My batteries being recharged after my visit to « Self-Supporting mothers », I told myself maybe the job would be easier than I first thought…. Easy to say!
The next day was marked on my agenda with a red cross. The Counseling center against domestic violence, one of the biggest associations of Belgrade, having a hotline for battered women at its disposal, and managing two shelters for victims of domestic violence. (out of the nine existing in Serbia). I had hoped this encounter would be a gold mine of information. What a disappointment!
First they explained to me their vision as regards the use of “guns” in the phenomenon of domestic violence: « firearms don’t represent a specific threat, a particular danger. Agressors can use a knife, a chair. Every object can be a source of violence and death, it only depends of the frequency and strength with which they are used ». I try to refocus and explain that, to me, it’s hard, almost impossible to forbid everyone from having any kind of object at home. But that a firearm, on the contrary, is an evident means to produce violence. o explain that it is less normal to find in a house, when comparing to chairs or knives. And that because of that, it’s easier to eradicate this aspect of domestic violence than any other.
When I started inquiring about the reality of the phenomenon, concrete case histories, they answered that, apart from the regular newspaper headlines relating to family killings, nothing came to their minds. No, they didn’t know of any particular case, among their folders, dealing with this matter. They explained domestic violence has increased a great deal after the wars and the return home of destroyed husbands, traumatized, who reproduced at home what they had experienced on the battle field. And if sometimes, they could have brought back guns with them, it was only to protect themselves and deal with post-traumatic stress that wore them down.
Of course, women could be afraid. A violent husband, who sleeps with a gun hidden under his pillow… But let’s not have them worried, it wouldn’t be against them that the firearm would be used in the first place.
How to interprete this gap ? Research shows that 10% of shelters’ population who had to flee from brutal behaviours also lived under the threat of a gun, how was it possible to explain that in the middle of the capital, Belgrade, this number was close to zero? It was only gradually throughout the interview that I began to see the answer. I learned that, in a mind not to « re-victimize » the women who came to seek help, the opening of a folder took place only after one single interview, and the request by the women themselves for additional meetings. Even more surprising, an employee explained to me, « We don’t want them to feel oppressed by our questions so we don’t ask any. We don’t ask for additional details. We take what we are given without asking for more ».
I feel like adding : «What about what you are not given ? It doesn’t exist? ». Collecting information is a crucial step to understanding the multiple facets of a problem thoroughly. It’s only once the problem is properly exposed that the time to address it can come. To me, asking questions with the aim to put under the light the totality of suffering an individual has experienced isn’t an intrusive behavior towards victims. Of course, there’s something about the way to question that must include a great deal of delicacy. I think revealing the whole truth and the whole facts is positive to the individual, who can then free themselves from the previous traumatizing experiences they lived through; recognize, point out, and « digest » all facets of one’s past, then try to turn over a new leaf. It’s also positive for those around them, because certain individual situations are in fact, when looked at closely, societal pathologies. And to apprehend them, it is then necessary to develop global solutions. In this sense, domestic violence, with guns or without, is a societal disease that needs to be given a proper diagnostic. Collecting information is, in that sense, essential.
So what was true and what was false ? Was I trying to photograph a phenomenon that didn’t exist in reality, apart from headlines newspapers ? The next two visits were going to point out the reality of the phenomenon… Stay connected, to be followed on the next blog. .
Posted By Fanny Grandchamp
Posted Jul 20th, 2009