On the killing of women: are we all somehow complicit?

By refusing to be complicit in a vicious cycle of violence, we will inspire a culture in which reporting violence, particularly when witnessed in our very own families, is a civic and human duty.

This week, another woman died as a victim of domestic violence: Sevdije Berisha, 52, was attacked by her husband on November 17, and died one week later from the horrible injuries to her body. According to the prosecution file, obtained by BIRN, the 66-year-old suspect Isen Berisha also injured his 27-year-old son’s pregnant wife, and is currently being held in detention. The suspect is reported to have had in his possession an illegal semi-automatic weapon, and the couple is said to have had constant problems in their 30 years of marriage.

As it often happens with such crimes, the Basic Prosecution of Prishtina suspects that Isen Berisha is mentally ill. The same was said for the husband of Zejnepe Bytyqi, who stabbed her 23 times, had abused her for years and had had a long criminal record even before killing her. The same excuse is used by a young policeman who attempted to kill his former fiancé by shooting her in the head. She survived but lost her eye. Somehow a man deemed sane enough to wear a police uniform was classified as mentally ill when he attempted to kill a woman.

Between 2011 and 2017, six women in Kosovo were killed by men, most of them by their husbands or partners. Diana Kastrati’s husband has fled the country; Zejnepe Bytyqi’s husband was convicted with 17 years in prison, an extension given by the Court of Appeals after a shorter sentence was given with the pretext that the accused was mentally ill, and his lawyer’s statement that the motif of the murder was her infidelity. Dafina Zhubi was killed in her boyfriend’s apartment, and the prosecution said that she had committed suicide. Foreign expertise, from a Swiss institution called Forensicons, concluded that she was murdered and excluded the possibility that she could have  shot herself in the head.

The list of murdered women is growing longer each year. Violent men are not held accountable and the justice system fails to protect women who are obliged to endure the prolonged abuse. But, as a deeply rooted cultural problem as well, domestic violence feeds itself into the silence of the family members and the false family values.

“He hit me hard. Baam! Out of nowhere. I don’t know why he did that. It just came up to him I guess,” my grandmother told me once, reflecting on how the abuse by our grandfather sometimes even left her confused.

“He was so angry. Even right before he died, when he lost his strength and couldn’t hit me anymore, he used to pinch me whenever we were seated next to one another,” she recounted.

But the irony is that regardless of how he treated her, she still talks well of him and wants us all, adults and children, to remember him with respect and affection.

Sevdije Berisha’s children refused to speak to the media on what had happened in their family. While it is totally understandable that they should be given the peace and quiet to cope with the horrible situation, it is also very predictable that they see this as a private matter.

Men are given the privilege to take their anger out on their wives’ faces and bodies. Women are brainwashed into thinking they owe men their lives and that sometimes they deserve the maltreatment, while the rest are taught to stay quiet and mind their own business. Not only are we taught to swallow the wrongs we sense and witness; we are also made to cultivate respect and understanding for the abuser rather empathize and demand justice for the victim.

Such harmful and violent expectations that demands us to stay quiet and protect our family name and honor are so ingrained in all of us that it is very difficult to overcome. And even when justice does prevail in certain cases, we cannot rest assured that violence against women will be prevented and women’s lives will be saved.

But while we choose to stay quiet within our own private circles, we are failing to protect the women in our families, neighborhoods and communities. And as adults, does witnessing violence and not reacting against it by any means possible make us complicit in all the violence women are suffering from?

No law in Kosovo envisages mandatory reporting of domestic violence.

The Criminal Code condemns refraining from providing help through Article 191, Paragraph 2, which states that: “Whoever refrains from providing help to another person in a dangerous life threatening situation or circumstances which were brought about by the perpetrator shall be punished by imprisonment of three (3) years.”

But due to the prevalence of domestic violence in Kosovo and the killing of women in particular, concrete legal definitions and provisions are important, in order to assure effective prevention.

Alongside awareness raising campaigns and governmental programs, sanctions on adults who witness systemic domestic violence but do not report it must follow as well. Every adult that witnesses violence must be granted not only the right to report it, but they should also be equipped with the civic responsibility to report the violence he or she witnesses in their own family circles or beyond. And it goes without saying that the person must receive institutional support so one can safely and anonymously do the reporting and protect the person whose life is endangered. The ability to protect the witnesses is another big flaw of our justice system.

By refusing to be complicit in this vicious cycle of violence, we will inspire a culture in which reporting violence, particularly when witnessed in our very own families, is a civic and human duty. When violence is reported unapologetically, family values are reclaimed and replaced with those that acknowledge the full humanity and dignity of those being abused and whose lives might be at stake.

Sevdije Berisha is another woman who suffered a violent and terribly painful death by her husband. While the persecution and people in general find it easier to justify this horrible crime with the killer’s insanity, we must focus on the long term effect that all this violence in doing to our mental health as a society at large.

Women will keep on living in fear and suffer an ending like Sevdije or Zejnepe if we keep treating domestic abuse as a private matter, and choose ‘family values’ over speaking out and protecting those who are vulnerable.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.


01 December 2017 - 14:15

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