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"Anastasia" Gives Hope to the Abused, Experience to University Students

The women who come to see us at the Anastasia Medical Crisis Center for Women and Children, an NGO in Vladivostok, Russia, have taken to heart the Russian saying "don't throw your garbage from the shack"-meaning "don't air your dirty laundry." Many of them have been raised to believe that they must tolerate a life of abuse. They accept their loneliness as inevitable. At Anastasia, we are working to change this perception.

Vladivostok never had social institutions set up to protect women's rights to safety. In July 2000, neurologists XX and XX, noticed that many of their patients were also victims of domestic violence. They realized that neurological treatment could never be complete unless social issues like abuse were considered. Medicine alone would not cure our clients' problems. At the very least, the abused needed kind words and counseling. In July 2000, we founded the Anastasia Medical Crisis Center to provide this necessary support to the women and children who came to us for help.

This May, with support from IREX and USAID, we organized a telephone hotline for victims of domestic violence, which is staffed by three Anastasia employees and nine volunteers.

The telephone consultants are all young women-graduates and seniors in the psychology and social work departments of the Far East State University and the Far East Technical University. Some of the women already have diplomas and are future psychologists or social workers. Their average age is 21.

When interviewing possible volunteers, we first determined their motivations for wanting to work on the hotline. We found that for several, the issue of domestic violence is an academic interest-a topic of scientific research, their university courses, or diploma work. Others wanted "to gain personal experience in solving problems," and "to help women in crisis situations." Still others were attracted to "the possibility of taking part in preventing domestic violence," or "mastering practical psychology and social work skills studied in the university."

Three of the women who wanted to be volunteers had been child victims of domestic violence themselves, while two others had been victims of sexual harassment in their schools. For all of these women, their experiences had emotional consequences, which they had dealt with over time through therapy.

Early in the project, Anastasia employees chose volunteers and taught them the basics of telephone consultations. Our emphasis on training paid off, because it served as a time of discovery for our volunteers. Even after university courses in domestic violence, the volunteers could not imagine how widespread and multifaceted this problem is in modern society, and how insufficient the resources are for resolving it.

Our volunteers have said that working at Anastasia has led them to talk about the problem of domestic violence with their own families, colleagues and study groups. They have been surprise to find that the topic really strikes a chord with people. They say that their experiences have led them to re-evaluate their relationships with other people and that they now try to build these relationships on a nonviolent basis, respecting the rights of others, while remembering their own rights.

For all of our telephone consultants, working on the hotline is a major learning experience that helps their personal growth. Of course, we also have difficulties. Despite our best efforts, we cannot always avoid "emotional burnout." After aggressive calls and work with suicidal callers, we have had tears and disappointments. For these reasons, our volunteers consult psychologists every month.

We look forward to this October's second round of recruitment and training for our new hotline volunteers. We see our educational program as mentoring the youth of our city, and we believe that these young people will become members of a democratic society built on the principles of trust, respect and nonviolence.

Natalia Lokhmatkina is head of the telephone hotline for the Anastasia Medical Crisis Center for Women and Children, Vladivostok. Translated by Tamara's Texas Buddy Whats-His-Name.

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