I had sued a father once, about ten years ago – but as a concerned citizen, not by any authority given to me as the Prefect for Minors. He was physically abusing both his wife and two out of his four daughters. In the end he was jailed for three years on charges of domestic abuse.
The case had never made it to my Prefecture – fear was a powerful factor. I discovered it only because the law on domestic abuse had just been voted on at the time and I was touring local schools in Kos to inform teachers and headmasters that domestic abuse is now a crime, that they can report it even anonymously and that they have the responsibility to do so.
During this time, I remember a teacher approaching me to tell me about her suspicions regarding a student, a young girl at the age of Δημοτικό, who had a broken arm. I sat down and talked to the student and she opened up and told me that it was her dad who broke her arm. After that, I approached the family.
The mother was hesitant at first, but she opened up in the end. She told me that he was beating her – always on the main part of the body, so that he does not leave a mark on the arms and legs. She also spoke about how he beat the daughters. But they didn’t want to come to the Prefecture to report it, they were scared. So I had to file a lawsuit myself, as a person.
It took me a lot of time to get them to open up. We held everyday meetings with the mother and daughters. Getting the daughter that had the broken arm to open up was more difficult than with the mother. She was more scared. The mother was held up at first, thinking “if I report the abuse and nothing happens, how am I going to live with this man afterwards?”. But at some point, she put her own fears aside and thinking about the good of the children, she decided to speak.
In general, when such incidents don’t make it to the authorities, there’s no way to intervene. There might be an advantage that small communities have over big cities. This child’s case might have been lost in Athens or Thessaloniki, but not here. Here, we all know each other.