Updated: Jan 27, 2022
TW: mention of sexual & physical violence
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed a devastating rise in domestic abuse cases. Especially in Greece, the situation has been consistently deteriorating following the ease of pandemic-related restrictions, raising concerns over the incapability of the Greek state to rise to the challenge of protecting victims. In 2020, offences related to domestic violence in Greece more than tripled compared to 2010 (Michaleson & Sidiropoulou 2021). Since January 21, 2021, 13 women have been murdered by their intimate or former partners, signalling an increase in femicides over the past two years (Rosa Progressive 2021). The national helpline for abused women has received 7,809 calls so far, of which 5,405 concerned incidents of violence (Ibid.).
Institutional Failures: Law & Law Enforcement
The Gender Equality Index published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) places Greece in the last position in the European Union (Kriebardi 2021). Experts from the Diotima Centre for Research on Women’s Issues pointed to the responsibility--or the lack thereof--of the state, arguing that addressing issues of gender equality has never been a political priority (Ibid.). This is well reflected in the Greek penal code, as well as in the law enforcement’s handling of cases of gendered abuse.
The spike of femicides throughout this year has shed a light on police failings when it comes to responding to violence against women, including accusations that statements from officials acted as advise to mitigate punishments of future perpetrators (Michaelson & Sidiropoulou 2021). Following a femicide which took place in Athens last May, police officer Stavros Balaskas claimed in a TV interview that if the perpetrator had confessed immediately, he may have received a reduced sentence. “It was an unfortunate event, committed in anger. If he had just called the police, he would have gotten a different kind of treatment”, he said. Victims’ families believe his statements reassured would-be perpetrators, enabling the idea that accused men can sway courts by displaying behaviour that matches certain clauses in the penal code (Ibid.).
Lawyers and campaigners have often highlighted that frequent labeling of femicides as “crimes of passion” enables a culture of impunity around violence against women. The clause in question seems to allow reduced sentences for perpetrators of homicide if they were “provoked” or the crime was committed in rage, or if the accused displayed good behaviour and demonstrated guilt afterwards (Ibid.). Lawyers emphasize that adding femicide as a motive to the penal code would deny criminals the opportunity to present themselves in court as innocent men suddenly overcome by emotion that justified murder.
Institutional failures are also manifested on the low rates of convictions under a 2006 law criminalising domestic violence. On average, just 23% of prosecuted perpetrators were convicted, and the vast majority received suspended sentences, while the number of men who are prosecuted are nowhere close to the ones accused of abuse (Michaelson & Sidiropoulou 2021). The percentage of men serving prison time after domestic violence convictions also fell from 16.4% in 2016 to 6% in 2019, even as convictions for domestic violence hit a five-year peak. The impunity of perpetrators further discourages women from reporting their abuse, a devastating consequence that is enabled by a culture that excuses male violence . A recently passed law that can force women to share custody of their children with their abusive former partner is yet another major step backwards (Human Rights Watch 2021). Member of Parliament Yannis Loverdos stated that the law is justified on the grounds that “even if a man is abusive as a husband, that does not mean he is not a good father” (In.gr 2021)
Mainstream & Public Discourse
For the first time ever, as a result of the Greek #metoo movement which gained prominence in 2021, stories of gendered violence and abuse are finally coming under the spotlight. While this is undoubtedly a positive development, it has also revealed the miasma pervading Greek society: sexism and toxic masculinity. Stories of abuse that have made it to the public scene have stirred up a deep public debate, spotlighting the resistance of Greek public opinion to move beyond outdated perceptions of gendered roles and stereotypes.
Women who come forward as survivors of abuse, or even the ones who are murdered, tend to be stigmatized by the media and the public’s constant search for "justifications" of their perpetrators’ criminal actions. Abusive relationships are widely romanticised by people who argue that men who murdered their former partners did so ‘out of love’, because they couldn’t live without them or bear the thought of them being with another man. The normalisation of toxic jealousy and possessive behaviour comes as no surprise in a society dominated by a problematic macho culture, where numerous men may identify with the entitlement of perpetrators over their partners’ lives. To put it bluntly, public opinion in Greece to a large extent tolerates and reinforces the culture of gender-based abuse and violence against women.
Victim-blaming continues to dominate both public dialogue and mainstream media discourse. A prime example is the case of 20-year-old Caroline, who was murdered by her husband in May 2021. Disregarding fundamental respect for the privacy of the deceased victim, numerous media outlets published content extracted from the personal diary of Caroline. Headlines wrote ‘She threatened to leave her husband’, identifying this as a potential explanation for the murder, in what seemed like an attempt to foster sympathy towards the perpetrator and mitigate the gravity of his crime. The media also insisted on romanticising the relationship, by painting the victim’s husband as a joyful, romantic man who would ‘spoil’ his wife with travels and flowers. The perpetrator was rarely referred to as such, but instead became known as ‘the pilot’, with journalists insisting on emphasising his educational background and prestigious work status.
