Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Serbian Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence Are... Scary

As we were drinking hot cocoa in a cafe in Vracar Belgrade several weeks ago, a young woman approached each table in the room to ask if they'd like to contribute toward a shelter for domestic violence victims. Turns out there is zero government funding for shelters, so naturally I was happy to chip in.

According to this recent article in SETimes.com, the lack of government funding doesn't mean there's no problem. In fact, domestic violence victims equal a stunning 30% of people killed in Serbia each year. To put that into perspective, 1% of Americans who died in 2007 were killed by domestic violence.

I immediately doubted this 30% stat upon reading it. Surely that fat round number must be inflated at least a bit. But it made me recall a conversation I had with a journalist friend a couple of years ago. He'd lived in the Balkans in the 1990s while extensively covering news there. I asked him, "What are relationships between Serbian husbands and wives like? How are they different from Americans?" "The men beat their wives," he said flatly. "Ha, ha, you're joking," I replied. "No, I'm not." Disconcerted, I switched the conversation to ask which wines he liked.

Luckily, my husband is a very enlightened man for a Serb on the feminism front. But, he'll still occasionally make remarks of the "if a woman was hit, she must have had it coming to her" variety that got Sean Connery into so much PR trouble a few years back. And he really doesn't understand why I find this so disturbing. He's pretty sure I'm naive.

Sometimes cultural differences can exciting and enlightening. Sometimes they're confusing. But, sometimes they're just scary.


tinica said...

It wasn't in the too distant past that the jugo wind and its accompanying low barometric pressure could be used as a successful defense for killing one's spouse!

tinica said...

While naturally I agree that these attitudes are scary, the SETimes link is a story about Republika Srpska, not Serbia. ?

James said...

Hi. I am hoping you could answer a question for me. A Serbian girl i know wears what appears to be a wedding band on her right hand. I understand this is the custom. However lately she often wears it on her left hand. Is there significance in shifting the ring from one hand to the other? She is Eastern Orthodox. Thank You.

Ivan K. said...

An interesting and important issue. First, I'd say that no one knows what goes on in the tens and hundreds of thousands of homes across this or any other country. We are forced to rely on our personal experiences, and the claims in surveys.

Oh - and the statistics of killed in family conflicts. But a distinction should be made between frequency of murder and a culture where beating is something normal or regular.

It's difficult to conclude, but I would be wary of two kinds of unspoken suggestions: that our anger at injustice should give us a right to be impatient with "stupid" "heartless" arguments, and that our uncertainty over the facts should make us indifferent and disinterested.

Ivan K. said...

In the linked article, the statistics is for Re4publika Srpska, and that's the Serb part of Bosnia. For Serbia, I just found these statistics (links below):

...........in Serbia in the period from 1 January 1993. to 1 July 2003, according to the records made ​​by the Ministry of Interior, 614 homicide committed within the family. Most of these crimes was recorded in 1993. year - 71, to up to 1997 - when there were 47 - showed a tendency of decrease. However, in 1998. number of murders in the family has risen to 62, in 1999, 2000, 2001. and 2002. ranges between 56 and 59 per year, which can be explained by the absence of evidence from Kosovo after 1999. which accounted for about ten percent of these crimes in Serbia. For the first six months of 2003. committed were 20......


Thus, in 2006. in Serbia killed 154 persons, indicating that there was less than one murder for every 100,000 citizens.


So it's the same proportion!

I can't resist quoting this part -

- Even if the reported number were only half of the true number of committed murders, the rate would still be lower than international standards. The only conclusion would be that the South-East Europe is one of the safest areas in the world. Of course, this does not preclude other types of crime boom - according to the study.

Anonymous said...

"Female victims of domestic violence account for more than 30% of the total number of people killed in RS."

1. 73.9823% of all statistics is made up.
2. The article talks about Republica Srpska, not Serbia. No mention of whether these women were Muslim or not (cultural and religious differences play a big role and should not be overlooked).
3. There is no source quoted for where the stats came from.

Domestic violence is a huge problem. Across the world. In some regions it's a more obvious problem. 30%, however, is a scarily HUGE number. I would second-guess this number especially since "official statistics on incidents of domestic violence in Serbia have not been gathered by the state, making it difficult to assess the extent of the problem" (http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4a7040adc.html)


"One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime."

"In 1992, the American Medical Association reported that as many as 1 in 3 women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime -- 4 million in any given year."

"Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined."

That said, the level of government funding for shelters and other programs aimed at combating domestic violence in the USA is substantially larger than in Serbia. That doesn't make the situation much better though.

ana.the.serious.cat said...

Well of course it's her fault; she failed to DTMFA.

On the other hand, I bet you didn't know that the majority of murders committed by women here are of their long term spouses. Typically performed with an axe while the said husband is drifting somewhere between drunken stupor and sleep, and not unusually with the help of other members of the family, often even children.

Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

Thanks to everyone for correcting me on Republika Srpska which I mistakenly identified as Serbia. I do know better - it was a brain fart on my part.

