Photo: Ion Buga

After nearly 20 years of marriage wasted in beatings and humiliations, Maria*, a woman from a town in the south of the country, decided to leave her abusive husband. Now she's building a new life with her four daughters. On her way to freedom, she was helped by the employees of the Rehabilitation Center for Survivors of Violence, founded in Gagauzia region with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Moldova.

Maria met her future husband when she was 15 and he was almost 22. By the time she turned 16, they had been already living together. They formalized their relationship after their first child was born. She wanted a happy family, but her dreams were ruined with the first beating. It happened shortly after she had moved into her husband's house, and ever since, acts of violence had repeated frequently, even when Maria was pregnant.

At first, after each violent episode, she would leave home to find refuge at her parents. She would then come back, surrendering to her man's supplications, hoping for the things to change. Hopes would ruin again and again, because her husband would soon forget his promises and resume the beating.

Later, with already four daughters, she stopped seeking refuge at her mother's. "It was a shame," the woman says. Thus, all five would find shelter at their neighbors', in abandoned houses or simply would wait outside until the man's anger lessened.

She did not have many opportunities to find a job between her four pregnancies, especially after her third child, who was born with severe disabilities. Thus, at times, children’ benefits were the only source of income for the family – a modest amount and a trigger for quarrels. She was beaten, the woman says, because she used the money to buy diapers and baby food, while her husband wanted to go to the bar or buy cigarettes.

While she was married, Maria filed six reports at the police, and her husband would get just as many contravention offences filed and hours of community service. "He would go, do his work hours, promise to change his behavior, but then he would forget and start beating me and scaring the children again."

Conflicts escalated eighteen months ago, when the family moved in at her husband's parents'. Since then, the woman has been morally and physically abused not only by her spouse, but also by her mother-in-law.

She got a job at a factory where she worked on two lathes simultaneously, eight hours a day, to earn some extra money. "I would come home exhausted, and that is when the quarrels and fights would begin."

She reached the end of her powers and asked for help only when she was beaten and left with her youngest daughters on a street in a neighboring village, where they went to visit their relatives, in the middle of the night.

"They just pulled me out of the car, turned around and were off. I was left alone with two kids. I waited about an hour, I thought they were coming back, at least for the sake of the girls, but they did not," the woman says.

The rescue came from the Rehabilitation Center for the Survivors of Violence

She called 112, and soon she was brought to the Rehabilitation Center for the Survivors of Violence in Gagauzia. The institution has been operating since the end of 2020, opened with the support of UNDP. At the Center, Maria received emergency assistance and filed a complaint with the police against her husband and mother-in-law. The police also helped her take her two other daughters to the Center; at the time of the incident, they were at the parents-in-law's place.

Like all women who need a shelter to protect them from violence, Maria was offered a room, which is furnished and equipped with everything necessary for a comfortable living with her children. They were given clothes and meal vouchers for each member of the family, which they could use to buy products from the local store to prepare food in the Center’s kitchen.

The woman lived for a whole month in the institution: she went to work every day, while the bigger girls took care of the little ones, learning and spending time together in the beautifully arranged games room, or outside on the campus of the Center.  

In parallel, both Maria and her daughters received psychological assistance to overcome the trauma. With the help of the lawyer from the Center, the woman settled the issue with the division of property and regained the furniture and household appliances she had bought through her hard work. The same lawyer will help Maria solve the problem of the 60,000 MDL loan, which she had contracted to install a heating system at her in-laws' and for which she has to pay 1,500 MDL a month, which is considerable for her.

Now, almost two months after leaving the Center, Maria's life seems to have come back to normality. She has moved into her parents' house: while at the Center, she managed to repair and furnish two rooms. She has transferred her three youngest girls to the local school, and the biggest one studies at a medical college.

Although she has serious health problems caused, according to her, by her husband's beatings, the woman is confident that she will be able to educate her four children with dignity and will have a quiet life.

Even though she knew about the existence of the Rehabilitation Center, Maria says she never thought she would get there.

"This is so usual; women are silent and patient. Some lose their health, and others lose their life. They ever hope that maybe he'll change, maybe he won't hit me again, maybe everything will be fine. There are many families where women live with this vain hope."

At the age of 35, Maria regrets only one thing – that she has not gone to college, that she does not have a profession. "If I could turn back time and talk to myself, to the one who got married at 16, I would tell her not to rush - learn first, invest more in knowledge. You can get married anytime, but you must have a profession, be in control of your own life. I do believe that education can help women. We live in the twenty-first century, where you cannot move forward without knowledge," she says.

Although Maria has left the Center, its specialists will monitor her situation for at least another year, Alexandra Hadji, Case Manager, tells us:

"Once a week I talk to her on the phone to see if she has any problems and if so, how I can help her. She will still need assistance of a psychologist, a lawyer, so we continue our intervention, but now from a distance".  

The Rehabilitation Center for the Survivors of Violence is in a two-stored building of about 500 sq. meters, which has been fully renovated. The institution can simultaneously accommodate up to 20 people, women, and children.

There is a community center on the ground floor, for women and men from vulnerable groups, as well as for people in need of counseling or support.

"Any resident of the Gagauzia region who witnesses a case of violence can report to us at any time. We intervene promptly to accommodate women and provide them with support and counselling during crisis. We find that in some cases women are exposed not only to the violence of their spouses/partners, but some are also abused by other family members, such as mother-in-law or father-in-law. Similarly, apart from physical violence, we witness also economic and psychological violence," says Svetlana Gheorghieva, Director of the Center.

The Center was opened in the framework of the "Addressing violence against women in the Republic Of Moldova: exploring and learning from local solutions" project. It is part of the global UNDP initiative to eliminate gender-based violence and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to prevent large-scale violence and attract new partners, strategies, and funding sources. The project is implemented in the Republic of Moldova and six other countries – Bhutan, Lebanon, Indonesia, Iraq, Peru, and Uganda.

* name was changed, to protect her identity

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