Greece seeks to break wall of silence on femicide

Athens (AFP) –


The gang rape and murder of 21-year-old Eleni Topaloudi shocked Greeks so much that the country may now be turning a corner in tackling the scourge of femicide.

"They are killing us," read a banner held up by women outside a court in Athens at the start last week of the trial of the two young men accused of the crimes in November 2018.

The 20-year-old Greek and the 21-year-old Albanian allegedly lured the university student to a holiday house on the island of Rhodes and, when she refused their sexual advances, they raped and hit her savagely, inflicting serious injuries.

While she was still alive they took her to a remote rocky beach and threw her into the sea where she drowned, according to the accusations.

Topaloudi's barbaric killing put a spotlight on a long string of murders of women, many of them by their husbands or partners.

In the weeks after her death, Greek police formed a special department for cases of domestic violence.

Days after the department was set up, Citizens' Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis called for a change in the nation's mindset.

"Violence against women can happen to any family and any woman. Silence is tolerance and tolerance feeds violence," Chrysochoidis said.

"Victims are not to blame for the silence. We are going to give them their voice back", he said.

- Overcoming fear and shame -

In January 2019, a 27-year-old woman was murdered in Corfu by her father, who opposed her relationship with an Afghan man.

It was one of a dozen femicides recorded in 2019 by women's rights NGOs in Greece, a country of 10 million people.

The victims were mostly Greek women, but the case of an American tourist who was killed in Crete in July made headlines worldwide.

The body of 59-year-old Suzanne Eaton, a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute at Dresden University, was found near the city of Chania on the island nearly a week after she was last seen by friends on July 2.

A 27-year-old farmer has confessed to raping and killing the scientist before dumping her body in an abandoned World War II bunker.

In Greece, such crimes are treated as simple homicides because femicide is not covered in the penal code.

Maria Alvanou, a criminologist and lawyer who participated in a march in Athens Saturday to demand women's rights, said domestic violence is at the core of the problem.

"The cases of femicide are actually usually the result of years of domestic violence that has not been treated and has not been answered in the correct way," Alvanou told AFP.

Ioanna Rotziokou, spokeswoman for the Greek police, underscored how the new department will make it harder to hide femicide and lead to prevention.

"Its purpose is to raise awareness on the issue and to encourage the women who feared or felt ashamed to go to the police because of the patriarchal structure of the society, to just do it," Rotziokou told AFP.

- 'Destigmatisation of women' -

However, the police spokeswoman conceded that "there are still numerous incidents that are not reported by the victims".

In the last decade, Greece was hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis and women have paid a violent price, said Sissy Vovou, a feminist activist and editor of the Mov website.

"The deterioration of the household finances has multiplied the cases of domestic violence against women," Vovou said.

According to the Greek police, the number of domestic violence incidents quadrupled in Greece between 2010 and 2018, from 1,148 to 4,254.

In the four years to 2018, violent attacks have risen by 34.4 percent, with 66 percent of the victims being women.

Nevertheless, "the traditional man-woman roles have changed and the rise of complaints is mainly attributed to the destigmatisation of women who are now better informed of their rights and the means to defend them", Vovou explained.

Maria Syrengela of the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, a Greek government agency, said more needs to be done.

"Measures in the sectors of education and labor must still be taken to eliminate discrimination and reinforce women’s status in the society" she told AFP.

In Greece, women are paid on average 25 percent less than men and are the hardest hit by the unemployment that hovers around 18 percent in the country, the highest of the eurozone, according to official figures.