“Help yourself that I will help you.”
“Ayúdate que yo te ayudare”.
“The decision whether to complain is usually made in the company of others; you will most likely receive advice, suggestions, and guidance from peers as well as friends, whether welcomed or not.28 You might decide not to complain because you cannot deal with the consequences of complaint that have been made vivid to you through warnings.” (Ahmed 2021: 24)
I am a psychologist, and I work at the Women’s Secretariat, an institution created to help women who suffer or have suffered some kind of violence inside or outside their homes.
My work has to do with the “restitution” of rights that have been violated. This word causes me a lot of conflicts: Who am I to restore someone’s rights? How do you restore rights?
First of all, as civilians, we do not know our rights, just as we do not know our duties are in many cases, but if we are not even clear about this, how can we know when our rights are being violated?
In a hypothetical scenario where people know their rights, they would know when they are being violated. But even so, they would not know which routes to restore those rights. Every time a request is broken, a debt is generated. Because everyone should have access to the same rights.
With this in mind, my job is to accompany the women who contact us for help. In this scenario, I am the institution. I must activate the route to give them the legal and psychological support they need. I am an institution that helps women enter the system to achieve justice and the security that many of them are looking for.
This sounds very nice, but there are many factors against it. When a woman calls, she must explain that she must initiate a legal and psychological process. And if necessary, if her life is in danger, asylum should be sought immediately in a women’s home. These houses are temporary spaces where they can go to live with their sons and daughters in case they live with the aggressor, as happens in most cases.
After informing her of everything, I must know everything because I am also violating her if I don’t. At this moment, I feel that I am opening boxes within boxes because I must help these complaints to prosper. Still, the institution does not guarantee the professionals who work there training on the constantly changing processes.
My job is to teach her how to access the legal language because if she can express the violence, she has suffered, the system and the law can accept her. Many things can play against her. For example, if the person does not know how to read or write, I assume this role (I cannot tell her to fill out this form or read this information and tell me if she has any questions).
Another critical factor is revictimization. There are two types of revictimization: The first is to tell the story without advancing the process, whether legal or psychological. This is very painful, and doing it without purpose can make it even more difficult. The second is secondary revictimization, which is to tell the story again, but to advance the process, i.e., before an institution: family police station, judges, lawyers. In these contexts, telling the story is an end in itself, and for this reason, it is necessary.
It is imperative that the woman has her story in order and knows how to express herself coherently because the legal system does not work based on emotion. This revictimization is painful but necessary to enter the institution.
As an institution (being myself the institution when I talk to these women), I must tell them that it is teamwork and that these are slow processes. I can help them, but they must also do their part to make progress.
As a worker in the institution, the number of complaints and cases that I have to deal with is overwhelming. In 6 months, I wrote more than 200 emails and dealt with more than 250 cases. It is complicated to handle 250 psychological processes simultaneously with telephone appointments of 30 minutes each.
The complaint within the complaints
It is clear that no matter how much I want to help these women, the system absorbs you, and you end up dealing with a complaint, not a person, a cause, not a person, one more violence. But the truth is that if you do not humanize the complaint, nothing happens. Behind all the forms, hearings, emails, and calls, a woman is suffering violence. Unfortunately, the system dehumanizes us, them, and us as workers.
This story was told in a meeting between two friends on the 16 of February 2022.