|Years old:||I am 34|
A few years ago, I was at a bar with a friend talking about a trip I had taken with my boyfriend, easily identifiable as a foreigner by his name.
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While this certainly pales by comparison to watching your beloved being beaten up by Bulgarian men in the street simply for being a foreigner, I still remember feeling chilled by the fact that a man who did not know my name, let alone anything about me as a person, found it within his rights to judge my choice of partner. Indeed, some of the most serious hate crimes in recent years in Sofia have targeted dark-skinned men in the company of their Bulgarian wives or girlfriends.
Fairer above all in judgement, life choices and ultimately capacity to be independent actors of their own lives. To mention just one among many shocking cases in recent years, a girl was splashed with five litres of paint by her ex-boyfriend and his friends, who also filmed the attack and posted the footage online.
She barely survived this monstrous act of violence, suffering severe burns, damaged eyesight and deep psychological trauma. The perpetrators, by contrast, were charged with hooliganism and sentenced to fines of around euros [1, leva]. The victim was not even spared the circulation of the horrifying footage by media outlets. Valev reappeared in the news recently, accused of systematically battering his girlfriend who has reportedly been in and out of hospital many times. Well, when affection is not reciprocated but forced on the object of affection, we all know what the proper term for that is.
The attacks against women in Cologne during the New Year celebrations stirred yet another wave of macho xenophobia in Bulgaria. Public intellectuals and even jurists jumped on the bandwagon and embraced this rhetoric of tribal self-defence, criticising the German government, police and media for doing their job by launching a criminal investigation into the attacks rather than engaging in xenophobic purges of migrants. Then something unexpected happened.
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Social media brimmed with angry s from women of home-grown male disrespect and of the violence they have endured or witnessed. Maybe some perceive it to be educational — learning your place in your community from early on. In primary school, this place is your desk.
The prospect of sexual assault hovered in my mind as a dark cloud at every stage of my youth. In primary school, it was groping inside the school, then the occasional slap on the backside by a boy my age on the street. By the age of 12, when I was still playing with dolls and Lego, I had already learnt to cross the street pre-emptively each time I saw a group of boys walking towards me in broad daylight.
As a teenager, I lived with the constant panic that I would be raped eventually — which happened to several of my close friends. I often dwelled on this horrifying prospect and tried Sex with Bulgaria man convince myself that if it came to it, I would have to survive it, that I should not allow a monster take away my will and right to keep on living.
Meanwhile, I learnt to be on alert at all times, fully aware that this might not be enough. At university, I learnt to ignore catcalls from all-male groups hanging out in bars.
Yet it always astonished me how much rage was unleashed by my passive reaction — just walking on without a blink, not hastening my pace, not turning around, not looking Sex with Bulgaria man over my shoulder.
Not responding in any way verbally or bodily — thus not showing fear or respect for their incontestable male dominance. The recollections of such everyday abuse — and much worse — shared by Bulgarian women after the surge in machismo that followed the Cologne attacks passed unnoticed by the media. And the chance for an open debate that for too long has been urgent yet absent was lost. After all, it is far easier to pass judgement on societies you are unfamiliar with than to look into your own and admit responsibility for its ills.
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In Bulgaria, as elsewhere, sexual violence is a terrifying reality for an astonishingly high percentage of women and yet it remains invisible as it is rarely reported. As long as it remains unreported, it is not a societal problem — and as long as it is not discussed and tackled as a societal problem, it will remain largely unreported.
And hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian women will go through its horrors on their own.
As if there could be anything intimate about violence, be it domestic or not. Crime becomes our social responsibility when we cultivate public attitudes and cultural norms of acceptability.
In this, the political elite, the mass media and society at large bear responsibility for reinforcing patterns of crime and hate by not condemning them outright. Street of Bulgarian capital Sofia. Photo: Ulitsa Ignatiev. Flickr A few years ago, I was at a bar with a friend talking about a trip I had taken with my boyfriend, easily identifiable as a foreigner by his name. Home-grown sexual violence Then something unexpected happened. Human Rights. Follow us. Published by BIRN.