“When a man beats a woman for the hundredth time, something happens to him. He starts jonesing for it,” says Lali, who has fled Abkhazia to hide from her abusive husband.
I met Lali (her name has been changed) in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She, her son and daughter are currently living with four other women and their children in a three-room apartment in suburbs of Tbilisi.
Career in Gali
In her mid to late thirties now, Lali was born in Kakheti, but spent her childhood and teenage years in Zugdidi, where her mother lives. She has been dancing since childhood, and later became a choreographer.
About twelve years ago, she accepted a well-paid choreographer position in Abkhazia and moved to Gali, where she took up a career. “Whenever Sukhumi had official guests from Russia, my girls were there, as Abkhazia’s calling card. We also performed abroad – went to Egypt, Turkey, were planning to go to Italy,” Lali remembers.
She was one of the choreographers at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. “We worked like crazy, from seven in the morning until midnight or even four in the morning. And I swear, for everything that I did there I’ve paid with my own blood at home,” continues the woman.
Injured her unborn child
Behind her successful career was a personal hell.
Lali’s troubles started when she married a local man, who never worked a day in his life. Her husband, Lali tells us, has been in jail twice, was a heavy gambler, and was trying to live a life of a thug: “His idea of life was ten lovers and criminal friends. He was stealing things and money from me, was constantly telling me about women that he had been with.”
Lali was the sole breadwinner for the family, and the only parent who took care of her two children. But even that was not good enough for her husband. He was beating her almost every time when he was drunk: “He used everything he could lay his hands on, from home appliances to firewood. See – I don’t have front teeth. It took six months for my deformed jaw to heal.”
“When I was seven months pregnant with my second child, he battered me so badly, I thought my baby would die inside of me. He was born with eye defects,” Lali slowly continues, as if she was telling someone else’s story. Recently he started hitting her even when he was sober, she adds.
Lali never went to police. She says that she would have had, if she was thinking about a divorce, but she never did. “I had my job, my career, my home, my children there,” she explains.
The police offered to run away
But one day in last November everything changed.
Her husband kicked his eleven year old daughter in the stomach, because her jacket was unzipped. The girl flew across the room and hit the back of her head to a shelf’s corner. “Blood was everywhere, I ran out with her to a medical center across the street. Luckily, doctors there said that she will survive,” tells Lali.
After, she hurried back home to take her son with her to the hospital to her daughter. And then her husband came after her: “Vaime, what he did to me…There was not a single organ in my body left unturned, my lungs moved down six millimeters…At some point, I blacked out…If there is a next life, I will remember it even then.”
Lali’s neighbors hear her son’s screams for help and managed to rescue her. Her husband stormed away, and she called police immediately. But when police came, they told her that they can not do anything, because she is not Abkhazian or Russian citizen. They offered to bring her to the Georgian-Abkhazian border line, as leaving her home was the only option for her.
“I said – thank you, but I will go by myself. So I left with my children,” continues Lali. She came to Tbilisi and now she lives in a shelter for domestic violence victims already for five months.
New life in Tbilisi
Her husband continues to call her and the children, and is convinced that she has left him for someone else. His aunt also tries to convince Lali, that she should forgive him and get back together, because ‘they are husband and wife’. But this time the woman is sure – there is no way back: “There is something in life, that is unspeakable and unforgivable. It is something that you can neither spit out, nor swallow, it will be in you forever, no matter what you do.”
Lali has already found a job as a choreographer in Tbilisi, her older daughter goes to school here, and she hopes to get her own apartment soon. “Five months ago, I was in Abkhazia, planning our dance group’s trip to Italy. And now, here I am – in this apartment in Tbilisi, starting everything anew,” she sadly smiles.
Lali adds, that she knows, that her husband will never be punished for what he did to her: “he will walk free, because he didn’t kill me.”
Domestic violence still is a silent problem
She is just one of hundreds of millions of women, who suffer from abusive partners, husbands and other family members.
According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide, who have been in a relationship, report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. Globally, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by their intimate partner.
In Georgia, every third woman has experienced physical or psychological violence in their families, and one out of eleven women has been a victim of physical abuse. But still, it is generally thought that domestic violence is a private issue, which should not be discussed outside of the family. 78 percent of women support this idea, thus almost 30 percent of victims do not apply for help, as they feel too ashamed, embarrassed or afraid.