According to official statistics, about 80 thousand reports of domestic violence are registered in Belarus every year. And every third murder is committed by the hands of close people. At the same time, after 2020, almost all non-governmental organisations working with the topic of domestic violence were closed or continue to work abroad. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked to the project OliviaHelp, which helps Belarusian women in crisis.
How did the Olivia project appear? What is its goal?
Unfortunately, at the moment, there are almost no specialised services for Belarusian women in cases of domestic violence. However, the problem itself remains topical, so after 2020, within the framework of limited assistance, we decided that it is very important that new initiatives appear, so that the problem is not silenced, and victims can find support and assistance in a crisis situation. Our team, which includes experienced lawyers and psychologists, decided to create such a service.
Specialists provide the necessary informational, psychological and legal assistance. If local support is needed, we can refer to other organisations: it all depends on the country in which the woman lives.
Counselling is available both by phone and messengers. We provide not only one-time assistance, but, if necessary, we continue counselling to resolve the situation.
For those who are in Belarus, we have created a chat-bot by cities and regions, where you can find the necessary organisations that can still more or less provide some kind of support: it can be crisis rooms, legal aid contacts.
What is the current situation with domestic violence in Belarus? To what extent is it possible to monitor this phenomenon in the current political conditions?
This is a difficult question: there are no more accurate and detailed statistics, there are no independent studies. If we talk about trends in general, one of the theories says that the greater the level of violence in society, the more it affects the level of violence in close relationships. Everything is interconnected.
Sometimes it is not always possible to track the statistics of violence in administrative, criminal cases. According to European statistics, women go to the police after only five incidents of domestic violence.
Do women from Belarus often come to you?
Our service is anonymous, we don’t always know where a woman is coming from, unless she wants to tell us. The service is designed so that no data is displayed and everything is as safe as possible. But, if we talk about the statistics of the site, quite a lot of women come to us from Belarus. Although it is quite difficult to promote the project inside the country.
Are there a lot of requests from Belarusian women abroad? Does emigration influence the aggravation of situations with domestic violence, taking into account that people often cannot move away for economic reasons?
In general, emigration can worsen relations. We have had referrals from Poland, Lithuania and even Ukraine. Most often we are approached as a result of economic violence, when a woman became more dependent on her partner in a new country. If there was a problem of violence before, or there was a threat of violence, it can be aggravated in emigration.
We offer contacts of organisations that are directly related to domestic violence in the country where the woman is located.
What protection mechanisms in the situation of domestic violence exist in Belarus today?
Crisis rooms are still working, as I have already mentioned. In addition to them, there are also SOS villages. There is also a republican line on domestic violence. But these are all state institutions.
Alas, we can only guess how effective they are. We cannot say that there is no help. I believe that there are still good people in Belarus who can really support. Especially in SOS villages, which have always been aimed at protecting women.
What are the benefits of a domestic violence law? And how does it work in other countries?
In Belarus to this day, alas, there is no law on domestic violence. One should realise that this is a very broad concept and it is not introduced into the law. And if you are in a relationship, especially a registered one, it is very difficult to prove an act of domestic violence. Because violence is not just about bruises and beatings. It’s also emotional and sexual abuse that no one talks about. And if you’re in a relationship, it’s almost impossible to prove. The domestic violence law gives more rights, more explanation of what works how, who can be punished. There is a more developed document that can help and provides all the procedural mechanisms.
In our country we have only recently introduced protective regulations that apply not only to partners, but also to children or other family members. Nevertheless, this is not enough.
In Europe, where there is a law on domestic violence and initiatives that work with this problem, the situation is better. In America, for example, if an aggressor gets this order, he must take courses for aggressors, where he and a psychologist discuss why he did it, what is the motivation behind it, and how to work with the problem. This is mandatory practice. And after the courses, both the aggressor and the victim can call and ask how the situation is after the courses. So it doesn’t work like that, that they just gave a warrant and the victim two weeks later is left with the same problem again. Their coordinators keep these cases and clarify whether the situation has changed or not.
The photos are illustrative