Domestic violence is too often kept invisible and silenced. Past violence becomes present. The cycle goes on. Sometimes it stops, sometimes it starts all over again. It arises from anywhere, poverty or luxury, countryside or city, young or old, men or women. It is a destructive response to a relative, a response due to a past encounter with despair, emptiness or madness. Within couples, within families, domestic violence acts as a black hole against everyone’s mental health – it’s the ghost of a trauma.

“While I was breastfeeding our son, he tried to strangle me with a sock.”

In Mongolia, according to the National Center Against Violence (NCAV) about one family out of three suffers from it. The national center has helped about 20,000 people over the last two decades whose women and children make up 90% of the victims. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, economical, as well as stalking. At the Third State Central Hospital of Ulaanbaatar, who usually takes care of road accidents, it is not uncommon to come across a bleeding woman holding her children by the hand.

“They said it was not their problem. They said it was my fault.”

Since 2017, the Mongolian law has been changed to classify domestic violence as a criminal offence, therefore providing legal ground and proceedings to the survivors. But in many situations, the women drop the charges as they have nowhere to go and can not rely on family support. It is why shelters (including in police offices and sometimes in churches) opened in Ulaanbaatar allowing them to be safe and helped with psychological support, social welfare services and legal advices. Another aspect of the new law is that the Police can now legally enter the place where violence is reported, assess the safety of all family members and conduct the first instance fines and warnings to the second instance where the case can be treated under the criminal code. Police officers received special training provided by the NCAV to take charge of the dramatic situations – especially with the children.

“We had nowhere to go. Not even at my parent’s place.” 

With the economic crisis hitting Mongolia after the mining boom ended, and the amplifications due to the pandemic with the shutdown of the cashmere industry, sources of funding dry up, forcing shelters to close. Out of its nine shelters, only one is still open and run by the NCAV, with another one run by the Police for 1 584 000 inhabitants (2020 numbers) in the capital. In the countryside, there are about no shelter making it impossible for women to escape. As the conditions in rural Mongolia are hard and temperatures well below zero during the cold season, the survivors of domestic violence – sometimes young children – often face an alternative: come back and suffer more or flee and wander homeless in a deadly winter.

*This assignment is a part of a national campaign against domestic violence in Mongolia, happening yearly in October during 3 weeks. It is made in partnership with the National Center Against Domestic Violence, the UNFPA and UN Offices, Geres, l’Ambassade de France en Mongolie and People in Need. These pictures give visibility to a major social issue that is too often made invisible. Photography creates a visual for a reflection about domestic violence and a public recognition of the survivors’s resilience. The portraits have been made as a transcription of their posture « when it happened », in an attempt to ward off their past and move on.

Fixer: Uuriintsolmon Surenjav

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