Audrey Friggieri, who’s also a PhD student at UM, believes that we can start addressing the culture of victim-blaming by re-orienting our education system towards prioritising personal and social wellbeing above the traditional subjects that form part of a utilitarian curriculum.
A shift in attitude away from the “dominant, misogynistic and patriarchal society we have inherited” can steer us away from a culture of victim-blaming in domestic violence as well as other systemically-generated phenomena, and this can be achieved if women’s physical, mental wellbeing stop being undermined.
As a phenomenological researcher, she is very interested in the common-sense reasoning of everyday life, which is prone to appear natural, but which, as sociologist Max Weber argues, needs to be suspended for us to refuse to take the world for granted.
“We tend to forget that before we can function in our respective duties, jobs and careers, we are human beings that need to be nurtured, cared for, loved and respected and fit for living and functioning in the world we inhabit”, she reiterated.
But this requires a huge change in mentality, a paradigm shift, even. “It’s a commitment to giving more of one’s time to listening, caring, making allowances, refraining from judging, and to do whatever it takes to help as necessary”.
Calling for a stronger presence of counsellors and psychologists in the public service and in private organisations, she also said leaders, managers and officers should receive intensive training to recognise signs of distress as early as possible, and know how to guide individuals on what to do to get adequate help fast. She is very much in favour of mental health first aid training for these employees.
Speaking to the Newspoint Team, she vouched for the need for schools to “become friendlier spaces where wellbeing is put first and foremost – before academic performance and regulations that strive to reinforce obedience and uniformity”. This would, for example, help limit the lasting consequences of trauma from witnessing domestic abuse has for children.
Ms Friggieri believes that the anti-bullying structures already in place within schools are doing a very good job, but they need to be reinforced according to the increasing demand for interventions. The increase of education and social awareness about all kinds of abuse and violence is one of her priorities: “…if students’ experiences, thoughts and emotions are embraced, respected and valued at all times, this could translate into happier, more resilient adults who are able to deal with difficult and emotional challenges later on.”
“Misbehaviour should be seen as a cry for help, rather than a fault to be corrected and punished”, she says of the need to have a stronger presence of therapists and psychologists in schools. Dealing with this so-called misbehaviour even has the potential to lead to “a drop in the number of early school-leavers”.
Other priorities of hers are working towards helping women become more financially-independent and facilitating more cooperation with both the police and law courts to give the best protection possible to the abused.
It is a well-known fact that compounded suffering on domestic abuse victims can damage the abused’s mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, there’s a growing body of research that confirms that people who go through domestic violence also suffer from a host of more long-term health problems, such as heart disease, chronic pain, asthma and arthritis. The stress and anxiety experienced by victims of intimate partner violence intensify any pre-existing health conditions, and even after they separate from their abusive partner, they remain at risk for mental health issues.
And when, despite often having to deal with and overcome these issues of physical and mental wellbeing, victims of domestic violence do muster up the courage to report it to the police, it is widely argued that they do not find the support they need.
Asked about what is being done for the Malta Police Force to deal with domestic violence reports more effectively, she tells the Newspoint team there are plans in motion for the setting up of a special unit specifically addressing domestic violence cases. This specialised unit shall be open by the end of this year. Specially trained members of the police corps will operate this unit, which will eventually branch out in strategic hubs around Malta.
Dedicating her full-time efforts to being the Commissioner for Gender-Based and Domestic Violence unquestionably signals the urgency to “effectively address the scourge of violence and abuse at all levels”.
She feels that her role and teaching experience at University, which extend from her graduating in psychotherapy, to her lecturing at the University’s Faculty for Social Wellbeing and her reading for a PhD within the same Faculty have sensitised her to issues of social justice and human rights, including the oppression of women in society; such awareness is an essential quality for this important work that seeks to stop abuse and violence in our society, those inflicted upon women in particular.