Escaping domestic violence: “You are not alone”

After two decades of living with an abusive husband, everything changed for Momirka Janković the day she found herself in the emergency room. With support and guidance from a local women’s rights organisation, she found the courage to start over.

Momirka Janković, 65, is a survivor of domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She received support from Lara Foundation, one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s local partners. Photo: Imrana Kapetanović
Momirka Janković, 65, is a survivor of domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She received support from Lara Foundation, one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s local partners. Photo: Imrana Kapetanović

”I managed to save you this time. Next time, I might not be able to.”

When Momirka Janković heard her doctor say these words, she decided. Something had to change. She could not go on to live like this.

She had just undergone head surgery at a hospital in Belgrade, Serbia, a 140km drive across the border from the town in Bosnia and Herzegovina where Momirka lived. Her injuries had been so severe that her nearest hospital had not had the capacities to treat her.

”He hit me. He hit me so hard that I banged my head against the wall and my skull cracked and there was internal bleeding,” says Momirka.

Taking it step by step

There had been violent incidents before. But to Momirka, all of them seemed minor compared to what happened on this one gruesome day in 2010. It had started with a fight about their son not having gone to school that day—and ended with Momirka’s husband beating her so severely that she woke up in the emergency room with severe head injuries.

And so, Momirka decided to take action. She would figure out a way out of the violence for her and her two sons. But first, she would have to hold out a little bit longer.

“The first thought were my children. Because I left them there with him in the house. And I mean, he was the one who actually came to pick me up from the hospital in Belgrade. So, he was the one to take me home,” says Momirka.

“When I first arrived back home, I kept quiet for a while. I decided to take things gradually and to take it step by step.”

Receiving support from Lara Foundation

One of Momirka’s first steps was contacting Lara Foundation, one of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisations based in Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Founded in the aftermath of the war, the organisation has been supporting women since 1998. The organisation  focuses on protecting women from gender-based violence, empowering women in public and political work and fighting human trafficking.

It was Momirka’s neighbour that had recommended and helped her to contact Lara Foundation:

“There was a woman in my neighbourhood who’d faced similar problems before, and she was the one who drove me here. I weighed 49 kilos, and I had my head shaved, with this whole red patch on my head. My husband continued to be very rough and very unkind in all ways. And she told me that she’s going to drive me,” recalls Momirka.

“So, she came and said, ‘Come with me’. And she drove me here and said, ‘You need help, and these women here can provide help.’”

Once she had gotten in touch with Lara Foundation, Momirka explained her situation and was advised on how to go about leaving her husband and getting out of the violent environment she had been forced to live in. She was advised to find an apartment in a different part of town and contacted her children’s school to inform them they would have to transfer.

Though Momirka did report the abuse she had suffered to the police, her husband faced no consequences.

“Lara Foundation was the only place, the only organisation, that offered me any support. I did contact [the police and social services], but they were no help at all.”

“The police also took it as his midlife crisis. It’s not something that they responded to as a serious thing,” she says.

“You are not alone”

Today, more than 13 years have passed since that one devastating day where Momirka woke up in an emergency room in Belgrade. Once she decided to leave her husband, she moved into her own place across town and would come to stay there for ten years. She is now retired and lives with her two sons, both of whom are now adults, in a social housing apartment that she was recently approved for.

However, she says, not all women affected by domestic violence are in a position that enables them to leave their abusers. It was thanks to Momirka having her own income that she was able to leave her husband when she did, without financial support from Lara Foundation. For many women who do not have control over their own finances and who are financially dependent on their partners, leaving an abusive relationship is extremely difficult.

“They cannot go anywhere. They don’t have any financial stability. They cannot move from that violence, but are forced to stay there,” she says.

In Momirka’s case, it was not financial support that Lara Foundation provided her with—but guidance, support, and connections with other women in similar situations.

“I started coming to social events and to meetings with other women who are survivors of domestic violence. For me, it was very important to talk about the experiences,” says Momirka.

“It was very important because it sent me this very simple, but very important message: you are not alone. So, for me, I luckily didn’t need financial assistance. I didn’t need that kind of support. I just needed support in terms of warm words, a kind gesture and reaching out.”

Providing safe houses for survivors

In 2012, Lara Foundation opened a safe house for women and children affected by domestic violence. After her own experience as a survivor of gender-based violence, Momirka has become a strong advocate for the importance of such safe houses. They can make a life-changing difference for women experiencing domestic violence and children who witness or endure abuse. Providing shelter and a safe environment can empower victims and survivors to regain control over their lives and work towards achieving lasting self-sufficiency.

For Momirka, being able to move away from her abuser was vital—but would have been infinitely more complicated without financial means.

“I always use the opportunity to stress how much a safe house is needed and how much it should be everywhere in the community, especially because of the women who cannot afford to leave a violent home.”

Momirka emphasizes the importance of spreading awareness through stories like hers. It is crucial for tackling deep-rooted problems like gender-based violence and addressing underlying harmful social norms. In the long term, this can contribute to building a better future for everyone, especially for the younger generations.

“For me as a mother, it’s important that we continue this hard work, this pursuit of a better world for all of us,” she says.

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