Jagoda Gulewicz (27), Psychologist, the Center for Women’s Rights in Wroclaw, Poland
Many women I meet as a psychologist and primary contact at the Center for Women’s Rights here in Wrocław are confused. They know something isn’t right, but are unsure what it is: What’s happening to me, am I going crazy? They do not immediately see that they are victims of violence. We are here to answer their questions and inform them of their rights. Education about women’s rights and their decision-making skills is also very important. Especially now, because in Poland women’s rights are becoming more and more restricted.
We notice that many Polish women are sexually abused. Last week alone, we received seven notifications. I also try to see something positive in that: more and more women know that they can come to us for help. Women who approach us are insecure. They can’t talk about it with anyone around them. After all, very often the perpetrator comes from their immediate environment. That’s why it’s so hard for them to name him, to say ‘my husband did something to me’ or ‘my father, my uncle…’ It’s much easier to name a stranger as the perpetrator. But it often concerns relatives or people close to the family.
Women are also confronted with prejudice: were you not dressed too sexy, did you not ask for it, do not exaggerate, why did you not sound the alarm earlier
It’s terrible to put yourself in the position of the woman who was raped. You can say: quickly report to the police. But it’s not that simple. Because then you also have to tell who raped you. And imagine that he is your husband or father. Will you ever be able to face him again, once you’ve filed a report? Women are also confronted with prejudice: were you not dressed too sexy, did you not ask for it, do not exaggerate, why did you not sound the alarm earlier, rape in marriage is not possible. That makes the already confused women even more doubtful. Am I doing the right thing by seeking help? Didn’t I bring it on myself? We make it clear to women that there is never an excuse for rape. We tell them their rights and what next steps are possible. The psychological help and support are vital, so that women know that they are not alone. Only when women regain their strength can they take legal action, such as filing a report. But to be honest, there is still a lot to gain legally. We recently had a situation where the rape was not proven, because the woman ‘had not defended herself’. But psychologically there is not one reaction to danger: you can fight, but you can also ‘freeze’ for your life in fear. Unfortunately, this is not included in the lawsuit.
Yes, I myself took part in the women’s protests here in Wroclaw and in Warsaw. The aggression was very strong there. I was just scared. Men with strongly nationalistic views walked along. You couldn’t see them very well in the crowd, especially since it was already dark. They suddenly started beating others. There were families with children, including prams. Fireworks were set off. When people say that protesting women are not women, they indirectly give permission to beat women. And women have indeed been mistreated during the protests. Here in Wroclaw, the police intervened. But in Warsaw you could not always count on the police. The protest was not without risk. I was scared, but we kept walking and didn’t give up. I can scream during the protests and I know why I’m there. But I don’t have the strength to keep screaming and arguing with people who have a different opinion at all times of my life. I don’t get involved in that ping pong with words and opinions. Sometimes I feel that I am seen as incompetent because I am a woman. Very often I am judged by my appearance: ‘Hey, have a laugh. You are beautiful’. Yeah so? I don’t have to laugh anyway, because I’m beautiful. That is so embedded in our culture. A Polish woman should be sweet and kind, interfering only in the education of children. An angry and aggressive woman is ‘crazy’, an angry and aggressive man is a ‘macho’.
I try not to take my work into my private life. If I had to form an opinion about men based on most experiences of the women I meet professionally, I would hate men. I do not want that, because there were men calling us who wanted to help their friend, sister, mother, etc. I have a supportive partner and good male friends. I try not to forget that. Especially not when I’m working. Because sometimes the partners of the women we guide call here. That’s terrifying. There are times when I leave this building and am scared. I know that not all men are violent towards women, but I do notice that my view of men has changed. I have to do my best not to overdo it.