A signatory of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, Romania has also had, since 2012, a law against domestic violence, which, among other things, enables women to get restraining orders against their abusers. Still, statistics are not at all encouraging: 30% of the Romanian women have experienced a form of physical and/or sexual violence, but only 23% of them have reported the more serious incidents to the police. In fact, unfortunately, violence against women is a lot more common in Europe than one might think.
With the women who leave Romania for better-paid jobs or better living standards in other EU countries, violence takes specific forms, says Silvia Dumitrache, president of the Association of Romanian Women in Italy: “Many of the women who reach Italy have already been the victims of domestic violence in their home country, and this is in fact one of the reasons why many of them leave Romania. A first form of violence experienced by the women who emigrate has to do with the separation from their family and children. Not all women are aware of this, more often than not they are willing to sacrifice, and many times they don’t have a choice. Another form of violence is that they have to live isolated, secluded in their houses, they have no social life and no privacy. This is the case with the women who work as residential housekeepers in Italy. They have one day a week off, but no private life whatsoever. Sometimes they have no official employment contracts, which is another form of abuse.”
Many Romanian women working in Italy are the victims of a very special form of violence: human trafficking for labour purposes. Some of these cases, which can easily be described as cases of modern slavery, have been covered by international media, as is the case of the women working in the province of Ragusa, in Sicily.
Silvia Dumitrache is back at the microphone with details: “In that area in particular most of them are women. Unfortunately, most of these women are Romanian. They live in terrible conditions, in improvised homes with cardboard walls, sometimes together with their children. There, in Sicily, they hardly have access to drinking water or Internet connection to communicate, get information and seek help. They live isolated, kilometers away from the nearest locality. They don’t even have access to medical units. Children do not go to school. Moreover, given that this way of living is not recognized as such in Italy, these people do not even have documents for legal stay in this country. In fact, they don’t even exist as far as Italian authorities are concerned.”
Sabina left Romania in 2003, when she quit her job as a geography teacher and moved with her husband to Spain. After 14 years spent in that country she started working at a center for the victims of domestic violence in the capital Madrid. It was there that she came to truly understand the traumas of women that fell victim to domestic violence and, thanks to the director of that center, she even came to understand her own traumas.
Sabina: “I found myself in a rather difficult situation once, but I did not go to any shelter or recuperation center, although I could have. This is how we, the Romanian women, have been educated, not to go to the police, not to make any denouncement or tell anyone what’s happening to us. Still, I got myself to telling my story. I’ve been subjected to psychological domestic violence. I graduated from a Romanian university. The fact that I could no longer practice my profession while in Spain kind of depressed me a little bit. I came to Spain against my will, as I am and have been alone here, without my relatives. I had to do only what I was ordered, there were always arguments.“
Her life was fully dominated by her ex husband, Sabina says. How did she manage to escape this domination? First of all she received psychological help, as she confesses: “My boss sent me to therapy. I had to discuss with a psychologist who was specialized in domestic violence. This is how I realized that I did have a problem, something that I had been unaware of. I initially thought that the problems related to money, kids, the daily stress and additional problems such as the fact that we did not live in that apartment by ourselves, prevented me from understanding what I was going through. I somehow had to keep things to myself, because had I started telling my parents, sister or in-laws about what I was going through I would have been the one to blame for being crazy or mean. I’ve seen many cases of abuse and in the five years that I’ve been working at the center I heard many stories of traumatized women. When you depend on another person emotionally, in my case my ex husband, and when you do your best to make things work and prevent bad things from happening, being convinced that if they happened, it would be your fault – all these things make you forget about yourself and lose your self-esteem.”
Alongside emotional and psychological effects, violence against women also has economic consequences. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, the cost of domestic violence alone stands at 109 billion euros per year, including the cost of medical assistance, specialized services for the protection of women and also the economic costs caused by their absence from work.