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Helping victims of domestic violence in Belarus

Women from the Crisis Centre, Belarus
Women from the Crisis Centre, Belarus

“Where have you been? Our mothers could have used this kind of help too!” That’s what women flocking to the SOS Children's Crisis Centre for Women in the city of Mogilev, in Belarus, ask Centre Director Elena Pushkaryova.

SOS Children launched the women's crisis centre in August of 2010. The first of its kind for the country of Belarus and built with only six rooms, the crisis centre can’t yet accommodate the many local women who are victims of domestic violence.  The centre’s presence, however, is helping to put the social issue on the map. Elena Pushkaryova says she's had to work hard to convince officials that the problem even exists: “They weren’t aware of it,” she says. Because Belarus has no law against domestic violence, no state entity tracks it and no statistics on it exist. “Now the same officials ask us about how to cooperate,” says Elena, who adds that the absence of legal sanctions makes it difficult for the police to help women who need protection.

Onus on Victims

In order to start criminal proceedings against a violent husband, in Belarus a woman must call the police three times and file an application. The subsequent fine is paid from the family budget, thus punishing the family, not the husband, says Elena. Reporting to the police often results in further violence against the wife, she says. By law, police can only detain a violent husband up to one day.

Without effective legislation to protect women from violence at home, long-suffering victims feel powerless. Some become suicidal, some act in self-defense. One woman, recalls Elena, was chopping cabbage when her husband attacked her yet again; with knife in hand, she killed him.

SOS Keeping Mothers and Children Safe

Although the centre was set up only a year ago, it already has provided sanctuary to 240 children and 125 mothers. The SOS’s Women’s Crisis Centre offers psychological and legal counseling, therapy, and help finding a job or arranging school for children. The centre also works with children to help them understand that domestic violence is neither normal nor acceptable.

It’s important, says Elena, to break the cycle of violence that can live on from one generation to the next. To break that cycle, centre staff lecture at schools and workplaces, explaining what domestic violence is and how to deal with it.Staff members don't offer ready-made solutions, explains Elena:  “We simply try to empower women so they can find the inner strength to make the right choices for them.”

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