Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Greece in social crisis

Increased violence against children, women, and youngsters brings Greece to the edge of social explosion

The modern Greek society appears to be ill. Increased violence against women and minors indicates a nation that is suffering from severe societal trauma no top of the persistent economic turmoil, an energy crisis and the consequences of the epidemic. During the past year, many such cases were on display for the public. The most recent one took place in the center of the Greek capital, where, according to initial reports, a 12-year-old girl was raped and prostituted to dozens of "clients." A few months earlier, in one of Greece's largest cities, a mother was charged with murdering her three children. Whilst during the same period in Athens, a man was with strangling his wife to death. In all three cases, the bulk of the Greek media were once again "raping" and "murdering" the victims by breaking the principles of journalistic ethics.

The continuous cycle of violence seems to be growing rapidly in Greece. In the past, when femicide, child abuse, and domestic and school violence took place in Greece, they often remained in the shadows. One might wonder, why are these violent incidents being made known today. A significant recent development that broke the silence was the wave of visibility that came about in the aftermath of the Greek "Me Too" movement and legal discussions about the use of the term femicide. However, a great part of the Greek public thinks that we shouldn't be alarmed by the rise in violent incidents since these things always happened. Nevertheless, researchers and analysts argue that the economic upheaval as well as the recent epidemic have exacerbated the phenomena of violence, as they argue that "Greek society is undergoing a severe second crisis following the first disastrous financial catastrophe, without fully understanding the exact degree of the impact from both crises."

Greece faces the horror of child abuse and murder

In October 2022, Greek public opinion was stunned by the case of rape and prostitution of a 12-year-old girl in Athens. According to testimonies received by the police, the girl's mother was working as a cleaner in a local shop, where the 12-year-old was also helping occasionally in an attempt to earn some money for the family that has 8 children. Approximately a month ago, after a complaint made by the girl's aunt who discovered suspicious text messages on the girl's phone, the police investigated the case and arrested two men. In her testimony the girl said that the 53-year-old owner of the shop she had been working in was raping and prostituting her for several months now. The girl also testified that the 53 year-old created an account using her photos on a phone app and that he used it to communicate with men while impersonating the young girl to offer them sex in exchange for money. The girl said that she was forced to go on "dates" and that the 53-year-old made arrangements for her and that she never received any money from anyone. The second man who was arrested with the 53-year-old was one of the 213 men who contacted the 53 year-old to "book a date" with the girl. Since the legal age limit for consensual sexual relations in Greece is the 15and since the 12-year-old girl testified that she did not give consent, both men arrested were charged with rape.

As the police investigation continues more arrests are made. First, the girl's mother has been arrested after she failed to give any explanation for the small deposits found in her bank account that were made by the 53-year-old. According to the prosecution, the mother was allegedly collecting payment for keeping her daughter's sexual abuse silent. All three suspects have been sent to prison to await trial. Secondly, the Greek police has so far detained 3 more men that are accused of paying to rape the young girl. Public anxiety has grown alongside the disclosure of the initial details on the accused's profile. Furthermore, according to the Greek press, a police officer is allegedly implicated in the systematic rape of the 12-year-old.

As for the families of the victim and prime suspect, the 53-year-old’s wife who served as advisor to Kostas Bakogianis, mayor of Athens and nephew of the Greek Prime Minister, was removed from her position and the five underage siblings of the 12 year-old girl are to be released to the care of the family's eldest adult daughter.

Approximately half a year ago, yet another case of violence against children, this time in Patra, dominated Greek news. In March 2022, Roula Pispirigou was accused of murdering her 9-year-old daughter, Georgina, by systematically administering her harmful drugs. In the course of the police investigation, Pispirigou was also accused of murdering her 3-year-old daughter Malena in April 2019 and her 3 months-old daughter Iris in March 2021.

The triple child murder by their own mother and the rape and prostitution of the 12-year-old girl which have shocked the Greek public opinion seem to fit into the cycle of violence that has been growing during the recent years. According to new research and data analysis from the Thessaloniki Forensic Department, child abuse in Greece has increased significantly over the past several years because of the country's ongoing economic crisis and the pandemic. According to the Forensic Service of Thessaloniki, incidents of sexual and physical abuse of minors surged during the epidemic in Greece, with sexual assault of girls nearly doubling between 2020 and 2022. The official data shows that during the years of 2004 and 2008, 56 occurrences of sexual abuse and 20 incidents of physical abuse were investigated. 72 minors with physical injuries were examined from October 2020 to October 2022 for sexual abuse, along with 60 underage boys and 88 underage girls. 60% of the children whose records were checked tested positive for sexual abuse, whereas 40% tested negative.

