CYPRUS: Acid attack on Romanian woman reveals state apathy to abuse

6 mins read

Stop violence against women campaigners are in uproar after a Romanian woman was the victim of an unprecedented and horrific acid attack by her estranged Cypriot husband.

While the 40-year-old woman is fighting for her life after being attacked by her estranged husband with acid, organisations and MPs blame the state for doing nothing to protect abused women.  

 The woman suffered burns to 40% of her body – face, abdomen and legs – and remains intubated and sedated, while the following hours are crucial for her health according to doctors of the burn’s unit at Nicosia General Hospital.

Police have detained the woman’s 57-year-old Greek Cypriot husband on suspicion of attempted murder, he has reportedly admitted to the attack in Limassol.

According to the police, the incident occurred around 9:30 am Wednesday at the home of a female friend where the 40-year-old Romanian had gone to stay following a row with her husband.

Reportedly, days before the acid attack, the woman had told police her estranged husband had threatened to “burn her with acid”.

Organisations and MPs are worried that little is being done by the authorities to protect women from harassment, domestic abuse and even murder at the hands of their former or current partners.

AKEL MP Skevi Koukouma said the method of attack, the use of acid, is unprecedented for Cyprus.

“Of course, such methods are a widespread form of violence against women, especially in countries where women's rights are not protected,” said Koukouma.

“It relates first and foremost to anachronistic and medieval perceptions that the woman is treated as the property of her husband,” she added.

The AKEL MP said not much has been done to make combating gender violence a priority, either through legislation, proper management protocols or raising awareness within the society.

She added that a total of 37 women in Cyprus have been murdered since 2000, the majority were killed at the hands of their current partner, ex-spouse or companion.

“Meanwhile in Europe, 50 women each week are being murdered by their current or former life companion.”

"Worldwide, 137 women are killed on average by a former or current spouse or companion," she added.

Koukouma said that as a society, Cyprus has hardly taken any steps to prevent violence against women, noting that the matter forced its way on the government agenda after the recent serial killings.

Prompted by the murders of 5 foreign women and two of their children at the hands of a convicted serial killer, AKEL MPs Koukouma, Evanthia Savva and Irene Charalambides tabled the issue for discussion in parliament in September.

The Association for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (SPAVO) said that incidents of domestic violence are increasing at a worrying pace.

SPAVO director Andri Andronikou told the Financial Mirror that these kinds of attacks are gender-based violence and usually the attackers are former spouses and partners, carried out after a series of acts of violence within the family.

She explained that this is a tactic perpetrators pursue to shift their responsibility.

“The motives vary but most are based on the need to maintain control over a woman's life, jealousy and revenge can also lead to torture and the death of women”.

Andronikou said her association in 2017 handled a total of 1,680 abuses cases, reported to them, an increase of 45% compared to 2016.

Throughout 2018 their hotline 1440 received 12,833 distress calls either from the victims of domestic violence or from family or neighbours.

“Of all the cases, however, 548 were new cases, while 215 cases sought refuge,” said Andronikou.

Some 85% of victims of domestic violence are women. The abuse comes in many forms such as psychological, economic, physical or sexual.

“The most dangerous form of violence against women is femicide. And we insist on using this term. Femicide is motivated by sexist motives.”

Andronikou said the term "femicide" is found in international bibliography and has been adopted by both the UN and EU.

“It is a deeply political term and in essence, the same term stimulates a cultural change.”

“The common element between women who are murdered is that, in one way or another, they have broken the patriarchal boundaries and conditions they were ‘supposed’ to serve”.

Andronikou argued it is paramount that femicides are distinguished from other types of murders, while the state will need to work towards cultivating a society free from sexist stereotypes and exhibit zero tolerance towards abuse of women.

She called on the state to create the infrastructure needed not only to protect women from such attacks but also to help victims.