Forbidden Voices - An event hosted by Maria Cutajar in aid of domestic violence victims

Domestic violence now ranks the second most frequent crime in Malta after theft, and it is no longer confined to being a domestic problem but rather as a problem that should be addressed and acted upon by society in general. Domestic violence is defined by the vast majority of people as physical abuse towards a woman where she is beaten black and blue mainly because of the perception that women are the weaker sex. Although that is the most common type of domestic violence, there are other aspects to this crime of which men and children can also be victims.

In this post, I am interviewing local fashion designer Maria Cutajar ahead of her upcoming event Forbidden Voices in aid of Kummissjoni Ejjew Għandi which helps rehabilitate victims of domestic violence. We will be focusing more on the local scenario rather than a European level as the proceeds from the event will be going towards a local organisation.

What do you classify as domestic violence?

For me, domestic violence is any type of violence that is verbally and physically hurting a person in the home environment.

What do you think is the most common form of domestic violence locally and what is in your opinion the underlying cause for the offender to commit the crime? Do you think that people coming from a low socio-economic background are more susceptible to domestic violence?

I think that the first kind of domestic violence that comes to mind is when a woman gets beaten up by her husband; and yes we have a lot of these cases in Malta. But as Mediterranean people, we have a lot of sense of humor which can lead us to being verbally abusive sometimes without knowing. Being violent can be the result of different causes and factors, such as drug and alcohol addiction, having a rough childhood or being neglected and unloved. I can never forgive any offender but I can I understand that maybe their situation has led them to hurt others through violence. Coming from a low socio-economic status doesn't make a difference - it's all about the upbringing of a person and life situations where pain that never healed manifests itself as aggression towards others.

A 2010 study on ‘The Prevalence of Domestic Violence Against Women’ conducted by The Commission on Domestic Violence shows that a quarter of the women interviewed, have been abused in one way or another. What do you make of this?

I think we can all admit to being sexually harassed at one point or another.  Typical scenario is walking or running in the morning trying to work out and minding our own businesses, but of course, we all had drivers passing by and cat calling us "aw koxxa", "aw sbejha" and believe me those are the more decent ones; we all heard worse. Of course this is not limited to Malta mind you, it happens all over the world. Well, men have to understand that it's not funny or sexy, and we have had enough of them! Another scenario of sexual harassment towards women is when it happens at the workplace, which I think is worse still because more often than not, we may not be in a position to do something about it. I have experienced it myself of having lower pay and also that I didn't always had the right to speak because I am a woman. These are simple cases of abuse of daily life and they are irritating and hurtful so you can all imagine how more hurtful it is when it is violence all out.

In a more recent statistical study published by the N.S.O. on the 7th March 2013, to mark the year’s dedication to end violence against women, it is stated that 77% of domestic violence victims were women. Do you reckon men can also be victims of domestic violence? What about children?

Well, this is another big issue. I think that awareness in general is quite low, and unfortunately, it is worse for men. Of course, men can be victims of domestic violence, especially of the verbal type which could be mentally and physically killing him. In my opinion, verbal violence can be much worse to because it affects a person for a long time. Unfortunately, a woman already finds it hard to speak up because she doesn't want anyone to know that she is weak, let alone a man. My suggestion is to offer a helping hand when you can and lend and ear to help victims speak up and never leave pride get in the way.

What do you think is the reason behind men refraining from reporting abuse?

Well, like I said before, I think pride is the main factor hindering men from admitting they are being domestically abused. 

Between 2009 and 2013, a total of 4102 cases have been reported. Do you think this is because there has been an increase in domestic violence or is it because victims are now plucking up the courage to report abuse?

I think more people are speaking up nowadays but also, one big question remains; how many of the reported cases were actually taken seriously and acted upon? My guess is that most of them are shockingly ignored!! For example, I think that the government should offer therapy sessions when a report is filed as a start, maybe it can be of help for a couple and maybe also the kids that find themselves in such a situation.

Do you think there is enough awareness on domestic violence? If not, what can be done to better the current situation?

I don't think there can ever be enough awareness on such a delicate matter but still, I think we are far from being fully aware of domestic violence, so I would say no, level of awareness is till very low. I have always believed in events for good causes and I for one, have done a lot of voluntary work. I think that I have finally found the cause which is most dear to me and that is of course, Domestic Violence. I plan to organize more events of the sort and will do my best to bring both my passions together - fashion and helping others,  to support Maltese associations Such as Kummissjoni Ejjew Għandi, that help people with domestic violence. Through 'Forbidden Voices', I want to bring the topic of domestic violence to light and maybe who knows, potential and existing offenders can seek therapy and ask for help. I really believe that all people can change and we all deserve second chances.

What services are offered locally to help the victims through the ordeal?

I'm not really sure as I have only been back in Malta for a few months but I intend to find out in time for another event in December.

Lastly, Forbidden Voices. What is the idea behind the event and what are the people attending to expect out of it?

Forbidden Voices is the first event of the sort for me, and my aim is to raise awareness about the topic of domestic violence first and foremost. Of course, part of the proceeds from the event will go towards Kummissjoni Ejjew Ghandi. Everyone is invited to join, Let your presence be the voice for the voiceless!

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