How the Emergency Fund for Combating Domestic Violence helped dozens of families in Plovdiv and the region?
By the end of May 2020, when the lives of many families were turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic in Bulgaria, as well as all over the world, there was a huge increase in domestic violence. That is why, the Bulgarian Fund for Women initiated the Emergency Fund for Combating Domestic Violence in the conditions of COVID-19. The initiative was organized by the Bulgarian Fund for Women at the end of May in partnership with the Bulgarian Donors’ Forum and the “Bcause” Foundation.
In a little over a month, the Emergency Fund managed to raise BGN 73,192 with the help of corporate and individual donations. It was all made possible, thanks to the corporate donors – the companies Biersdorf/ NIVEA, Easy Pay, Experian Bulgaria, Melon, Progress and Foundation Luchezar Tsotsorkov, as well as thanks to the hundreds of individual donors, to whom we express our sincere gratitude!
The funds were urgently directed to crisis and counseling centers across the country, which work on the front lines and provide protection and assistance to women victims of violence and their children.
One of the organizations that received financial support from the Emergency Fund was the Foundation DA – “Gender Alternatives” from Plovdiv. The organization, established in 2011, manages several services in Plovdiv – Counseling Center for Support of Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence, Resource Center for Economic Empowerment of Women and Legal Program for Monitoring and Strategic Litigation in Defense of women and children, victims of gender-based violence.
Here is what they told us about the effects of the received funding by the Emergency Fund for Combating Domestic Violence in the conditions of COVID-19:
“Thanks to your help, 86 families were able to feed their children during a period when they were almost to give up, since there was no way out of the difficult situation in which they found themselves. 20 women received psychological, legal and social support in order to make life-changing decisions for them and their children. In addition, 20 psychological consultations were conducted to build additional parental capacity, personal skills and better child care. This is very important for the psychological growth of children in families with insufficient parental capacity.
In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of people seeking help at the FDA Advisory Center. In the context of the pandemic, people expressed the need for humanitarian support, which includes mainly food and medicine. Many of the single mothers we work with that are victims of domestic violence have lost their jobs or had to stay at home in order to care for their children who started to attend school classes remotely. Due to this changes, parents were put in a financial difficulty. That is why, the support we received from the Emergency Fund for Combating Domestic Violence in the context of COVID-19 was crucial in order to help these women to meet some of the basic household needs of their families during the pandemic. All of the beneficiaries expressed their gratitude to the Emergency Fund! Most of them shared that this support came at the right time – when they were in a complete impasse,” said the DA Foundation.
They also shared the story of a woman they had worked with in recent months and supported with some of the funds provided by the Emergency Fund. The story shows how one large family found legal aid and finally managed to find justice, so that the abuser of the whole family would stop harassing them. Here is the story. (The names of the participants in the story have been changed for security reasons).
Anastasia falls in love with a young man named Rumen and soon after their acquaintance, the two start living together in his apartment. A few months later, Rumen committed a robbery and went to prison. Surprisingly for Anastasia, it turned out that he had a criminal record and was a drug addict. When he got out of prison he called Anastasia again and managed to convince her that he had changed, that he loved her very much and that he regretted what he had done. Anastasia truly loved him and that is why, she easily took him back. The following year, they had a newborn baby and decided to move in with her parents in order to get some help from them for the baby. However, Rumen was neither taking care of his family nor working or looking for work. He only cared how to get drugs. He started harassing Anastasia and her parents and constantly asking them for money. With each passing day he became more and more aggressive. He literally lived lying all day on the couch and everyone was afraid to enter the living room so as not to provoke him in any way, since he was easily irritated.
One day Anastasia’s father told a friend, the owner of the neighborhood cafe, how difficult it was for him with his son-in-law Rumen, who was not interested in anything, did not work and took drugs. But his friend told Rumen everything and the consequences were extremely unpleasant for the family. Rumen phoned everyone in the family, while they were at work and began insulting them and threatening to “kill them all.” They did not dare to return to their home in the evening and went to spend the night in the home of Anastasia’s sister – Lilyana. Rumen continued the harassment – he smashed his parents-in-laws’ car. When Lilyana’s husband went to pick up his father-in-law’s car to prevent as much damage as possible, Rumen did not hesitate to attack him with a metal lever. In the early hours of the morning, Rumen also smashed the car of Lilyana’s husband (Anastasia’s sister). He shouted in front of the block that he would kill everyone. Lilyana’s children were terribly frightened, and her older child, who had a speech problem, began to stutter even more.
The frightened family filed complaints several times and alerted the police, but nothing happened. Everyone was disillusioned and desperate. Rumen continued to lurk, threaten and blackmail them for money. He even attacked one of their friends who was trying to prevent one of the scandals.
Finally, Anastasia’s family sought help from DA Foundation. Anastasia’s mother, went to them, extremely disillusioned and frightened. She told their story and kept repeating that Rumen was a criminal, that all the institutions “knew him well,” that they have “given up on him” and that no one could do anything to him. The mother of the perpetrator’s wife was convinced that he would kill at least one of them and no one could stop him.
The first step the foundation’s team took was to file a request for immediate protection for the woman and her family and for the family of her sister. The next step was to file complaints on their behalf to the police and the prosecutor’s office. As a result of the timely actions of experienced lawyers from DA Foundation, Rumen was detained within 24 hours, remanded in custody, charged with several accusations, and is currently in custody while waiting for his sentence.
The harassed family finally returned home. They changed the locks and continued to work and live in peace. Thanks to the good work of the specialists from the “Gender Alternatives Foundation”, Anastasia, Lilyana and their relatives finally regain their faith in the justice system and understand that the legislation works, there is a law and it is successfully implemented, as long as there are adequate and timely taken measures.
Here is what the Foundation added:
“The Emergency Fund for Combating Domestic Violence in the context of COVID-19 has enabled vulnerable social groups, with a focus on single mothers, to be informed and to protect their rights. We conducted 20 free legal and psycho-social consultations, as well as 20 consultations to improve parenting skills and to provide better care for children.
6 families of single parents or parents left without work during the pandemic received food vouchers worth BGN 100. Another 80 families in need, were supported with vouchers worth BGN 40 to buy food and sanitary materials. A total of 160 food vouchers were distributed for people from vulnerable groups. The meeting with them was also an occasion for people to express their concerns and problems and for the experts from the foundation to inform them how and where they can get help on their various issues – social, legal, financial, healthcare. “We provided them with information on the key institutions providing protection and social support and gave them the exact coordinates to seek their rights.”
The experts working in the Advisory Center of the DA Foundation share that the number of clients using the services of the center has doubled. Almost every case is associated with increased aggression and domestic violence due to being locked up at home or unemployment of one or both partners. “We believe that thanks to the campaign in the media and social networks, which was conducted by the Bulgarian Fund for Women together with the fundraising campaign of the Emergency Fund for Combating Domestic Violence, more women dared to seek help. The more the problem is made public, the more victims will have the strength and courage to reveal themselves and seek support.”
The organization from Plovdiv that helps victims of violence, summarizes: “The strongest motivation that makes us move forward is the result of the well-done work of the team and the positive result of our work when we see happiness in the eyes of our clients. Last but not least – the support and joint efforts with organizations such as the Bulgarian Fund for Women stimulates us to continue to fight”.