Stigmatization of Victims Does Not Recognize Gender

Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona / Unsplash

Gender-based violence has become a common phenomenon in our society and a problem usually not approached in time. Unfortunately, many victims are afraid to express their thoughts and emotions openly and publicly. Victims’ stories often do not see the light of day; they remain a mere number in the statistics on gender-based violence or a name and surname on death certificates.

Stereotypes and prejudices that lead to gender-based violence begin paradoxically in children’s education. Boys are only boys if they are violent and play with rifles and pistols. They are only valorized if they do certain sports, while girls must be gentle and fragile and are expected to cook and clean. BiH society expects girls to fit into the roles of “mother” and “wife” because these are the only acceptable female identities.

“The one who beats loves” is an often-heard motto, which some children take to heart. Even when someone pulls them by the hair or hits them on the buttocks in elementary school, some girls remain silent and suffer because that is what they have been brought up to do. This infantile and nebulous phrase is just a small fragment of the types of values we were raised to believe. We all heard this phrase as children, and it is just the tip of the iceberg. Later on in life, mottos like these are used to justify violence experienced by women.

Any act of violence becomes a basis for blaming the victim, which is especially more common in women than in men. When we talk about gender-based violence, there are two extremes.

On the one hand, we have men who are afraid to report gender-based violence because they are so scared of condemnation from society because they are supposed to be the stronger sex. They usually face shame and humiliation in front of friends, relatives, and children because society tends to ridicule men who claim to be victims of gender-based violence. Men who report gender-based violence tend to be called wimp, henpecked, fagot, or other pejorative names if they dare to defy tradition and gender norms.

On the other hand, women are more stigmatized as victims because they are always considered guilty. Every woman who is a victim of gender-based violence is called a lunatic, or a bitch, or uneducated or stupid, or promiscuous, and such names only serve to assuage male anger.  Comments about female victims are much more disgusting and chauvinistic and can hardly be paraphrased.

According to a 2013 survey, the BiH Agency for Gender Equality found that more than half of the women included in the study experienced some form of violence after the age of 15. But in practice, what are the people’s experiences who provide therapeutic services to victims of gender-based violence?  Esmin Brodlija, psychologist and psychotherapist, and Lejla Heremić, social pedagogue and family counselor from the expert team “Zenica,” shared their experiences.

When asked who the most frequent victims of gender-based violence are, the answer was unanimous – women.

“What we need to be aware of is that in our society, women are the most common victims of gender-based violence and that men (and also other women) abuse positions of power to commit violence against women who are perceived as weaker,” Brodlija explains.

Heremić confirmed that there is not only one form of violence. Gender-based violence can include physical, psychological, sexual, and economic. Brodlija believes that psychological violence is the most present, although she notes that sexual violence is also underreported.

“Physical violence is the most visible and certainly the easiest to prove, and thus it is the most frequently reported. However, almost all physical violence includes psychological violence. Psychological violence, however, is not always accompanied by physical violence,” adds Brodlija.

In addition to these types of violence, there is also harassment, sexual harassment, and the increasingly present cyber violence.

The devastating fact from this study shows that as many as 58.4% of women who have been exposed to physical violence believe that they are not victims of physical violence.

All statistics show that women are more often victims of violence than men, and reporting on women as victims of violence is more present in the media. According to Heremić, violence against men should also be noted, as well as its manifestations and consequences.

“Men who are victims of violence also applied to the psychological counseling center “Medica Zenica,” most often due to psychological violence,” says Heremić.

According to Heremić, victims often avoid seeking help because they are afraid of the consequences.

“It is important to keep in mind that the dynamics of violent relationships include various forms of manipulation by the perpetrator towards the victim of violence, such as causing fear, blackmail, threats, threatening to take the children, death threats, or damage to honor and reputation. In addition, long-term exposure to violence can negatively impact the victims’ self-perception, self-esteem, and self-confidence, or a re-examination of their actions,” said Heremić.

Brodlija says that the first step for victims of violence should be to acknowledge the problems in dealing with the violent experience and seek adequate help because violence is a traumatic experience. It can cause negative consequences on one’s overall health, especially one’s mental health. It is important to get out of these toxic relationships and dedicate yourself to personal growth and development by working with a psychologist, psychotherapist, or other professional.

“We should be guaranteed the right to life, and no one should endanger that. I believe that this should be a good enough argument to respond to any condemnation and stigmatization of the victim,” says Brodlija.

“Medica Zenica” is working on the psychological empowerment of women victims of violence to change societal attitudes so that women realize that being a victim does not make them any less valuable.

“In addition, Medica Zenica has been working for many years on destigmatizing this issue in the community. We try to raise awareness about the presence of violence, forms of protection, and various prejudices that are associated with violence in the family and the community,” explains Heremić.

Although there is a certain understanding in society about gender and sex, we still do not treat men and women as equals. BiH still has a patriarchally oriented attitude, and these strict gender roles will continue to bind every woman and every man if they do anything out of the “norm.”

Legal and procedural regulations depend on the complete eradication of this social problem. Of course, safeguards are not effective if they are not implemented and consistently monitored. There is also a lack of reaction from competent institutions.

Until boys are allowed to cry openly and be interested in fashion, design, or other creative work; until men are not called gay because they want to have a female roommate; until their main purpose is not just to extend the family tree; until girls can buy a soccer ball or a team jersey without judgment; until women can be widows, single mothers, divorced mothers, own ten pets, be military personnel, bus and taxi drivers, without being called weirdos – only then can we hope to reduce the effects gender-based violence.

Matija is a Balkan Diskurs correspondent from Vareš. He has a bachelor's degree in public relations from the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Mostar and is a radio journalist on the BHR1 youth program. He is interested in politics and undoing gender stereotypes and considers himself a human rights activist, feminist, and post-conflict researcher.

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