Little story of a big problem

Елена С. 2013 M10 13

I decided to publish the story that I've written for my Journalism class in Bulgaria. Here it is: Little story of a big problem Nov. 3, 2010 “Beating is a way to express love,” claims one Russian...

I decided to publish the story that I've written for my Journalism class in Bulgaria. Here it is:

Little story of a big problem

Nov. 3, 2010

Yelena Serova

“Beating is a way to express love,” claims one Russian saying. This “wisdom” used to be popular among village women who were regularly beaten up by their husbands-drunkards in the old times. Times have changed. The habit that once used to be the prerogative of drunken villagers, nowadays invaded families of all social, cultural and educational backgrounds. Also, its ties with heavy alcohol consumption are not that crucial anymore.

“I never expected it [physical abuse] to happen in my family. I had loving parents, college education and a caring boyfriend, and always thought that violence was more common in the families of drunkards,” said Olga Voroshilova, a former victim of the spouse abuse. A slender woman with charming smile and eyes gleaming with sincere warmth, Olga looks much younger than her passport age of 36.

She moved to Blagoevgrad [Bulgaria] from Russia 13 years ago, when she got married to Yordan Grozdanov, a Bulgarian who was her fellow student at Saint Petersburg University of Electrical Engineering. They have been dating for five years before getting married. “He [Yordan] really loved me, and all my friends were envious, since they have never seen such love and devotion,” Olga said.

A slap once received by Olga from her fiancé who got jealous has not disrupted the serenity of their relationship. This first sign of violence happened when the date of wedding was already set and guests were invited. At that time Olga thought it was too late to step back.  “I have never imagined that one slap would in several years turn into three-hour beatings after which I would find myself in the hospital,” she said.

“Psychological features that signalize a potential offender in a relationship are excessive jealousy, tendency to dominate and passion for power,” said Veneta Marina, psychologist from Blagoevgrad branch of Regional Hospital for Psychological Diseases. “The victims of domestic violence, on the other hand, are usually people who lack self-confidence and have an inclination for submissive behavior,” she added.

The lack of self-confidence and insecurity increase the “chance” of a woman to become a victim of physical abuse. However, it’s her forgiveness that makes offender more powerful and cruel. Violence can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol are.  In the beginning of their dangerous path most of the addicts believe they can stop at any point of time; then they start making up excuses for taking a dope once again (like convincing themselves that they need to relax). Likewise, the perpetrators invent multitude of different reasons to start their aggression.  The male explanations for punishment of a woman may vary from at least seemingly substantial ones – like her heavy flirting with other men or excessive money spending – to the most ridiculous excuses like overcooked meal or unwashed shirts.

In the beginning of her married life Olga believed that jealousy was one of the main reasons of her husband’s aggression. After the birth of their daughter Julia when she was mostly staying at home and “jealousy card” lost its relevance, her husband invented new excuses for abusing her. Once he beat her in the morning of her birthday. “When we woke up, out of the usual women’s curiosity, I asked whether I will receive a present today,” Olga recalled.  Her husband’s response to that question was shouting that they don’t have money for that. When Olga got offended Yordan severely beat his wife to “make her feel better.”

Punches, kicks or even cigarette burns – that’s what wives of the family tyrants receive to the celebrations instead of the presents. Intoxicated by the impunity, the offenders gradually stop caring about making up excuses and integrate violence into their family routine.  Victims, in their turn, compliantly accept their punishment, making up justifications for such violence and cautiously hiding their problem from other people.

Later on the day when Olga received a set of punches as her birthday gift, she had to meet with a client – a girl for whom she had sewn a wedding dress.  (After the birth of her daughter Olga worked at home sewing clothes for people) “I tried to mask bruises on my neck with powder, but this girl still noticed them and she was shocked.” When this wife-to-be anxiously start asking questions, Olga abruptly ended the conversation. “I was guarding my problem from others,” Olga said.

“Victims of the domestic violence usually hide their problem from their friends, relatives and all the other people,” psychologist Marina said. She added that one of the main reasons of such secrecy is a feeling of shame. There is a significant pressure that is imposed on a victim by the prejudices still existing in the society in Bulgaria. “One of such prejudice is the idea that a woman has to do anything to preserve her marriage.” Marina said. “Often people don’t realize what price a victim has to pay for that.”

While victims of spousal abuse bury their physical and emotional wounds under the iron curtain of shame and fear, other people eagerly turn their eyes away from this problem. According to surveys conducted in 2007 throughout Bulgaria 54 % of respondents said they consider domestic violence to be not the societal but private problem.

