I would like to say a few words
in response to one of our reader’s letters on the issue of sexual
assault, to talk about physical violence against women, about rape,
and about the devastating consequences—irreparable damage, both psychological
and physical—suffered by the victims of such crimes.
The victim of an assault needs
understanding, support, sympathy, and help from friends, family, and
loved ones. Unfortunately, in our Roma society, these types of responses
are frequently absent. Friends and family are often ashamed to show
compassion towards a woman who has suffered such an ordeal, as they
will be condemned for it by the people around them. And the respect
for social norms is dearer to them than such principles as kindness,
justice, and compassion.
In Roma society, the moral
demands placed on a woman have always been very high. In the past,
if a woman were “defiled,” it was practically impossible for her
to survive in Roma society. For example, if a woman were to acquire
a bad reputation, then no one would be willing to take her as a wife.
Were it ascertained that a daughter-in-law, upon entering her husband’s
family, was no longer a virgin (for whatever reason), the family would
publicly disgrace the girl to such an extent that she would be forced
to wander apart from the community for several years.
No one is protected from physical
violence. The Roma have many potential enemies: from dishonest policemen,
to skinheads, to people who, simply, led by prejudice, are not overly
fond of the Roma. A Roma woman is particularly vulnerable—she may
be harmed by a man from any of the aforementioned groups. And we know
of many such cases.
Moreover, not only must a female
victim of violence suffer this physical and mental trauma inflicted
upon her by a stranger, but even at home, in what should be a place
of compassion and understanding, scorn and reproach await her. Her
family turns its back on her, her neighbors mock her, she is barred
from sitting at the communal table and eating from the communal dishes.
Many victims of abuse hide
what has happened to them, but if the incident comes to light and becomes
widely known, society treats them harshly. The victim then is forced
to shut herself off, is generally ostracized, and begins to consider
herself somehow to blame in this misfortune. Some are unable to bear
this torment and end it by committing suicide.
I know there may be some who
would say that this is the most sensible solution, and that for some
people there’s no other escape, but I would like to meet the people
who think this way, ask them to reconsider. After all, not a single
person is ever entirely safe from such an ordeal; a similar instance
may befall any one of us.
It is, indeed, difficult for
the victim of a physical assault to break free of established stereotypes
and from the prejudices of society. But let’s try to view the problem
from a different angle. If a person, even with great difficulty, is
able to overcome the shame resulting from such an ordeal, and is consequently
able to relate their misfortune to a close friend or family member who
empathizes with them and feels compassion for them, then this confidant
might be able to help the victim get back to a normal life. And this
is the only right way to treat a victim of abuse. After all, life
is a human being’s very most valuable possession.
Together, let’s try to be
more merciful and a little kinder. And then we will not have to have
on our conscience the realization that we stood by, indifferent, while
someone suffered, we did not play any kind of role in helping someone
to end his or her life.