Violence Is Not An Element: How The Sisters Center Works

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Violence Is Not An Element: How The Sisters Center Works
Violence Is Not An Element: How The Sisters Center Works
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IN THE RUBRIC "good deed" WE TELL ABOUT women, who came up with a charitable project, an important and necessary business, and it became successful. Probably Russia's most famous anti-violence organization, the Sister Center, whose helpline went live on April 18, 1994, celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. We talked with the director of the center, Nadezhda Zamotayeva, who has been with Sisters from the very beginning, about whether the attitude towards sexual violence has changed - and how the work of the center is being built today.


Alexandra Savina

About "Sisters"

Our center helps people who have been sexually abused (although now we are trying to use the term "sexualized abuse"). I am very lucky: in our time, working for twenty-five years in one organization is a rarity. I came to Sisters in 1994, and I was part of the first group of counselors who were trained to work on the helpline. I came to the center for personal reasons - I was very afraid to suffer from sexualized violence, to survive rape. At that time I was studying at the university, and my future specialty was related to psychology.

I was very fond of reading newspapers, my favorite was "Evening Moscow". On February 4, a very good article about sexualized violence appeared in it - an interview with Natalia Gaidarenko, who later became the first director of the Sisters center. She remotely, by correspondence, helped women victims of sexualized violence. These were the usual paper letters sent to her by women from all over the country: she counseled them, helped cope with trauma, and sent to help her translated book The Power of Touch, written by a woman surviving incest.

The article said that a center was being organized in Moscow to help the victims - and those who want to help others can call the number. For me it was important: the name of everyone who wants and can help people, there were no restrictions. I called on the phone, and Natalya quickly contacted me. I really liked the way she spoke to me - I didn’t know yet that the center would be called “Sisters”, but I can describe our conversation as a nursing one. The future director seemed to have called me, but she spoke to me as an equal. She found out who I am, what I do, and invited me to the training. I also asked if I could come with a friend - so we came together. There were, it seems, about fifteen people at the training. We were taught by Maria Dubrovskaya, head of the all-Russian children's helpline, and Marina Pisklakova-Parker, who created the Anna center to help women survivors of domestic violence. I still remember this training, although twenty-five years have passed.

On April 18, 1994, the work of the center began. The first to answer was Larisa Panarina, who now works at the Anna Center. "Sisters" is not just a name - it is a philosophy, our principle of help is a circle of support. This is a special position in counseling, when the equal helps the equal. There is, for example, a position “from above”, parental, when a consultant looks at a person as something that he must investigate and explain, distributes directives without asking what the person feels and what state he is in. Equal position means following a person, supporting her or his choice, respecting her or his feelings. This is especially true for victims of sexualized violence.

About areas of work

I really enjoyed working: the atmosphere of sisterhood was preserved and strengthened. We began to develop another direction - to train other specialists, conduct trainings for young people and everyone who is interested in the problem of sexualized violence.While remaining a consultant, I also began to coordinate educational programs. It was necessary to come up with a lot of trainings - we did them on the basis of what I went through myself. Then our director changed. At the general meeting, we chose Masha Mokhova, and she asked me to become her deputy. So, while remaining a consultant and coordinator, I also became a deputy director.

There was also a systemic crisis in the organization - we had to reconsider the ways and possibilities of its existence. Several years ago, the political situation changed dramatically, many opportunities for funding from abroad, through grants, were closed. It was very difficult to receive government grants - we were lucky for two years, but dependence on them creates a very unstable and unstable situation. I have a feeling that the priorities of donors are changing and you need to change your activities to suit them - and by adjusting, you can lose your principles. Not to mention that grant applications are competitions, and they still have to be won. Of course, today we still have a huge need for premises and funding. I would like to expand activities, conduct more educational events and trainings for specialists, develop services to help victims - both they and society need this.

The problem of sexualized violence is social, and many social institutions are involved in its solution. First of all, these are the police, medical workers and centers like ours. It is very important that the assistance is comprehensive, and these three groups of specialists are based on general principles. Much comes from misunderstanding: the police very often say that the victims simply "want money", doctors say that "we must behave correctly."

In most cases, we are, of course, contacted by women, but we are ready to help all people who have experienced violence, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we developed comprehensive training programs for healthcare professionals. We came to the police for planning meetings and literally five minutes before everyone went to their workplaces, told who we were, asked if the workers did not feel the strength to support the victim, just not to injure her, give our phone. Our numbers hung in the police stations. Not so long ago, we were contacted and told that they had seen the number in the police - but, unfortunately, there is no such interaction as in the middle of the 2000s, due to how the situation in the country has changed. We cannot interact with the police, medical workers as before, we are denied access to schools - our training on the prevention of sexualized violence can be interpreted as prohibited sex education.

Nevertheless, we have ready-made programs for specialists in helping professions. Now, for example, we have a joint project with the Kitezh crisis center, for which we are looking for young specialists: lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and others. A lot of women's requests are connected with appeals to law enforcement agencies, since it is very difficult to bring the case to court; someone needs social support - to the courts or to investigators, they need resources for a lawyer. This is a very traumatic moment: victims have to repeatedly tell their experiences to different people, and often they face mistrust, depreciation and even blame.

