Oslaidys Velázquez (37) came to think that she would never live in an atmosphere of happiness. She had been abused by her father when she was a little girl and, more recently, by her husband.
She was often yelled at, pushed and slapped in front of their children. She got divorced and found an apparently supportive man who soon asked her not to go out of the house.
«I was really overwhelmed,» she told SEMlac. «I finally found support at the Christian Reflection and Dialogue Center (CCRD) in Cárdenas, a municipality in Matanzas province, 150 kilometers east of Havana,» she added.
«I had even thought about committing suicide,» she confessed.
«CCRD-promoted group- and psycho-therapy made me realize that I was not to blame and helped me become a community activist,» she stressed.
«I learnt that there is both physical and psychological violence, and that professional support is necessary to overcome such a situation,» she commented.
Specialized care for gender violence victims
CCRD has been providing these services for three years now in a country where most actions focus on prevention.
«We currently have two full-time psychologists and one part-time psychiatrist who see all kinds of people, with the support of social institutions in charge of family conflicts,» said project manager Valia Solís.
Out of 591 people seen so far this year, 43 percent were women, including nine whose cases had to be taken to court. In 2013, a total of 802 people received individual and/or group therapy.
«There is a need for victim care providers to get properly trained,» she emphasized.
«Acts of violence are often silenced because women see them as part of their lives and men are somehow educated to reproduce them,» said María C. Pérez, a psychiatrist with 27 years of professional experience.
«These acts negatively affect not only the victims, but also their families and social environment,» she remarked.
She underscored the need to formulate comprehensive strategies, especially for the training of experts, the implementation of awareness-raising campaigns, and the dissemination of information about legal remedies.
CCRD founder Raimundo García told SEMlac that women have traditionally been treated as mere objects.
«Against this background, we provide them with psychological support and implement training actions that make special emphasis on cultural causes that have to do with unequal power relations between men and women,» he added.
«Last year, we organized workshops on gender and violence at eight rural communities. They were intended for religious leaders, government officials and ordinary people, including women and youth, and were supported by international agencies and non-governmental organizations,» he recalled.
«We are planning to open a shelter for abused women,» CCRD director Rita García told SEMlac.
«The idea behind our work is to increase women’s self-esteem and get them trained to support themselves and their families,» she concluded.