The spread of gendered violence

In addition to the recent rise in violence against children, in recent years a similar rise in cases on violence against women has also been documented in Greece. Approximately 18 months ago the Greek public opinion was once again shocked and appalled by the murder of 20-year-old Caroline by her 34-year-old husband Babis. Initially the husband fabricated a story and said that his wife's murder was the heinous work of two burglars who broke into the house. He argued that in an effort to make him give up his money or valuables, they strangled his wife who was found lying in the bed next to the crib of her infant daughter. Police investigation soon revealed evidence of the husband’s guilt and last June, Babis Anagnostopoulos admitted to killing his wife. A few months ago, the Greek helicopter pilot was found guilty of murdering his British wife Caroline Crouch, by a court in Athens.

At the time, the case of Caroline's femicide and the Greek "Me Too" movement were closely connected in the Greek media's news coverage. Beginning in early 2021, Olympic athlete Sofia Bekatorou broke the taboo by speaking out about how, at 21, she was sexually abused by a senior sailing official for Greece. An extraordinary number of sexual assault and harassment complaints were made in Greece in the days after Bekatorou's accusations. Following in her steps, many Greek athletes, including past sailing champion Marina Psychogyiou, spoke publicly about incidents of sexual abuse. Soon after, the sexual assault and harassment culture that is pervasive in Greece's art scene was brought to light by actors and actresses, who also spoke out and shared their stories. This led to several high-profile resignations and dismissals. Most notably, Dimitris Lignadis, a renowned actor and director who served as the artistic director of Greece's National Theatre, resigned from his position and was later imprisoned after being charged with raping a 14-year-old boy in 2010. Since the original allegations, many men also come forward to share their accounts of how Lignadis sexually attacked them as youths.

According to the international press, 5,705 cases of domestic abuse against women were reported to the police in Greece in the first 10 months of the 2021; an increase of almost 60% from the same time in 2020. The number of women who were killed in domestic violence incidents increased as well; from nine in all of 2020 to 16 in the first 10 months of 2021.

The nightmare of violence and bullying rise at schools

The violence that extends to young people in Greece because of the economic crises and the epidemic comes alongside the combustible mix of violence against women and children. According to the Greek press, social workers are growing more concerned about the rise in violent events in schools.

According to psychologists and social workers who staff the SOS 1056 helpline run by the Child's Smile (NGO), an average of nearly two instances of violence and bullying have been recorded daily since September. 91 requests for action to stop violence in schools have been made to Child's Smile since the start of the academic year. Although surveys show that about 27% of students in Greece have experienced bullying, the most recent cases have been especially violent. It is interesting that as the new school year in Greece began with violent fights between students and teachers in many schools across the country, more and more young people are turning to the authorities for help in dealing with violent situations.

Gkouliama, Samakouri and Serdari's recent academic research (School bullying and minority identity as a menace to mental well-being of students in Greece, August 2021) states: "Within the time frame of the recent economic crisis and the (new) migration waves, the question of association of school multiculturalism with bullying behaviors has been raised. Surveys conducted by the University Research Institute of Mental Health between 1998 and 2018 revealed that school bullying has significantly increased in the past decade compared to the early 2000s. Victimization ranged between 19.1 and 28.9% for all school children, while 9.1% of these children were reported to be bullies in 2002, 15.8% in 2010 and 14.2% in 2018". It is significant that the researchers mentioned the connection between the economic crisis, migration, and youth violence in Greece.

The price of crises

Experts have reached an important conclusion after analyzing these recent unsettling changes in Greek society. The multi-level issues that modern Greek society is currently dealing with initially worsened by the economic crisis of the 2010s, and then by the Covid-19 pandemic. Psychological and social traumas from these crises now manifest as incidents of violence. The cost of the crisis is being borne by women, children, and the entire society in general.

Othon Anastasakis, director of the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Oxford, observes that Greek society is experiencing a significant second crisis following the first catastrophic financial crisis, without completely understanding the full extent of the impact of either crisis. According to the Greek professor, societal traumas brought on by the epidemic and the economic slump are unquestionably present and currently have a profound impact on Greek society. He emphasizes that the economic problems have resulted in "the marginalization of youth from the production process" and "total economic insecurity and uncertainty."

George Rigakos, Professor of Political Economy of Policing at Carleton University in Canada, holds a similar view. According to Rigakos, the issues that Greek society is currently facing are made worse by the lack of trust that Greek society has in its institutions. The scholar emphasizes that the public’s distrust of authorities and especially of the police. This idea is consistent with earlier studies conducted in Greece, which found that trust in institutions among the Greek population decreased over the years of crises. Nearly one in two Greek citizens chose not to vote in the latest round of elections which re-iterates this fact. As the latest developments show, a significant segment of Greek society doubt the effectiveness of democratic structures and resorts to social and political protest as well as violence to resolve their differences and their problems.  

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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