I also think the stats are misleading and under-researched. That said, I do believe, given a variety of inputs, that domestic violence is more prevalent in Serbia than in the US, if only because it's considered a little bit more "acceptable".

Lisa Petrarca said...

Wow that is scary. As Americans, we don't realize how common this is in other countries. It's also scary that it's just so normal to people who have grown up around it.

Thanks for sharing!


Anonymous said...

Well Rosemary, mabe it is your attitude that is... scary? I take it you're entirely heterosexual and have never lived in a realtionship with a woman? If you haven't you don't know what it's like. Women can be total devils. Surely some are innocent and worthy of our sympathy, but many if not most did have a lion's part in why their husband beat them.

Many times she WANTS him to beat her, since she alone benefits from such a beating. She gets sympathy and help from everyone around, she makes the man feel guilty, and finally and not at all trivial, she reaps economic benefits from her victimhood.

I've many times heard women complain that they've been unfairly treated and never ever (according to their side of the story) were they guilty of anything! For instance, they don't get promoted at work, while their male counterpart does. And ONLY because they're women! Well, not really. If you really look into it you will see that the facts are somewhat more shaded in greys.

Perhaps she didn't get promoted for periodically coming too late? Because she doesn't master the finer points of her profession? Because she's unwilling to take on responsibility for her actions? Because she lacks in leadership?
Usually it is one or more of the above. But to confess to that would mean she'd have to change her behaviour. It's much better and more comfortable to let the world around her change instead.

So Rosemary, please cut the political correctness attitude and rather discuss from a perspective of real facts and truth.


Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

Re: "Bollinger" as many studies have shown, the "glass ceiling" whereby deserving women are not paid or promoted as well as male counterparts is well documented. I myself never received the promotions I should have in corporate America until I resigned, started my own company, and wound up doing better than the male executives at the company I had left.

Regarding domestic violence, certainly there are some sick relationships and masochistic people out there. However, in US culture and law it is never OK for anyone of either sex to physically abuse any other adult, no matter what the provocation or relationship. You will be arrested, and in my State as well as many others, you will be automatically prosecuted by the State itself in the court. You will also be automatically barred from seeing or any communication with the other person, again regardless of the relationship, for up to a period of one year.

Verbal abuse alone can also be cited as a cause for this in most States as well.

These crimes still happen, although to a lesser extent than in the Balkans, but here they are forcefully prosecuted.

No woman -- or man -- should feel unsafe in their home or intimate relations.

Ivan K. said...

Many things happen that shouldn't. The US murder rates are "appalling." Levels of state intervention into the "sanctity" of the family are unacceptable and "orwellian," - some people might say. And so on.

It so happens Serbia is bad in some other way than the US. Is *that* acceptable? I hope so.

I'm angry at the US foreign policy and the mindset that promotes it: http://www.speedygrl.com/america_big.gif

Bojan Djordjevic said...

"If you need to hit your women, you need to step your game up son"

Anonymous said...

Dear Rosemary, just love your US statistics. You have to understand tradition,family relations if you wanna comment things like this. A week ago Belgrade witnessed horrible scene in YBC center,New Belgrade high society neighborhood people saw old man chasing middle aged women. He tried to strangle her but she fight against and ran, old man pulled a pistol and shot her twice in right hand elbow area while she was running.Young guys who stood still jumped on shooter and took his gun.In minutes police arrested him. I was shocked till I heard both sides: old man was pissed off coz wife of his son was fucking around while he&son worked as a slaves(or Slaves)to make enough for decent life..Bitch came with nothing, ahh love at the first sight, these people threated her like a queen..Old man got some info on little queen, bagged her to stop doing it, not to embarrass whole family, his son..bagged once, after a year he lost nerves and mind snapped..that's usual case. Money problems make Balkan macho(I'll handle everything)man feel insecure,less man..some find comfort in alcohool, women wants a divorce and love sweet love kills us all. In a 2010 there was like 20 deaths type homicide&suicide - I loved you,bitch..Don't play games on Serb guys..at the end yo played yaself.

Doot said...


The only thing you need to understand is that there's a nasty streak of primitivism in Serbia.

If you want to call this "tradition", that's fine. I'll just rightly label your traditions primitive.

Anonymous said...

A man who hits his wife has no idea what he does to the woman they are supposed to care for.

How would you like to live day in, day out *afraid* or at least unsettled by your partner?

Imagine of your wife was the one treating you like a dog who sleeps in the backyard.

If you hit your woman then you don't deserve her because you don't see her as the living, breathing human being that she is. You see her as one of your belongings and she is not.

She is her own person and has chosen *you* to be the man she loves and cares for. Don't dirty that with your first.

If she is chasing you around the room with a frying pan then fair do's. Fight back, defend yourselves...but dont smack her around because she 'stepped out of line'

It is her marriage too. She has a right to say where the lines are drawn as much as you do.

A marriage is where you should feel safe and loved and comforted...not threatened, afraid and unsettled.

Get a grip before your wife finds a better husband who treats her properly.