This op-ed is written by Monica Semedo MEP of ALDE Party member Demokratesch Partei in Luxembourg as part of our campaign ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’. In her op-ed, she shares her reflections on the importance of breaking the taboo of domestic and gender-based violence by speaking out and highlights the need for concrete tools to support those affected.
A few days ago, I read a post on Facebook that moved me deeply. It was from a young Luxembourgish woman who described how her former partner had abused her.
In public, he had acted as though everything was fine, but behind closed doors, he would beat her again and again, and even threatened to kill her. She posted pictures of her bruises and of herself at the hospital.
This young woman was able to break the vicious circle of domestic violence. She is happy again, with a new partner who loves and respects her.
This young woman spoke out. She survived and sought help. She is a role model.
Speaking about domestic and gender-based violence should not be taboo. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns, thousands of people now find themselves confined with their abusers. They have nowhere to hide and can no longer escape their situation by going to work, school or the sports club. This is especially true for women and children.
The United Nations has called this a ‘shadow pandemic’. While the number of reported cases has not necessarily increased, it does not mean assaults are not happening – they are, and at all social levels.
Victims also need to be able to seek help during lockdowns, but in these circumstances it may be difficult to make a secret phone call to a helpline. Mobile apps, websites or social media contact points could be effective tools for help and support.
Those subjected to gender-based violence are often reluctant to escape due to worries related to shelter, their livelihoods and potential social stigma.
At the European level, we must support victims in escaping this vicious circle. For example, all European Union Member States should ratify the Istanbul Convention as a guarantee that they will protect women and girls from gender-based violence. Moreover, medical services for sexual and reproductive health also need to be available during the pandemic.
My group, Renew Europe, has drafted an action plan that underlines the importance of protecting facilities aimed at women and girls who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence. These facilities often save lives.
Sometimes, survivors of gender-based violence need time to gain the necessary strength to stand up to their perpetrators. A service securing and archiving medical reports until people decide to make an official complaint could help with successful future legal proceedings against perpetrators of violence.
Furthermore, we must ensure that each person knows that they have the right to integrity over their own body and that the EU protects them. We have to raise awareness about this issue by providing information through targeted awareness campaigns because all too often, victims do not know where to go and who to ask for help.
We should prominently identify role models, like the young Luxembourgish woman who was brave enough to speak out and has shown that you can get help. Others might be able to follow their example.
We must break the taboo and speak out.