A threat is violence in itself, and it must be treated that way. It is also necessary to develop society consciousness that violence is unacceptable, including the social responsibility of reporting it. Children should be spoken to on these topics as early as elementary school, especially boys, who should be ‘equally repelled by rape as by cannibalism’.
The Covid pandemic has shown that the life of a woman who is a victim of violence has characteristics of a permanent state of emergency. Many women with this experience, especially victims of human trafficking, suffered social isolation long before the Covid-caused crisis. All the concerns we’ve had as a consequence of Covid – whether we would have enough food, work, freedom – are unfortunately a reality for human trafficking victims.
The pandemic has exposed many other societal issues, and taught us that institutional response often isn’t enough, and that civil society organisations and women’s organisations are essential for a proper response to complex issues of violence. In the cases of human trafficking victims protection during this pandemic, government institutions have only been able to respond to 30% of their needs, whereas 70% was covered by civil society organisations.
We are wondering whether victims receive help and support when they seek it, rather than posing the question of whether the help is clearly available, whether the support is reaching them. We must not wait for the victims to seek help in order to react and admit that a problem exists.
Although government statistics demonstrate that the number of reported cases of violence against women has reduced during Covid, that does not mean that there was, in fact, less violence. The experiences of the NGO Atina, as well as my own, show that problems are actually yet to come after the pandemic. Atina has interviewed 36 victims of human trafficking a few months after the pandemic outbreak. It is only now that we have some of the parameters. Women who have started living independently, earning salaries, and found work pre-Covid, and those who have been self-reliant have now lost that opportunity. A great number of them have lost their jobs (78% according to the latest statistics) and have no work prospects post-crisis. Many were unregistered, zero hours contract workers, so they could not receive the partial minimum wage help from the government.
Here in Serbia, the loudest voices are the ones who are not clearly opposing violence; our laws have to be implemented with no exceptions and institutions need to provide stronger resistance and an undivided response to this burning issue. A threat is violence in itself, and it must be treated that way. It is also necessary to develop society consciousness that violence is unacceptable, including social responsibility of reporting it. Children should be spoken to on these topics as early as elementary school, especially boys who should be ‘equally repelled by rape as by cannibalism’ If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that human rights and women’s rights need to be re-conquered because nothing is implied. That is why this year 16 Days of Activism have to be stronger, more effective, and louder than ever before.
Jelena Hrknjak, programme director of Atina, women’s rights and human rights activist. She is dedicated to providing direct support and long term help to women and children, victims of human trafficking and gender based violence.