Last week, in Kiev, my cousin was in the residential neighbourhood of Obolon’ with a friend when it happened again – some drunk guy decided to go in for the kill, screaming obscenities and trying to cop a feel. His friend attempted to restrain him, telling him to “leave the girls alone.”
“Girls?” He screamed back. “Can’t you see they’re not girls? They’re whores!”
My cousin is a gentle soul, so when these things happen, it’s especially hard for her to deal with. She says that with the economic crisis, things are getting worse. Acting out is suddenly becoming more tolerable again. People don’t check themselves, and she said she was even surprised that this particular guy’s friend was attempting to check him. A younger woman is an especially convenient target, as when you attack an older woman, bystanders might actually think you’re doing something wrong. A younger woman, however, is attractive in one way or another, so obviously, you can write it off on her “asking for it.”
A male cousin of mine has lived in Obolon’ his entire life, and he also thinks that it’s becoming more dangerous for both men and women. In many cases, alcohol is the catalyst, or else a convenient excuse – “what can you expect from someone who’s wasted?” people mutter. The crisis also makes for a great cover – “well, he was fired, he got drunk, he can’t be held accountable.”
The concerns of the victims are at the bottom of the hierarchy here. And although the economic crisis is being used as a smokescreen right now, I distinctly remember a scene on the metro platform in the center of the city a few years back, wherein a drunk was grabbing a woman while the other men present were busy studying their shoes and/or newspapers. It took another woman to intervene for the drunk to finally get the message and wander off in search of another victim.
Bringing up this incident in the company of Ukrainian men – the reactions range from defensive outrage to weary acceptance. “Nobody wants to get into a fight on a metro platform,” or “I’m sure it didn’t really happen that way,” or “Such is life,” or “Fine, but it’s even worse in Country X or City Y.” It’s not my intention to put Ukrainian men on the spot here – I find that we all have these reactions when it comes to our homes, our territories, our neighbours, our friends, especially if we already have to fight harmful stereotypes elsewhere.
I’ll be the first to point out that what happens here is rather classic – comparatively speaking, life is difficult in Ukraine for most people, and men are usually taught that they can “take care” of their problems, or at least lessen their psychological impact, if they can find someone smaller and weaker than them and make that person feel especially weak and small.
If a woman isn’t present, another man, perhaps one who is alone, or who looks “different” in any way shape or form, will do. Children aren’t safe either. The abused grow up to become abusers, or else to perpetuate the idea that this is all somehow OK. It’s a cycle.
Obolon’ has been enjoying a quasi-renaissance in the last few years. Sure, a few truly tasteless buildings have gone up (what the HELL are those golden diamond-shaped things doing on top of the new apartment high-rises near Minskaya Station?), but a few nice ones have been built as well, not to mention a shiny new church, a boardwalk, and decent beach space. Now that the country is being rocked by another crisis, I can imagine feelings being especially bitter in this part of town.
Talking to cops over the years, you get the distinct impression that they believe that if only alcohol was made more expensive or less available, something would change. I trust their expertise – it is reported that a large percentage of violent crime in the city of Kiev has an alcohol component on way or another. But something else much change, and that is the notion that it is somehow acceptable for people to act out this way, whether sober or drunk. Believe me, if a man is sober, another excuse is quickly made up for him. Today it’s lay-offs. Yesterday it was his wife “not giving him any.” Tomorrow it will be something else.
We have to stop holding victims accountable for the actions of the perpetrators, first and foremost. My cousin was NOT at the wrong place, at the wrong time, she was at the RIGHT place, at the RIGHT time – and nobody has the right to punish her for simply being a woman out in public, or to imply that she is complicit in what occurred.
There is an old belief that God looks out for the drunkards. Who is looking out for their victims, though?