In the society where more than half of the population has such attitude, victims who find strength to reveal their situation and speak up against domestic violence are usually accused in “airing the dirty linen.”  Many people think that family problems are supposed to be resolved behind the shut doors. But the trouble is that behind these doors no one is able to hear the moans of a victim. “My home is my castle,” says a popular proverb. What if this home, that is supposed to be an epitome of safety and peace, turns into prison where one of its inhabitants is abused and intimidated?

“In Bulgaria people don’t treat the problem of the domestic violence seriously, many people think that it is something ordinary,” said Svetlin Markov, a member of Animus Association (non-governmental organization that strives for gender equality in Bulgaria and works on the problem of domestic violence along with other social causes).  “Even when on the rare cases a victim files a complaint against a perpetrator, judges usually don’t think the physical abuse of a wife is that big of the deal,” he added.

Underestimating the significance of the domestic violence problem makes it even easier for people to ignore it. Besides, in the presence of the others, the offender usually plays a role of a loving husband. “For our friends we always seem like a very good family,” Olga said.

When at least one person gives a helping hand to a victim of domestic violence, it can significantly change the situation. In Olga’s life her close friend Svetlana Yordanova became her savior. After one of the beatings, when her husband was crueler than ever before, Olga simply could not hide the bruises. They were all over her face.

“I remember how one day I saw her [Olga] with huge bruises on her face. It was awful,” Svetlana said. She took Olga to a doctor and to the police; she also invited her to come and live at her place. “At that point I really needed someone to take my hand and go with me to the police,” Olga said.  “I have poor eyesight, and my face was sore so I could not wear glasses. It would have been physically difficult for me to go somewhere without Svetlana’s help,” she added.

“Next day, when Olga has accepted my invitation [to live at Svetlana’s place], me, my husband and two hired guards went to her apartment and helped her to move the luggage she needed,” Svetlana said. “It was not an easy day: Yordan was cursing us and Olga had to tear her daughter away from the hands of her mother-in-law,” she added.

Yordan’s parents also played important role in the story of Olga. “My husband had a very strong support from his family,” Olga said.  She recalls that when her mother-in-law first time saw the bruises on Olga’s face she said to her son: “Dear, it’s ok that you beat her [Olga], but don’t beat her so severely.”

“I think the aggression of my husband was a product of his upbringing, because his father was and still is beating his mother,” Olga said. “And now I know that my ex-husband beats her as well,” she added.

“According to one of the theories in psychology children may copy the situation they saw in their families and later become either a victim or aggressor in their future relationships,” psychologist Marina said. “But at the same time there is another theory saying that children learn from their parents’ mistakes and then become more careful and mature to avoid getting into the same situation as their parents were,” she added.

Many victims of spousal abuse continue living with an offender because they think that it is better for a child to have a complete family. However, these women should not forget that by doing so they lay a foundation of their children’s road to the same nightmare their mothers living in.  “When children grow up they usually accuse their mother of not leaving the offender and dooming them to live in the atmosphere of scandals and violence,” Svetlana said.

“My daughter once witnessed how he [Yordan] literally “spread” me over the wall,” Olga said. According to Olga, her daughter still remembers how on the next day her father was painting over the blood stains on the wall.

The “wall incident,” her daughter’s exposure to the violence and Svetlana’s help finally moved Olga into leaving her husband. “I was scared that he would find and kill me if I leave,” she said. “But I was even more scared that if I stay next time he would beat me so badly that he can accidentally kill me, leaving our daughter without a mother,” she added.

It’s been already eight years since Olga left her husband.  The beginning of new life was not easy. There was no law against domestic violence at that time, so her husband was not punished and he continued exercising emotional violence over her. “He was threatening that he would kill me, do something to my friend, or even to her child,” Olga said. “I was afraid for all the people who were helping me. I did not want them to suffer,” she added.

Yordan also filed a lawsuit to take their daughter away from Olga, but he lost the case. Once in a while he still appears at the doors of Olga’s office to organize another scandal.  He also has a legal right not to allow his daughter to go abroad. Therefore, when Olga wanted to go with Julia to Russia she had to ask him to sign the legal permission. “But all these troubles that I have after leaving him is nothing compared to the misfortunes I had while we were living together,” Olga said.

Her main priority in life now is her daughter. But she also filled her life with work and multitude of hobbies. Together with Svetlana they run the advertising agency dreamArt, and participate in the social projects of charity organization “Macedonia.” This year they organized an informative campaign against domestic violence, which they were planning and dreaming about for a long time.

Together with her daughter Olga is participating in the folk ensemble “Pirin.” On weekends she also teaches drawing and art history to some of her daughters’ friends.  “I am enjoying every moment my life,” Olga said.

Beating is a way of expressing love… love for violence and blood. The sooner each victim  realizes it the better for her.

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