The problematic media discourse on issues of gendered and sexual violence is unfortunately in line with the views of a large portion of the Greek public. “She was asking for it”, “she could have left if she wanted to”, and “he can’t rape her, he’s her husband” are among the views routinely expressed to deny women’s victimisation or undermine the severity of their problems. When footage of a young girl who was followed to her house by a man exposing his genitals got circulated, people on social media pointed out that she had no business being out on the streets during that time given lockdown restrictions, while others argued that the story has been inflated by the media and “feminazis” and that the man’s intentions were not to sexually assault her.
In a society where resources to inform oneself on issues of gender, consent and sexual violence are widely inaccessible, discussions centred on the gendered struggles of Greek women tend to elicit reactionary attitudes and are consistently discredited as irrational exaggerations. For example, ongoing conversations regarding the legal acknowledgement of the term femicide seem to be particularly triggering among conservative Greek men. So much so that when a woman shot her former partner on the 11th of November, they rushed to Twitter to make #androcide a trending hashtag, as a sarcastic response to “feminist propagandists”. Ironically (and fortunately), the victim was not pronounced dead and is still at the hospital.
The popularity of such contrarian attitudes may to some extent derive from a nationalist rejection of Western ideas of progress, perceived as parasitical to the orthodox Greek culture. Disruptions to the “normal” order of Greek society are negatively received by many conservatives, who view all things liberal as a threat to traditional Eastern European values. Amidst the rise of right-wing populism in Eastern Europe, this explanation seems even more possible. Or perhaps, in a society where most men are used to being tended to and spoiled by the women in their lives, be it their mother or partner, the prospect of women feeling empowered and raising the bar of their personal ambitions seems somewhat threatening and destabilising.
Social Education: Error 404
To a large extent, the gender problem in Greece is rooted in the lack of social education and the prevalence of conservative values in public schooling (e.g. bold nationalism and religious one-dimensionality). In a country which reaches temperatures of 35+ °C during the academic year, girls in several high schools are not allowed to wear shorts, skirts, or sandals while boys walk around with sagging pants. Backwards notions of feminine decency and the duty not to provoke the male gaze are clearly reinforced, instilling sexist stereotypes in individuals’ mindsets from the earliest stages of their socialisation. In combination with the lack of dialogue on issues of gender sexuality, consent, and gender relations, the process of unlearning in later life becomes all the more challenging.
Notably, Greece is one of the few countries in Europe where sex education is not included in the school curriculum, although data shows it is the most sexually active country in the world (Statista, 2014). Notwithstanding that social media and globalisation have increased access to information regarding sex and sexual health, systemic initiatives are still necessary. While information in the online world is free and abundant, we cannot deny that one’s digital media use is to a large extent dependent on their effective circle and echo chambers. People who will actively seek to educate themselves on matters of social justice are most likely not the ones that truly need to do so.
An unfortunate consequence of these educational failures is that a large portion of the population embraces sexist stereotypes not out of calculated spite, but simply because they don’t know any better. Undoubtedly, the country is also suffering from the menace of radicals and extremists who wholeheartedly embrace hate, but unfortunately these individuals seem to be, for the most part, a lost cause. What education can ensure, however, is that radical mindsets are not passed on to the next generations. Our family upbringing to a large extent determines how we think, but other cycles of socialisation, such as school and our broader sociocultural context, can majorly influence our life path. The beauty of progress is that humans are able to transcend generational patterns, if they are provided with the appropriate tools and stimuli to do so.
To be effective, individual efforts to foster positive change should take the reality of Greek society into account. Judging and blaming people is easy, but changing them takes effort, patience and understanding. When someone is attacked for what they were taught to believe, without having the tools to understand why, they will only be pushed deeper into the abyss of their anger and hate, and will most certainly not be open to change. This is the collateral damage of cancel culture -in a time of increasing awareness, we’ve seen polarisation and extremism deepen. It should be made clear however, that a lot of women, people from the LGBTQ+ community, and minority groups are simply tired of doing the work and trying to convince society of the validity of their struggles. Allyship is therefore crucial in the effort to shift collective consciousness, as is institutional change.
The first step for men in Greece would be to abandon the misconception of feminism as divisive and man-hating by default. Yes, undoubtedly the social reality of women has conditioned them to feel threatened by men. That is not to say that men themselves are not victims to a society dominated by toxic masculinity. At its core, feminism aims to deconstruct a system that is harmful to everyone, as is every system of oppression in the grand scheme of things. Men, cis, straight and queer, are also victims of patriarchal norms– gender stereotypes do not benefit anyone, they only serve to limit our individual freedom and potential. At the end of the day, besides being a fight for justice and equity, feminism is a fight for individual freedom and self-determination.
Dear men, when women say they feel unsafe, believe them. Move beyond the entitlement of denying someone’s reality only because your own experience does not validate it. No one is to blame as long as they have the willingness to listen, understand and unlearn.
Written by Joanna Pamoukoglou, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
Human Rights Watch. 2021. "Greece: Dangerous Custody Law to Take Effect." September
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Statista. 2014. "Number of Average Sexual Encounters in a Year per Person Worldwide 2014,