Greece is to launch a public campaign urging victims of domestic violence to “speak up” after a spate of femicides whose ferocity has stunned the nation.
The country has seen a rise in domestic violence cases so far in 2021, accentuated by a number of brutal murders of women that have dominated media coverage as people from the arts and sports worlds – including the Olympic gold medallist Sofia Bekatourou – have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.
The new initiative will try to ram home the message that “even in the last village” there is help for women trapped in abusive relationships, Greece’s gender equality minister told the Guardian.
“What we are seeing is very worrying, and our message is ‘speak up, we are here to assist’,” said Maria Syrengela, emphasising that now, more than ever, it was vital that domestic violence victims knew help was at hand. “It’s very important that women understand the warning signs.”
Television channels, social media and the mainstream press will be enlisted as part of the effort to highlight a nationwide network of shelters and counselling centres set up to provide psychosocial and legal support. A free helpline offering support has also been established.
The drive, described as unprecedented for Greece in scope and scale, will expand on a pilot programme activated during the pandemic, when cases of abuse, attributed to long months of confinement, began to soar.
“So often women have been scared to speak. It was such a taboo they remained silent,” Syrengela said. "Ora, even in the last village of Greece, we are saying there are services that can help, that they can start a new life.”
Never has domestic violence been so publicly discussed in a country where entrenched patriarchal views have been slow to change and, outside towns and cities, traditional mores still hold sway.
“There’s been an increase in women coming in,” said Katerina Kostaki, a psychologist at a counselling centre off Syntagma Square, the capital’s main plaza. “All these incidents have brought up a lot of angst and pain even for victims who may have completed their therapy. Many feel guilt and shame that they are with violent men and anxiety they could be next [to be killed]."
From January to October this year, 12 women aged from 19 per 75 were allegedly murdered by husbands or partners.
In Crete last week Yiannis Marakis, a father of four, stabbed his estranged wife, Nektaria, 16 times before walking away from the scene with the weapon. The 54-year-old then spent nine hours threatening to commit suicide as the couple’s oldest son pleaded with him to surrender to police.
Di giovedì, footage released from closed-circuit cameras revealed the 48-year-old woman’s last moments as Marakis appeared to chase her, knife in hand, through a hotel complex on the island.
Marakis has since appeared before a public prosecutor, who charged him with manslaughter and ordered that the Cretan be held in prison pending trial after he pleaded guilty.
Before he was detained, Marakis reportedly told his children that he had killed their mother to protect them. “I was a good father, I did it for you,” he was quoted as saying by local media.
Like many other femicide victims, Nektaria had allegedly approached the authorities to complain about her former partner’s violent behaviour. In a tersely worded statement, Crete’s police flatly denied that a complaint had been filed “at any police station”.
The murders have not only piled pressure on the centre-right government of the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, but led to fervent calls for changes to Greece’s penal code.
There are demands for femicide to be classified as a distinct crime to stop perpetrators using legal loopholes in an attempt to get more lenient sentences.
Charalambos “Babis” Anagnostopoulos, a helicopter pilot who confessed to strangling his British-born wife, Caroline Crouch, has reportedly been reading law books while in prison awaiting trial in a bid to find legal provisions that might reduce his sentence, according to media reports. Per 37 days the UK-trained aviator kept up the charade that the couple had been beaten and tied up by a gang of ruthless foreign burglars in their maisonette in the Greek capital.
But Athens’ supreme court prosecutor weighed in last week, ordering jurists to fast-track cases of domestic abuse by adopting a system that would allow suspects to be indicted, arrested and tried within 48 hours of committing a crime.
The intervention was described as groundbreaking for a criminal justice system that is not only notoriously slow but regularly compared by legal experts to a relic of the 19th century.
“It’s a turning point,” said Maria Gavouneli, president of the Greek national commission for human rights and professor of international law at Athens University. “He has instructed prosecutors across the country to pay special attention to cases of domestic violence and reminded them of the [legale] tool box.”
Greek prosecutors would now be encouraged to use every legal provision in the criminal code when dealing with femicides, lei disse.
The UK-trained lawyer said: “They won’t just prosecute for murder but [will also] take aggravating circumstances into account. It’s very significant.
“The Greek justice system is extremely slow. It literally doesn’t work any more.”
The government campaign is to be followed by other initiatives that will aim to convey the message that women are every bit equal to men.
Nel Regno Unito, call the national domestic abuse helpline su 0808 2000 247, o visita Women’s Aid. In Australia, il national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. Negli Stati Uniti, il domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org