Call volume to a domestic-violence hotline in Turkey has doubled since International Women’s Day on March 8, when various activities were held to raise awareness about the problem amid a growing number of murders of women.
“There has been a considerable rise in the number of calls we have received in the last few days, after Women’s Day. I can say that it has doubled, and their intensity got higher in terms of [people reporting] a vital threat,” a psychologist working at the No! To Domestic Violence hotline told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review recently.
The psychologist, who asked to be identified only by her first name of Sevgi, shared some of the harrowing stories fielded by the 24-hour hotline, which was launched four years ago by daily Hürriyet. Though many callers receive help in finding a safe place to stay, acquiring legal information and getting psychological treatment, others face situations that are difficult to solve.
“Just recently, the boss of a woman who had divorced her violent husband called. Even though she had changed houses three times so that [the husband] would lose track of her, he kept finding her, gaining entry to the house and attacking her,” Sevgi said. “In such cases, we advise that the women change cities, or if they have the financial means, even move to a different country.”
The most difficult part of working at the hotline is being able to sustain healthy communication with the callers, said the psychologist, explaining that someone who is experiencing trauma may have difficulty processing everything they are told. But even in the hardest cases, women who call the hotline benefit from being able to talk in a safe and anonymous environment about what they have gone through, she added.
“Another case I dealt with recently concerned the relationship between a woman and her son, a mentally disturbed drug addict,” Sevgi said. “The son comes to the house and beats the mother regularly. As the situation has reached serious dimensions, the mother has agreed to call the police despite the emotional bond with her son. In a case like this, we ask the mother if the son will agree to get treatment. If not, there are legal ways to have it ordered with the help of a judge,”
Economic hardship a root cause
Reports of domestic violence have been on the rise in part because of economic hardship, according to Sevgi. “When people come to a place where they cannot make ends meet, their psychological state deteriorates and they become more prone to violence,” the psychologist said, explaining that abuse can take the forms of physical, psychological or sexual violence, or a combination of two or all three.
Violent incidents have not necessarily increased, but only become more visible, said another female psychologist working at the hotline, who preferred to use the assumed name Burcu. “The issue was heavily discussed because it was Women’s Day. Soon, it will be forgotten. When the issue comes back on the agenda two years later, people will say there has been a rise,” she told the Daily News.
“I was not anticipating a decrease in calls, instead I was predicting an increase as people have become more aware of the problem with the posters all around for Women’s Day,” Sevgi added.
Making women aware of the help available
Nine psychologists and a lawyer, with combined expertise in different areas such as trauma, rape and suicide, work in shifts to staff the hotline around the clock.
“First we try to understand what the caller actually needs because we do not want to force something on her that she does not need. But most of the time these women are unaware of the help services they can receive from the Social Services and Child Protection Agency, such as help with rent and aid for their children,” said Burcu. She said many women are ignorant about such things because men have kept them from learning their rights so they cannot advocate for themselves.
“Women are prevented by men from learning their rights,” she said. “When they divorce, they think their children will be given to the father because they are not working. But this is not the case. However, this idea has been imposed on women for many years as if it was reality.”
Between Oct. 15, 2007, and March 1, 2011, the help center received 24,629 calls and gave support to 11,196 people, who have called from 78 Turkish provinces and 13 different countries. Depending on the situation, a call can last from between five minutes to many hours.
“When I pick up the phone, the caller might say, ‘I would like to go to a women’s shelter,’ and hang up in five minutes. With others we might talk for an hour and follow the case for days,” Burcu said. “These women usually call at the last stage where they cannot bear it anymore.”
The psychologists working at the hotline receive training in how to act promptly in offering solutions and are also monitored to see how they are influenced as individuals by the incidents they deal with and how they can protect themselves from the negative side effects of the job.
“Yes, we are also influenced by the cases; we accompany a woman’s emotions at the moment we talk with her on the phone. But when we hang up, we have to focus on the next call,” Burcu said. “We do not have the luxury to be emotional. But we regularly participate in group sessions where we try to get rid of these repressed emotions.”