Thirty-year-old Lala* cannot sleep at night.
Every time she closes her eyes, she relives the beatings and abuse she suffered when she was married.
Even though Lala is safe now, living with her children in a shelter for abused women, she lays awake at night out of terror that her ex-husband will attack again.
“I can't sleep at night. My entire body is in pain. I can't get over my fears,” she says.
A UN report found that domestic violence in Azerbaijan is widespread. A 2014 study shows that 43 percent of women have experienced domestic violence, and in 29 percent of the cases, the abuser was the victim’ spouse.
The report underscores that there is a lack of proper government services for victims. It has also notes there are severe shortcomings in the implementation of the law that should protect the victims of domestic violence.
Shahla Ismayil, Chairman of the Women's Association for Rational Development and a women's rights advocate, says that almost every day she receives calls from women suffering from abuse. Most victims don't know where they can turn for help, or what kind of service they can get. And because of economic dependence, women think that they cannot leave their spouses.
In Azerbaijan, women rarely report abuse to the police, and when they do seek help, there are few state resources to help them.
"Victims of violence often prefer to keep silent. They think ‘my husband can beat me, swear at me.’ Their children also become victims,” notes sociologist Sarah Agayeva.
She adds that even when they do report abuse, the police are little help.
“Sometimes when women call police, it does not help. Their husbands can be arrested for a short period, but when they are free, they repeat the same behavior and are violent again.”
That was Lala’s experience. She was forced to marry when she was 17 and her husband started beating her not long after they were married.
"I couldn't eat anything, I was vomiting all day because of the stress and fear. My mom advised me to be patient and said after I had a baby, everything will be ok." But the abuse continued.
“At night I couldn't move in bed, I was afraid to wake him up. Sometimes I hid in the bathroom, waiting for him to fall asleep so I could go to my bed. He would beat me. I spent ten years hiding in the bathroom,” Lala said through tears.
In the decade Lala lived with her husband, she tried to escape a couple of times. But he kept coming after her. Eventually she got a divorce and the court forbade her husband from seeing her. Even that did not stop him. He attacked Lala and her mother near the courthouse after the judge ruled in her favor.
A month ago, her ex-husband was arrested for the attack. Lala was put in police protection and sent to a shelter. But she still lives in fear for her mother’s safety. Her mother is still in the hospital recovering from the attack and no one is looking out for her.
"I want that family to disappear from the earth, and then I'll probably find peace. I know it will never happen. I'm afraid I can't go anywhere, cannot even to visit my mother."