Doria Jukić on Working in a Safe House and What It Will Take to Prevent Violence Against Women
In honor of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, we spoke with Doria Jukić, a social worker at Duga Zagreb, a safe house for women and children facing domestic violence. Doria is a fellow with VV Peace, an Intergenerational Fellowship on Women, Peace and Security South Central Europe, made possible by Voices Against Violence. In our conversation, Doria talks about her role at the safe house, why rejoining the labor force is critical for victims, and what she thinks it will take to break the cycle of domestic violence.
On day-to-day work at the safe house
At the safe house, I support victims of violence with their integration into the labor market. This includes counseling, soft skills development, connecting with potential employers and support during employment so they can maintain their job, if they are having trouble. It’s very direct work, it’s hand to hand — like helping victims compile applications or CVs — when someone doesn’t have experience, we think about how to help. I also work with women to discover their professional interests, and work with the rest of the team to gather information and see how we can approach a victim if they are having trouble and need assistance.
My position is kind of rare, because it’s such focused work. There’s a continuous approach to support that’s guided by the concept of social mentoring, which comes from social work.
On what makes Duga Zagreb distinct
I was primarily motivated by the work that happens here — we have the resources, a good team, and the time to actually work continuously with the victims. Duga Zagreb is a city funded institution, and it’s the only example in Croatia — totally different from any other institution. There are other NGOs that also provide care, but they usually have apartments where victims can stay and offices that are located somewhere else. But here we have that combination, everything is in-house. My colleagues are other social workers, lawyers and psychologists who work on day-to-day provision care and support victims with the judiciary system and the police.
We also work with a much smaller number of beneficiaries than would otherwise be the case at a social work or social care center. And this gives us more time for work, we can approach each person thoroughly and that’s important to me personally. I’m really glad that I can work in this position, in this kind of team, because these are also my values.
On the need to shift perspectives around victims
We have to change the perspective of patronizing victims — I’m always saying, you shouldn’t pity, this is just a person who’s in need. Yes, it’s tough, and their stories are tough, but they are not stories — they’re people. Our values are about empowering. You do what you can, but you are not a savior. We are not here for saving, we are here to inform and support, but the responsibility is on each person.
On why it’s critical to integrate victims of violence in the labor market
It’s important because it’s actually a matter of freedom and dignity in ensuring safe living conditions for women and their children. There’s also a large socialization factor, and the importance of social inclusion and creating relationships outside the primary family, where new support systems and network can be built, because women are coming from households where they were closed up and controlled very tight.
We also have to have in mind that women often have lower incomes, and they’re less likely to own a residential property. Many of us don’t know everything that falls under financial abuse, and that it’s actually a direct link to the violation of women’s freedom and dignity. And I believe that many women from safe houses are returning to abusers because of concerns about financial stability, especially the health of their children. So at some point, everything is connected right into this root. It’s crucial for women to rejoin the labor force and gain financial independence.
On what it will take to prevent violence against women
We have to see all the subtle signs to have the state of consciousness for prevention. But it’s not happening. There is a lack of awareness. Still, the most visible, known kind of violence, is physical. And after that verbal. But financial abuse and emotional abuse, they’re not recognized in society yet.
My message is education — it’s crucial. We need health and sex education and financial literacy for young people. We have to have this change of narrative with young people — a change in their perspective around gender roles and empowerment. And to do that we need proper education. I would say investing in reducing violence against women is actually investing in education. We need educational reforms that can give young people different knowledge, different tools, different perspectives. But change isn’t going to happen unless we put pressure on. We have to keep pressure on.