Take Five: “We should not tolerate any violence and should not be bullied into silence”
Anna Ryl heads the anti-trafficking foundation, Korgau Astana, in Kazakhstan, supporting women and children in difficult situations. Started in 2009, her foundation also ran the first shelter for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the county’s capital, Nur-Sultan, providing free legal and psychological services for survivors. Today, the organization has the branches in all regional centers nationwide.
In 2017, Kazakhstan recorded 1,371 rapes. Ninety-eight percent of these were committed against women. This means an average of three women were raped daily. At the same time, we know that often victims of violence are reluctant to file police complaints, which means the that the number of rape incidents is likely even higher. What are the reasons for this?
I think the root cause lies in society’s strong stigma towards women and girls who have been sexually abused. This is aggravated by the pressure from perpetrators on victims to drop the matter; and from relatives, who, in the face of potential public ridicule, prefer to keep this business within the family.
The reasons for the reluctance to seek justice also lies in the complexity of the investigation itself. It is common to see victims pressed, processes delayed, and the quality of medical examinations leave much to be desired. There is also an issue of professional ethics among police officers, investigators, medical examiners and others throughout the process.
If a woman is faced with violence, what are the first steps she should take?
If this situation occurs, first of all it is important to call a loved one whom you trust and who can accompany you throughout the process. Secondly, keep the clothes you were wearing during the incident as evidence. Third, call the police immediately. Often woman wants to recover and muster their strength after such an incident and they postpone calling the police. Do not postpone calling them. Of course, it is very important to be steadfast: to be prepared for the complex process of filing a complaint with the police; to withstand spending hours of the processing; not to break down under pressure from relatives, the abuser and public condemnation.
What challenges do victims of sexual violence face in terms of social protection? Where do you see the main problems in providing the necessary state assistance and services?
To my mind there is no social protection for victims of sexual violence in our country. For example, we do not have crisis centers for women who have been sexually assaulted in public places. Victims need this as they are often persecuted by relatives and the rapists, forcing them to suspend the processing of the case and renouncing justice. As they don’t fall into the category of domestic violence survivors, they are not accepted into crisis centers providing social services for victims of that type of violence. In any case, even shelters are not a full solution. Insufficient funding affects the level of professionalism and capacity to help and support every woman in need at the shelters. Finally, it is also important to pay attention to work with aggressors. At the moment, Kazakhstan lacks systemic nationwide programmes for working with perpetrators, while piloting by civil society organizations is fragmented and experimental.
We often hear that the victim is “herself to blame”. How do you think these attitudes towards victims in our society can be changed? Where to begin?
Yes, in our society survivors of violence are highly stigmatized. Victim-blaming is fueled by existing patriarchal stereotypes imposed by society: social roles of women as mothers and housewives and men as breadwinners. Women and girls who are involved in an investigation into rape or violent acts of a sexual nature are most often described as bad, deceiving, and promiscuous. I remember how shocked I was by a mother’s words to her daughter, who was raped by her stepfather. She said to her: "I just fixed my private life and you ruined everything ...".
Where to start? There are so many factors: from prevention, which must be comprehensive, systemic and nationwide, to raising awareness across society and to cultivating a culture of zero tolerance. We also need moral education programmes for boys from a very early age; and we need to eradicate women’s economic dependence on men, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of violence.
What can each of us as a citizen of the country do to reduce violence against women Kazakhstan?
First and foremost, we should not tolerate any violence and should not be bullied into silence. We should stop any violence in our families, among our friends, in our communities. We need to speak up about facts of violence. If you ask me, why I am working with all these women in need? I simply cannot bow to the reality. This should not be accepted or tolerated. This must be changed.
 Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Women and men of Kazakhstan 2013-2017