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Judges in Armenia Should Focus On the Abuser, Not Blame the Victim

In her article, titled “Unethical Questions of Judges to Domestic Violence Victim,” founding director of “Women’s Support Center” NGO Maro Matosian talks about the trial of domestic violence victim Hasmik Khachatryan's case. 

– It has been noted many times that judges and lawyers in Armenia have no training nor understanding of the specificity of domestic violence cases, and this hinders, even more so, the outcome of the trials in the detriment to the victim. This has been amply observed at the last hearing in the case of Hasmik Khachatryan on March 17, 2015.  

When a victim of DV is on trial, or even when a social worker or a psychologist works with her, it is imperative that she is not doubly victimized.  Yet, the three judges, Ruzanna Barseghyan, Sergei Chichyan, and Gagik Avetisyan, have asked the exact kind of questions that victimized Hasmik once again, as if wanting to make her guilty of not leaving an abusive relationship. Hasmik was repeatedly asked by the judges:  “Why didn’t you leave him earlier?”; “Did anyone tie your hands forcing you to stay?”;  “Did you want to stay in such a relationship just for a piece of bread?”. Such questions are demeaning and derogatory, not befitting of a judge. 

For the past fifty years domestic violence has been researched and studied by psychologists and social workers, and now those knowledgeable in the field follow internationally approved methodology in dealing with DV cases.  Unfortunately, there has not been proper training in Armenia for this field to be understood. So, why is it wrong to ask such questions?

In a domestic violence situation, the reasons for women not to leave the husband are manifold: fear, emotional and financial dependency, economic reasons, no place to go or live, shame, fear or reprisals, threats by husband to take away kids, to kill her or her family members…no money to leave and no place to go. 

Furthermore, a woman always hopes that her marriage could be saved, and she tolerates the abuse year after year, in hope that things would change.  The abuser usually isolates the victim.  In Hasmik’s case, she was not allowed to do anything without the husband’s permission; not even go to the doctor to treat her injuries.  This isolation leaves the victim with no place to turn for help.

Often, in Armenia women are tormented by what “people would say”, the shame of leaving  the husband – even an abusive one. The stigmas put on her – that she neglects the children, that she is a loose woman – can be devastating, even more so for women from the regions.  

Studies around the globe have shown that abuse has the psychological effects of trauma on a person. This leads to the person getting depressed, having feelings of immobility, being unable of making decisions or seeing a way out. As a coping mechanism, the victim gets used to the abuse until their life or that of their children is in danger. When Hasmik came to the “Women’s Support Center” she was in a depressive state. Months of rehabilitation and psychological counseling dissipated the effects of trauma caused by her husband. 

In Armenia, only recently a shelter to women whose life is in danger and centers where they are understood instead of being blamed has been offered. That is what saved Hasmik's life – having a place to go to where the abuser, and not the victim, must take all the blame and punishment for abusing another person. Why didn't the judges ask: “Was Sargis a good husband?”;  “Did he ever work?”; “Was he taking care of his family?”; “Was he a good father figure, having a mistress, drinking and beating the mother of his children, exposing the children to psychological trauma?”  Why didn't the judges focus on the abuser?  Who are they protecting?  A man like Hasmik’s abuser, who cannot control his violent behavior and is now in jail for attacking his own parents, is obviously the person to carry the blame and not his victim, Hasmik.  

Any person has the right to make their own decisions, to live a life free of abuse and threats.  Perhaps this article can enlighten the three judges, Ruzanna Barseghyan, Sergei Chichyan, and Gagik Avetisyan,  so they may focus their attention on the abuser and not blame the victim, who has already suffered enough physical and psychological damage.