In 2014, an 18-year-old girl was gang-raped by seven boys in the eastern Romanian village of Vaslui. Despite the fact that three of the perpetrators admitted to the crime, a court in the village released the boys citing the fact that it was their first offence. They were not, according to the court, deemed a danger to society.
The case shocked public opinion in Romania, casting a shameful light on a culture of gender discrimination and violence.
According to The Association for Liberty and Equality of Gender (ALEG), 24 per cent of Romanian women have suffered from partner violence and 14 per cent were exposed to violence by a non-partner. Women have little access to specialised services and figures suggest that less than one per cent of offenders are punished.
Survivors feel intimidated by family and the police into not reporting crimes, while girls who do report assault are often stigmatised. The problem for survivors is compounded by the lack of support services available to them.
ALEG works to tackle the core of the problem through lobbying and advocacy while offering direct support to the victims of violence and abuse. ALEG provides information, psychological counselling as well as social and legal support. In response to requests from survivors, ALEG set up an online counselling platform on its website where girls can discuss their concerns anonymously.
Thanks to ALEG, survivors have reported gaining a better understanding of their rights and about the different forms, causes and effects of abuse. The organisation helps survivors overcome feelings of guilt and shame and offers much needed support in navigating the justice system by offering legal representation.
ALEG also runs educational projects on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as the Gender Equality Festival, a yearly gathering aimed at campaigning against gender stereotyping in Romania.
ALEG was invited to work with the Ministry of Justice and the National Agency for Equal Opportunities to help improve legislation on gender discrimination. The organisation has helped 1,431 people so far, more than 60 per cent of which are girls.
Photos: Ioana Cirlig