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Violence against women, Valeria De Vellis: “The deepest wound is not being believed”

«He brought it on himself», «He shouldn’t have gone to that party», «He did it for notoriety», «He wanted compensation», «He provoked him». How many times have we heard or read one of these sentences referring to a victim of violence? Her name is “victim blaming” and translates into “victim blaming”, a condition that still (too) often affects women who suffer violence in our country. And they are not believed, becoming victims twice. A spiral that sometimes starts from the institutions, enters the courts, stops in the streets and along the corridors of the houses of those who have suffered violence, of any nature: sexual, domestic, psychological, economic. And it condemns the victims to an abyss that often leads to depression, because after a beating, the worst violence is not being believed. He repeats it like a mantra the lawyer Valeria De Vellisspecializing in family law, minors and the person, alongside many women who decide to separate after having suffered for a long time.

What is victim blaming?

«In general, victim blaming consists precisely in blaming the victim. It means holding the victim fully or partially responsible for what happened to them. There is also talk, in this regard, of secondary victimization. An issue that is very close to my heart, because I help to separate many women who suffer crimes of domestic violence and suffer almost more from not being believed in court, or from being subjected to smear campaigns by various subjects, rather than from the violence itself . That’s why I speak of secondary victimization: because women, in addition to having been victimized by their husband or partner, when they finally find the strength to report the violence, maybe they are not believed by doctors, by the police who minimize or, even worse by lawyers and judges”

What causes this victimization?

«It produces tremendous damage on the psyche of the victim, who normally already experiences an enormous sense of guilt for what has happened to her, even towards her children. Secondary victimization exponentially increases the risk of the victim sinking into depression and despair. This is why women very often do not report: they are afraid of not being believed”.

Why does this happen?

«Because in many cases the institutions do not recognize violence. They do not immediately recognize the signs, which are actually minimized. Real cases of domestic violence are mistaken for trivial “marital conflict”. Or, even worse, the wife who denounces her husband’s violence and asks for sole custody and protected visits for the children is discredited and labeled as an “uncooperative” or even “alienating” mother, when instead she is dutifully alone while protecting the children. In many of these cases, the children are entrusted to social services because even the parent who reported the violence is considered inadequate. It is an even more serious injustice than the one suffered within the walls of the house because it comes from the institutions”.

In fact, what happens next?

«It may happen that the victim, fearing losing custody of the children, makes an unsuitable agreement, out of fear. Many mothers, in order to prevent their children from being entrusted to social services or placed in the community, accept shared custody, but we know that it is impossible to share custody with an abusive parent, who as such cannot be a good parent”.

Why don’t you follow international guidelines?

“Because there is no attention from our national courts. Italy is often condemned by the European Court for having qualified women who oppose their children’s meetings with an abusive ex-spouse as “uncooperative”: according to the European Court, the best interests of the minor must prevail over the interest of the father to continue the visits.

What does the Istanbul Convention stipulate in this regard?

«The Istanbul Convention, a very important document on domestic violence, expressly establishes, in article 31, that States must take all steps to ensure that, when the custody and visiting rights of children are determined, into consideration the episodes of violence, an article, unfortunately, little received by the Italian courts. The Istanbul Convention has another fundamental rule that is often ignored in Italy, article 48, which provides that, in cases of domestic violence, the compulsory recourse to mediation must be prohibited. In Italy, when the woman opposes mediation, she is judged, once again, to be non-cooperative, without understanding that the violent person does not actually want to mediate, but to use the mediation table to continue to attack, offend and further humiliate the own victim”.

Where is the origin of this lack of protection?

«There is a lot of unpreparedness. We need to increase the specific training of all operators on the subject of domestic violence: I am thinking of the compulsory specialization of the institutional subjects involved such as law enforcement, magistrates, lawyers, consultants, social services operators, with training courses on violence recognition indices domestic and on national and supranational legislation on the subject. Furthermore, it is essential to guarantee psychological and legal support to the victims. Finally, it is essential to talk about it more and more. Victim blaming is often also perpetrated by the media, which create a social prejudice on the victim capable of influencing the judgment of the court. The women who turn to me after having suffered such an injustice tell me: “This sentence hurts me more than the blows I received”».

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Source: Vanity Fair

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