Russian charity offers bad advice to domestic violence vistims
A non-registered NGO women’s support charity has attracted the attention of members of the non-profit community. The charity has been involved in some dubious practices which have been reported by a journalist, Anna Povago. Anna posted information about the Solnechnogorsk-based Strela Foundation for Support to Victims of Domestic Violence on her website (there is not much content on the charity’s site, apart from a facility for transferring money). The charity also recently caught the eye of Natalya Nikiforova, organiser of the Volunteers against Violence crisis centre in St Petersburg.
“Be smarter and don’t do anything that might provoke trouble”
Natalya was alarmed to learn that while the charity claims to provide help to victims anonymously, it has published a photo of a woman seeking temporary refuge! The organisation’s social media content is pathetic, e.g. providing advice on what lipstick a woman should buy once she’s divorced!
Natalya decided to find out how the charity operates by contacting their chat room and posing as an abuse victim in need of help. She based her story on real life experiences from 10 years ago when her ex-husband started hitting her because she refused to show him messages on her ‘phone.
Natalya told ASI “I’ve experienced domestic violence so know full well what a person can go through. During a conversation with the charity’s psychologist, Irina, I went into the kitchen and burst into tears because it was as though I was hearing my mother’s voice telling me that I had broken up the family and deprived my child of her father and that I had to be smarter”.
Natalya was scathing about the charity’s psychologist, Irina Treshchinskaya, accusing her of acting unprofessionally. She had cited the example of her own happy 30-year marriage as a template for the “victim” Natalya to follow, suggesting that she shouldn’t do anything that might provoke her husband to violence. Natalya later discovered that Treshchinskaya was a beautician by profession! “If I had come to them when all this abuse was happening to me, I wouldn’t have risked asking anyone else for help – you feel worthless and believe everything’s your fault”, she said.
Natalya’s story has gained traction more widely. Commenting on Povago’s post, Alena Eltsova, Director of the Kitezh Women’s Crisis Centre, remarked that the charity could “quite easily cause irreparable harm”, adding that “domestic violence has become a high-profile issue for which people can raise money in support of victims. Women are very much affected by domestic abuse which contributes to a lowering of their self-esteem”.
This was the first the lawyer, Mary Davtyan, had heard of the charity and she called those working for it “amateurish at best and criminal at worst”. Ksenia Mishonova, Children’s Rights Commissioner for the Moscow Region, called the charity’s staff fraudsters and undertook to pass information on the charity to the organisers of the “Our Moscow Region” civic award (Strela has already applied to the Moscow Regional Governor to be considered for this prize – Ed).
Being aware that a psychologist is also a specialist
Strela’s website says that the charity’s purpose is to provide help to victims of domestic violence. According to Nikiforova, it is quite possible that the organisation’s Director, Tatyana Filipenko, and her colleagues really want to help but don’t quite know how to go about it. “Maybe it’s because they lack experience, training and understanding. But that’s no way to do things – it’s an idiotic project – just awful. It could easily cause distress to someone who goes onto their website, sees names and contact numbers and asks for help. But what happens to them afterwards?” she says.
Natalya explained how victims can build a professional relationship with a psychologist. “The first thing those working in a crisis centre need to do is establish whether there’s a real threat to a woman’s life or wellbeing. Situations can often vary: sometimes inviting a couple to a family counselling session is all that’s required, while at other times the police have to be called”.
Natalya emphasises that asking a psychologist about his/her professional background and for them to show you their qualifications is perfectly normal – any reputable specialist will understand this. A person trusts a psychologist with that most precious of things – their soul which is in need of attention, she says.
“When a psychologist starts working with a victim of domestic violence, there’s a private consultation between the two during which something needs to be done: to talk, to try and make things easier and to look at the problem from a different perspective. The work then begins in earnest – the client takes an active part, not just listening and being told what they need to do. A good psychologist will never tell you how to live your life. They won’t stand in front of you and say “I’m in charge here so you’ll do as I say”, says the expert.
If you feel your personal boundaries are being infringed (for example, being addressed by the familiar form “ti” instead of the formal “vi” without your permission) or you’re asked a question that you’re not prepared to answer, just get up and leave, says Natalya.
“If during your consultation you start feeling worse, again make your excuses and leave. It shouldn’t be like that – that’s not why you’re there. If you experience any feelings of guilt or believe you’re being blamed for the actions of others, then get up and leave – you don’t want to see a psychologist and be made to feel guilty”, says the expert.