Representative studies show that in Hungary, every fifth woman is in a relationship where she is physically hurt. This number has been stagnant for years. The social media campaign #metoo has been a powerful voice for women’s rights, but most of the victims are not getting the proper help they need. During the event of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign we discussed the possible backgrounds of violence, society’s expectations, legal situations and most importantly, the possible ways to end violence with Éva Horváth psychologist, volunteer of NANE association.
What’s the dynamics of an abusive relationship? What are the most common forms of it?
There is a difference in the balance of power, which comes mainly from what is the socially accepted or sustained norm. We can see that in most cases, the abuser is male. This is simply what our social hierarchy sustains. In general, heterosexual relationships are based on expectations such as the man should be stronger, taller, wealthier. If any of the aspects is reversed, it can put society out of countenance, generating a status difference between men and women.
During an act of violence people sometimes refer to gender roles that do not apply vice versa, like a woman can’t go home and complain about how there’s no dinner on the table, why isn’t everything cleaned up, because these chores are not expected of a man. Sustaining the quality of a relationship is also up to the ladies, even women’s magazines are filled with the topic how to have a perfect relationship. This is much less often the topic of men’s magazines. If a man is the leader in a relationship, that is socially accepted and not at all unusual. If a man is less dominant or more obedient, then he’s a “softie”.
A woman can’t be a “softie”, since we don’t make fun of women who are obedient.
How do you define abusive?
It’s hard to define. There can be differences depending on what people are reactive to. The abuser knows what the other’s weak spot is and how to be hurtful. In many relationships, both people are hurting each other unintentionally. There is a difference between a bad relationship and an abusive one. In an abusive one, the abuse is regular and one-sided. Only one person is dominant, they always get what they want, so it’s not just an average couple who fight sometimes. Being abusive is more of an attitude: “I can do this to the other person, I have a right to”. It’s difficult to grasp where the line is. It’s important to know how our partner treats our sensitivity. If they take advantage of it, that is a really bad sign.
Physical violence is not the only kind of abuse. How about emotional abuse?
It’s very common that even the victims don’t take it seriously. It feels less heavy, but it can completely ruin a person. Most of the time, abusive behavior starts with verbal assaults, limitation. This limitation is usually sugarcoated: “the two of us are enough for each other”, “your friends are not as intelligent as you are”, “am I not enough for you?”, “I will work so you don’t have to” are often used sentences. These limitations are related to attachment. The victim wants the relationship to work, they want the other to love them and be able to feel good around them, so they choose to isolate themselves from other people. When the isolation works and the victim only has a few friendships left, or maybe there’s a dependency (kids, shared home) which makes it harder to get out of the relationship, that’s when the physical abuse begins.
How visible is abuse in lesbian and gay relationships?
It’s much less visible even for our helpline. It’s rare to get calls from a non-heterosexual relationship. But the few there are come from lesbian relationships. It’s much more difficult to recognize and to talk about it. There’s a stereotype that a lesbian relationship can’t be abusive. That is -of course- not true, there can be physical, emotional, financial, sexual, verbal abuse as well. People are afraid to ask for help because they are scared of homophobia, and in some cases the victim is not out yet, the abuser threatens them with revealing their secret. Society’s opinion is that there is no such thing, so sometimes the people in the relationship themselves think it’s something else.
What regulations are there in Hungary?
Domestic violence has only been considered a crime for quite a short time in Hungary. It includes physical, emotional and financial abuse. The relevance of an accusation depends on the regularity of the abuse: there has to be two occasions at least. If physical abuse happened twice, it’s a chargable offence, so it’s not the victim but authorities that - after learning about the cases - have to press charges.
How many cases are reported? How many people ask for help?
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has conducted a survey stating that in Hungary, every fifth woman gets involved in a physically abusive relationship in their lifetime.
If we proportion those who answered “yes” to the question “have you been abused by your partner in the past 12 months?” to demographic data there are statistically 223 thousand women who are currently being abused physically and/or sexually in their relationship.
If you compare this to the data of the authorities and the police, where the number is only about a few hundred, you can say the latency is enormous. A lot of cases are never reported. The exact data and results of the survey are available on nokjoga.hu.
What are the reasons?
Fear is a common reason. There is a false assumption that when an abused woman gets out of the relationship, all the problems are solved. Unfortunately, it’s not the case. Breaking up doesn’t stop the abuse, if anything, it raises the risks temporarily. To effectively end an abusive relationship the victim needs many things. They have to be taken seriously by the police, they need protection because assault after a breakup is very common. It’s incredibly hard to end, even if the victim is not poor. In most cases, women are threatened with getting their child taken away from them if they can’t protect them from the abuser. The police often say there’s no point in getting a restraining order, or they even talk people out of reporting a situation, saying there’s no point, they will eventually get back together, let’s talk it out instead. This is the most common opinion. There’s no useful help, mostly because of the lack of knowledge. The authorities don’t know how the dynamics of an abuse works, by the time they get to the location, the assault is over. Arriving at the location, they find an abuser who is very good at manipulating them into believing them, and a victim who is in a hysteric state. It all convinces them: there’s no real problem.
How can the ones in need of help reach out to you (NANE)?
The best is to call our helpline. We are available via email and on facebook, but we can’t really be effective on these platforms, we can only give a short answer. If somebody turns to us for help, we talk through what’s going on: how much danger they are in, what support they have, what they need the most. We help them make the best decision about their lives based on these pieces of information. Of course, we know these situations are very complicated. In a marriage, if there’s a child involved, it’s almost impossible to break free of the abuser. This can be obviously very traumatizing for a child.
You can call NANE’s helpline on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 6-10 pm. Their time is limited and there are tons of people asking for help. They work with volunteers, this is the maximum capacity at the moment.
We have to fight violence against women. The first and most important step is getting and giving adequate information. For further information do not hesitate to contact NANE.
Translated by Éva Csermendy