” I thought it was love. An immoderate, unique, absolute love, as the violence he used when he pulled my hair, threw me on the bed and battered me, yelling the most humiliating insults a woman can receive”. Anna is 60-year-old, but her eyes are those of a teenager. Her age is that of her heart when it stopped, although it has continued to beat, killed by the pain and the disappointment of a love that was as bitter as the blood it made her spill, more and more bitter as life passed and her husband’s violence did not. For more than thirty years.
“At the beginning, I had black and swollen eyes and a few scratches which were easy to hide with the aid of a bit of powder and a fake smile” she says. Then, as I grew older, damages became more and more visible, and not only the physical ones. A broken wrist, a sprained ankle, chronic fatigue, bursts of crying and fear of taking even the smallest decisions, as well as bigger and more right decisions, as the choice to get separated. “I only asked him to keep his voice down as he battered me, so our son would not hear anything. I was waiting for something to change”. She has waited for more than thirty years, 31, and a son who became an adult man. She had waited to become old enough not feel entirely a woman and fragile anymore. ”I have fulfilled my duty, now I can think about my serenity. I wanted my son not suffer, to have a normal family with both parents in his home”, she says. But it was not a normal family.
Unfortunately, Anna’s case is not an isolated one. “For most women who come to our center, violence is repeated over the years and continuous. Some of them have the courage to break free as soon as possible, many others, however, wait for a lot of time, even for decades. There are women who admit they are victims of domestic violence only in advanced age, when they really cannot take it anymore”, the sociologist Francesca De Masi, president of the Cooperative “Be Free” which manages the Center Against Violence in Rome, tells In Terris.
Lazio and Emilia Romagna Regions detain the national record of violence and abuse against women: it concerns more than 38 percent of the female population. In Italy, according to latest ISTAT data, a little less than 7million of citizens, one woman out of three between 16 and 70 years of age are beaten up, nine times out of ten by their husbands or partners, more than one out of three in their families.
Also mothers who are abused or harassed by their children. Reported cases constitute only one third of the total number of case and the percentage drops to 7% among victims in their homes.
“Abuse is a criminal offense – De Masi continues – which includes various forms of violence: physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, economic, and cultural”. According to the sociologist, the main cause is “a chauvinist, possessive, and exploitative culture which considers women to be an object of property”. Phrases such as: “You’re mine and I can do whatever I want”, “Either with me or with no one”, signal a certain way of understanding the relationship between sexes. And we should not underestimate the fact that over 60% of rapes are committed by current or former partners.
It is a phenomenon that cuts through all social classes, age categories, degree of education and economic position. The most deceptive form it can take is psychological violence, which finds expression in mental domination, manipulation and humiliation of women’s dignity, control of their affective relationships and obsessive jealousy. Often, violent people are “unpredictable”. “Successful, upper middle class men, who occupy prestigious social positions, are highly regarded by the others, affluent, transform into monsters when they close the door of their homes to the rest of the world,” De Masi says.
According to the World Health Organization, domestic violence is a problem of “public health”, not only a legal one. This is – the World Health Organization says – “a silent and invisible kind of violence. Even judicial systems tend to handle it not as a criminal offense but as ‘private matters’.
Considering domestic violence to be a “private matter” is the main deterrent reason to complaint and liberation. Often women are not supported by a network of social and emotional support. From the report “Rosa Shocking”, presented last week in Rome, in the Senate, by the association “We World Onlus” it comes out that 35 percent of the Italians believe that it is a “matter of privacy” and that it must remain “within the walls of one’s own home”. The most “indulgent” are young people under the age of 35. 45 Percent of the respondents have expressed their support to female victims, whereas 20 percent showed understanding for the violent man, blaming women for “provoking”.
But it does not take much effort to cause violence. A phrase, a look, a movement, silence, stillness. “When I was younger, sometimes it happened because my lipstick was too red or my dress was too short, because of the admiring gaze of a passer-by, the tired tone of my voice as I answered his greeting when he came back home from work, my crooked smile which seemed to be ironic to him, an untidy home or my alleged hygiene mania, because I was tired or because I looked too cheerful”, Anna says.
Prevention starts here: from contrasting the prejudice that the victim “provokes” but also that great love can be expressed through violence. The president of the Center Against Violence of Rome launches an appeal to the Institutions: “We must help women who want to escape from a situation of psychological, legal, economic and social oppression, also by putting forward projects for their insertion in the labor market”. Whereas financial investments in activities of reception, prevention, and contrast were reduced in 2014 with respect to 2013, from 16million to 14million. A slap in the face of the declared good intentions to defend weak subjects, violated by a misunderstood love.