It is very good if in such a situation there is a person next to them who will support - at least just sit next to them, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. The main harm of any violence is that the personal boundaries of a person collapse - in the case of sexualized violence, also the personal boundaries of the body. If in an ordinary situation people, when they feel pressure, can say “Stop”, then people who have experienced violence no longer realize, do not believe that they will be heard and stopped - because in a situation of violence they were ignored.This experience is translated into other difficult situations. And at a difficult moment, it is very important that there is a specialist nearby who, seeing her condition, can at least simply remind her how to take care of herself. This is a tremendous help in working through the trauma and it speeds up the recovery period. We are also engaged in combating human trafficking - we have a lot of materials and trainings on this topic.

Different people turn to us: women, men and teenagers. In most cases, we are, of course, contacted by women who have suffered from male violence, but we are ready to help all people who have experienced violence, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation. You can contact us by the helpline or through the crisis mail as many times as necessary, there are no restrictions. After the so-called initial appeals, the victim is entitled to three free face-to-face consultations. Now the phone works ten hours a day, but we would like all services to work twenty-four hours a day. This requires additional funds to expand the staff and provide premises. We would also like to lead support groups for the victims again, but so far we do not have enough resources for this.

About employees and burnout

Now we are about twenty-five employees and volunteers, we have a unique team. We have retained the principle that has existed since 1994, and everyone can come to the center, regardless of education - we have lawyers, cultural studies, and psychologists, there is a candidate of medical sciences. The main thing is the desire to help and share the position of the organization and our worldview. For example, we view the problem of prostitution from the point of view of sexualized violence, as a violation of human rights not to be subjected to discrimination, torture and violence, as a continuous rape - and this does not always coincide with the views of specialists. About six months ago, we announced an open recruitment of volunteers via the Internet and received a huge response, there were a lot of people willing. All kinds of women came. Usually only a few reached the end of training, but now there are twelve of them - probably this is the only set after 1994, when there were so many people left in the organization.

Recently, within our organization, the term “green attitude” has appeared - this applies to both the attitude towards ourselves and interaction with others. It is important for us to respect our employees and volunteers: the work is not easy, so we try to support each other and regulate the workload. We have different forms to support each other. It is important that the work does not occupy all the time of the consultants. We conduct supervision, support groups, do art therapy, take care of each other in every possible way. And we encourage others to take care of themselves as much as possible.

Society's Attitude Toward Violence

Unfortunately, the statistics both were and remain disappointing: from 3 to 10% of all victims who contacted us turn to law enforcement agencies. One percent of these 3-10 go to court - and this does not mean that the verdict will be guilty. This is just outrageous!

In our society, sexualized violence is very narrowly understood. There are only four articles in the criminal law, and the only form that is clearly presented there is rape, when violence is committed by a man against a woman. From our practice, we know that there are many more forms of violence, but much is not taken into account in the criminal code. These include harassment, harassment, accusation and bullying of victims, disclosure of their personal data, publication of intimate photographs, outcasts of homosexual people, and much more. According to the statistics of our organization - we confirm this fact every year, and it coincides with the international experience of human rights organizations - more than 80% of victims are faced with violence from their acquaintances.Contrary to the popular stereotype that rape is an attack in a dark alley, that it happens to women who behave and are dressed “provocatively”. But this is completely contrary to how violence is arranged: it is not a "element" - it is a decision to commit a specific action. Often, the aggressors plan a crime, carefully choose the circumstances and target of the attack. That is why, in most cases, violence occurs in a close circle, comes from people who abuse their trust. This further aggravates the consequences of violence: the world collapses and then a person can then collect himself from the rubble all his life.

Of course, I understand what the attitude of society is - psychological protection. To change the situation, you need to accept and realize the problem - which means that anyone can be a rapist, including someone from our friends and relatives. The problem is denied and the victims are blamed - this is the easiest way to transfer the vector of responsibility from those who commit the crime to the victims.

The word "sexualized" shifts the focus to violence and tells how much damage has been done - physical

and psychological

It is often said that the motive for sexualized violence is the "special needs" of the sexual plan, that a man allegedly cannot live without sex. In fact, this is a double myth: there is only one motive at the heart of any violence - power and control. The society often does not understand what violence is, and the lack of understanding is primarily associated with the adjective “sexual”. This is confusing: violence drops out of consciousness and many have their own associative array with sex, pleasure, sexual life. Even sentences mitigating the offender's guilt are based on the psychological impact of the word "sexual" - a study of the "special needs" of the rapist begins, the vector shifts from the crime to the actions and life of the victim, and her personal and sexual life is closely studied. The word "sexualized" shifts the focus to violence and tells how much damage has been done - physically and mentally.

But I see that lately the attitude of society towards violence is gradually changing and people are adequately perceiving the problem, paying more and more attention to it. We see this in the example of our organization. Since 2015, we have been collecting donations through social networks, and more than half of our organization's budget is donations from ordinary people. This means that they support the victims. If people support our activities - and we are the only organization on a national scale that deals with this kind of problems - then they strive to live without violence.


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