Way back when I still enjoyed the luxury of youthful ideology, before the onset of cynicism, and the failure of idealism, life was very black and white with few, if any, shades of grey. I had strong opinions on most things. Abortion – a definite no. A woman’s right to choose – a definite yes. In vitro fertilisation – a definite no. A woman’s right to choose – a definite yes. Divorce – a definite no. A woman’s right to choose – a definite yes. I never inflicted the decisions I’d made for myself on anyone else. I tried hard to understand and accept that friends of mine could make choices I would never make for myself. They, too, had the same right to choose. I learned to see most things from someone else’s perspective… except one.
Sticks and stones…
I found it very difficult to understand why any woman would go back to a man who had beaten her. A man who had broken her bones, fractured her limbs, or blackened her eyes. For me, it was beyond reason. I always promised myself that if ever a man so much as raised a hand to me, I’d be gone. I would never, ever, ever, accept any form of domestic abuse in my relationships.
Earlier this year the European Court of Human Rights handed down a verdict in Kalucza v. Hungary. It awarded the Hungarian woman more than €5000, because the responsible authorities had not done enough to protect her from domestic violence. [Can you put a price on this, I ask myself?] Over the course of five years, thirteen medical reports recorded bruises on various parts of Kalucza’s body. Yet she stayed in the flat they both owned because she couldn’t get the court to kick him out. And it’s not always the man who is at fault. Instances of domestic violence by women against men are also on the rise. In the UK, for example, the number of women convicted of perpetrating domestic abuse has quadrupled in the past six years, from 806 in 2004/2005 to 3494 in 2009/2010 [I couldn’t find figures for Hungary but their absence doesn’t make the violence disappear.]
The government recently met at the ungodly hour of 2am to discuss the possibility of criminalising domestic violence. And, apparently, when it was proposed by the LMP that these discussions be held at a more visible time of day, House Speaker Laszlo Kover said that the issue wasn’t weighty enough to warrant more attention.
…may break my bones
Not weighty enough? Last week, Veronika Gulyas, writing in the Wall Street Journal, mentioned that 70 women die each year in Hungary as a result of domestic violence. The answer to this problem, at least according to Hungarian politician István Varga, is for women to have more children. ‘If three or four or five children were born, members of the family would respect each other more and then the question of violence within the family wouldn’t even come up.’
This sort of thinking beggars belief. But let’s not forget that domestic abuse can go beyond medical reports of physical damage. While the popular media and the general public are right to be enraged about domestic violence, it would seem that if the physical results are not visible, if the abuse is not manifested in bruises and broken bones, then it doesn’t get attention. When we talk about domestic violence we think of physical damage and the resultant psychological ramifications. But it can be a lot more subtle than that.
…but names will never hurt me???
When my youthful bubble finally burst and I realised that the world wasn’t black and white but full of greyed-out opinions, visions, and attitudes, it hit me hard. I had to face up to the fact that while I had seriously considered my opinions and hypothetically taken a stance, when reality hit I wasn’t beyond reproach.That promise I made to myself that I would never, ever, ever, accept any form of domestic abuse in my relationships? I, too, was thinking of flailing fists.
Yet I was one of those women who stayed instead of leaving, who went back for more time and time again. But there were some key differences in my case. It wasn’t a hand or fist that was raised, but a voice. My bones remained intact but my self-esteem was shattered by constant criticism and derogation. The bruises caused by unrelenting belittling went deep, scarring the very essence of who I thought I was. And even though I knew better, I stayed. Even though I knew I deserved more, I made excuses. And while my friends kept their counsel, they cast a silent vote: invitations to us as a couple dried up. They may have seen what was happening but it was never discussed. The questions – the difficult questions – were never asked.
My heart goes out to anyone who is a victim of domestic violence of any sort. To them I say, find the strength to leave. To their friends I say, ask the questions. And to the politicians I say, there are few issues indeed that are weightier.
First published in the Budapest Times 4 October 2012