In a survey of 500 Arab women, of which 98 percent were Muslim in the Dearborn, Michigan area, about 20 percent of the women had experienced spouse abuse, according to Anahid Kulwicki’s “Domestic Violence in the Arab American Population: Transforming Environmental Conditions through Community Education”.
Domestic abuse is not just a Muslim problem, it’s a human problem. Around the world, one in three women have been beaten, coerced into sex or other otherwise abused in their lifetime.
Domestic abuse is usually the result of one spouse exerting control over the other in order to seek compliance through violence or fear. The main tactics used by perpetrators are intimidation, humiliation, or physical injury. This is often manifested through exploitation of the victim, insults and manipulation of a spouse, be it male or female.
Women, although often attacked, are not the only victims of physical or emotional abuse. Many men are abused in the same way by a spouse but are generally overlooked by society due to shame imposed by social standards. Yet, spouse abuse is an indiscriminate behavior that affects all social classes, cultures, racial and religious groups.
Two surveys demonstrate that the Muslim community in the United States faces approximately the same severity of domestic violence as the general population.
In a survey of 500 Arab women, of which 98 percent were Muslim in the Dearborn, Michigan area, about 20 percent of the women had experienced spouse abuse, according to Anahid Kulwicki’s “Domestic Violence in the Arab American Population: Transforming Environmental Conditions through Community Education”. Another survey of 63 Muslim community members and leaders in Sharifa Alkhateeb’s “Ending Domestic Violence in Muslim Families” reported 10 percent as having experienced physical abuse. In such cases, women often do not recognize the aggression as abuse due to their own societal norms. They may also blame themselves for their own lack of patience or understanding with their spouse and not confront the problem.
But whether it is normal or not, domestic abuse clearly has detrimental consequences – both mentally and emotionally.
Spousal abuse is not limited to violent cases. Other forms of abuse are psychological, verbal, emotional, financial and sexual abuse. Verbal and nonverbal emotional abuse can be the result of subtle actions, rather than open physical violence. Abusers know exactly what to say to hurt their spouse as deeply as possible. Demeaning words, threats or profanity are used to belittle and oppress the victim. At times, episodes of personal childhood trauma are manipulated as weapons to further emotional abuse.
Yet the data on domestic violence is flawed because much of the time it goes unreported. As stated by Ronet Bachman, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Almost 6 times as many women victimized by intimates (18 percent) as those victimized by strangers (3 percent) did not report their violent victimization to police because they feared reprisal from the offender.” Bachman’s research indicates that many spouses are living in constant fear with abusers and actual numbers of abuse are beyond our knowledge. There are also many cultural factors that can contribute to this discrepancy. This represents the general population, not just Muslims.
Not surprisingly, for many Muslim women, “a fear of losing their children to authority, perpetuating a negative image of Muslims, or the shame of being a divorcee causes many to remain silent,” said Salma Abugideiri, a Professional Counselor in Sterling, Virginia, who works with Muslim and Middle Eastern families.
The abusive behavior one inflicts on a victim is often the result of aggression he or she faced in childhood. Such experiences directly impact adult lives including the treatment of spouses. In cases of desperation, an abused victim may begin to fight back. This causes him or her to become physically violent in an effort to stop further wounds.
In these families, children are often caught in the crossfire. Each year, approximately 3.3 million children witness their mothers or female caretakers being abused. The children are conditioned into thinking that abuse is, if not positive, at least the normal way of dealing with problems. They are also often conditioned to devalue other authority figures. This incites childhood aggression, bullying, poor health, low self-esteem, and social disorders in school.
As a solution to violence, it is often assumed that separation from an aggressor should ameliorate a spouse’s living conditions. Yet even after women escape such critical situations, they are often still in danger.
Studies reveal that about 75 percent of calls to law enforcement for assistance in domestic violence situations take place after women leave abusers. In reference to the Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, specialist Barbara Hart stated, “One study revealed that half of the homicides of female spouses and partners were committed by men after separation from batterers.”
Experts say that it is crucial for communities to work together to create safe and healthy support networks for such victims. The Muslim community is no exception. They believe that by calling for providing abused family members with a comfortable environment for counseling specific to their culture and language will lessen the amount of unreported cases.