By Lindsey Muscat
Lindsey has a raw conversation with Krista Tabone, director of Victim Support Malta (VSM), on the epidemic that is abuse.
Protest signs rose, crowds roared, household names wore black and victims stepped out of the shadows. Seven months ago, Alyssa Milano tweeted #MeToo in response to the Harvey Weinstein allegations and just like that, the Me Too movement was born. A two-word, five-letter phrase put sexual harassment and abuse on the agenda in a matter of days. In fact, within a week, the hashtag had already been tweeted over 1.7 million times. The Me Too movement reiterates the out-turn a single individual can have on the entirety of society, the shift a brave confession can trigger within a nation…
The whirlwinds of harassment and abuse are hard to keep track of, as most cases go unreported due to emotions of fear and shame experienced by their victims. In 2017 alone, 1,257 reports of domestic abuse were reported nationally, making domestic violence the third most reported crime in Malta. Just like Alyssa Milano and the Me Too Movement, Victim Support Malta seeks to provide assistance and support to people who have fallen victim to the claws of abuse (amongst other crimes, such as; fraud, thievery, or violence).
Sitting down in the VSM office, my eyes met the numerous rough drawings and thank you cards that hung on the office cork board. The blue couch and cosy premises exhaled an aura of comfort and security. As I sat back in the comfort of my seat, waiting for Krista to see me in, I could not help but empathise with the refugees that had sat in the same spot just days before. The thought snapped me back into reality and the air soon grew heavier, as it took on a more serious tone.
Upon meeting Krista, she thwarted my misconceptions about the word ‘abuse’. “We usually refer to single occurrences as attacks. Generally we would define abuse when one party exerts some form of power and control over another. This could be done verbally, psychologically, physically, financially or sexually. If there’s a relationship in which you are engaging or avoiding behaviour because you are scared of the consequences which will be inflicted on you – it has hints of abuse, at the very least.”
Krista made it clear that no one is safe from the dark beast that is abuse. While statistics have shown that 84% of abuse cases reported last year involved female victims – no one is immune to its threat. For example, abuse can affect children and seniors who are physically unable to fight off perpetrators as well as strong adults – be it male or female. Ms. Tabone emphasised that a common stereotype also correlates abuse to people who pertain to lower stratums in society. She debunked this myth, stressing that abuse is reported on a daily basis by people from all backgrounds and social standings. On that note, anyone can be a perpetrator, both knowingly or unknowingly. In fact, some cases see adults who are subjected to abuse by minors.
Victims of abuse tend to foster a recurring case of self-blame. They blame themselves for falling in love or engaging with the wrong people, they take it onto themselves to fix their ‘own mess’, and they may even go as far as doubting their own sanity. Krista deemed this behaviour to be the result of Gaslighting – a method adopted by perpetrators to make their victims warrant their situation. The abuser will start off by nipping at their victim’s self-esteem, disconnecting them from everything they once took for granted. In moments of crisis, when the victim might be tempted to exit the destructive relationship, the abuser will put the victim’s sanity into question, causing their sufferer to justify their situation and therefore stick around.
Abuse may cause its victim to feel helpless and lost – but there is always a way out. While there are several services victims of abuse can access, there are also many rights which are typically unknown to them. An abuse report can serve to advance a request for a separation or divorce should the abuse be submitted by a spouse. Alternatively, filing a report entitles a victim to a protection order which limits the abuser’s access to the victim – this ensures the defendant is a ways away from danger.
So, what can someone expect from VSM should they decide to report an abusive situation? Victim Support Malta urges anyone who is experiencing an abusive rapport to make contact with them through their phone number (2122 8333), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Facebook page (@victimsupportmalta). Once contact has been established, the network invites the victim to its quarters for an evaluation appointment. During the initial meeting, VSM assesses the situation at hand, as well as the individual’s state of being, and offers free counselling and psychotherapy sessions accordingly. Be it through court standings or emotive trauma, VSM follows each case thoroughly until the victim has regained their sense of freedom and independence.
Krista finished our encounter with a few experienced words of hope and wisdom, “it gets better. I know it seems really desolate and you’ve been convinced that there is no sunshine in life, but this is not the case! It takes a lot of time, but you’ll get stronger. There is a lot of help available – you’ll eventually build up a network of people who you will learn to trust. People who have come out of abuse are now able to live a happy and independent life, so the hope exists. You’ll get there eventually!” Whereas for me? My parting words to anyone reading this who has suffered from any type of abuse are: me too.
If you are ever fearful of your own or a significant other’s safety, we urge you to report the crime to: Appogg at 179 or Victim Support Malta at 21228333. We ask you to be understanding and kind to victims of abuse – you could be their one shot at a better future.