ukrainian women die from domestic violence. It is even more difficult for Roma women.

Last year, in November, the UNDP stated that about 2 million people suffer from physical domestic violence in Ukraine, 80% of which is committed by men. Every year it causes the death of 600 Ukrainian women. Roma women, who in peaceful times suffered from manifestations of multiple discrimination, today have become even less protected from domestic violence.

Angelika Belova, the leader of Voice of Romney, the Roma women’s organization, is in Uzhhorod now. Her team works with forcibly displaced persons there, provides psychological assistance to adult women, and also creates training courses. Talking about the manifestations of gender-based violence in the community, she explained to Djanes that the situation requires not only public organizations’ help but also national policy intervention.

“Today, in the issue of violence in the Roma community, we can rely only on the experience of specific individuals who agreed to talk about it. The topic is taboo, so we cannot do any research or bring a person to a frank conversation. For the same reason, we don’t have statistics. As a representative of the Roma community, I can say that it is mostly physical violence, which is always accompanied by psychological and economic violence.”

Women are afraid to ‘bring out’ quarrels outside, but that’s an endless circle. Roma girls need education, and state participation is necessary here.

Women with many children, who have homes, households and husbands, try to maintain a ‘normal life’. Given the closedness of the Roma community, their decisions are also influenced by distrust of law enforcement agencies or unwillingness to ‘bring out’ quarrels outside.

But this is not a way out, because such an approach only encourages domestic abusers to commit new crimes. Society is still thinking that the victim can easily get away from the abuser, but this is not the case. Many women do not understand that they have become victims of psychological or economic violence. Some of them are informationally isolated.

“Now my activities are concentrated in Zakarpattia. And here I see that many women who come to us do not have their own phones. Many of them do not have access to social media, and those information campaigns launched by ‘online’ activists simply bypass these people. It means that many women do not have access to information at all.”

Some Roma women remain in an information vacuum. They do not always know how things should be and what to do in critical situations. Sometimes, women with many children who depend financially on their families come for help. To be in touch with the organization, some of them give the phone numbers of their friends or neighbors. According to Angelica, isolation and lack of education among girls is a huge problem that creates a circle of dependence.

“Girls often leave school before the 9th grade. Psychologists could give them knowledge about psychological and economic violence in high school. What can we do? First of all, activists can help locally by conducting focus groups and training courses, but these projects do not reach many people. Girls need education, and the Roma Strategy plays an important role here. In particular, its paragraphs about access to full secondary education.”

By being educated outside of segregated schools, girls could better understand different cultures, broaden their worldview, receive sex education at the school level, and prevent violence in the future. It will also promote women’s economic independence.Belova explains that activists cannot solve such global community problems alone. National strategies play a huge role.

A national Roma strategy exists but is not implemented during wartime

The Roma Strategy, signed in 2021, is not being implemented today because it is not intended for wartime. Activists explain that the document deals with a large number of problems, which became even more significant during the full-scale war. In particular, access to education, passports and the position of Roma women in the community.

Today, in war conditions, women can stay in the same room with the aggressor for a long time, without the possibility to leave. They experience constant psychological or physical pressure. This fact was also emphasized by Julian Kondur, the project coordinator of the international charity organization Chirikli Roma Women’s Foundation, during his interview with Djanes.

“The issue of violence remains acute when it comes to women. Violence in its various forms: domestic, economic, sexual, verbal and psychological. I think this phenomenon of gender-based violence is getting worse. Current research findings indicate that women began encountering it more during Covid-19 in limited space conditions. Now it can be bomb shelters. Another threat is human trafficking. Women need to know where they can turn in such cases and what the algorithm of their actions should be.”

How to escape domestic violence?

Psychological and physical violence always work together. Often, women justify their domestic tyrants, hoping they will change from one blow-up to another. There is a pattern: financially dependent women suffer from domestic violence more often. They are also less likely to ask for help. So, there are some tips for women who are economically dependent or remain under constant pressure and cannot leave their abuser openly:

1. If you have encountered domestic violence, the first thing to do is to secure a place to stay as soon as possible and inform law enforcement officers about the commission of a crime.

2. If you do not have your own phone, try to use the neighbors’ resources or ask people on the streets for help.

3. Warn your neighbors about the possible danger if you can’t get away from the abuser quickly. Ask them to call the police without asking questions.

4. Keep a ‘go-bag’ with documents, phone numbers, a spare SIM card, addresses and some money in a secret place.

5. If you can’t get away from a domestic abuser because you are afraid of physical violence or threats, try to inform your parents, friends or acquaintances who will help you protect yourself and reduce your dependence on the domestic abuser.

6. Keep in touch with people you trust so they can tell the police if something happens.

7. If you have nowhere to stay after a breakup, contact the Centers of Social Services for Families of Children and Youth, which provide various assistance, including shelter.

We remind you that psychological violence is a form of domestic violence and is punished according to the Criminal Code of Ukraine with community service, an arrest for up to 6 months or imprisonment for up to 2 years. There is also a special measure to prevent the recurrence of violence, a restraining order provided by law enforcement agencies.

Where to seek help?

Today, many organizations, foundations and state bodies in Ukraine deal with issues preventing violence against women. You can contact the phone numbers below if you have encountered any type of violence.Domestic violence support and prevention hotlines:

1. 102 – National Police of Ukraine

2. 0-800-211-444 – free psychological support hotline of IOM

3. 116-123 – national domestic violence prevention hotline

4. 15-47 – a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence

5. 0-800-500-335 – ‘Break the Circle’ socio-psychological assistance campaign for domestic and gender-based violence victims which the UN Foundation and the government of Great Britain support

6. +38-068-124-1808 – Voice of Romney. Psychological assistance to women who have survived domestic violence

7. 0-800-213-103 – information line of centers providing free secondary legal assistance

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