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01 November 2007

HOTLINE for Domestic Violence

Please....a National HOTLINE for Domestic Violence!

By Hoda Nassef


Several years ago I came up with the idea of a national ‘hotline’ for the protection of abused children and women, which was published this newspaper. It was a plan where the media would announce the Hotline on local TV, and spread the news through schools, as well as through local newspapers, ministries, government offices, police stations and NGOs, in order to reach the battered or abused children and women. It is such a simple thing to do – as all the fast food delivery shops have them!

To Whom Violence Occurs:

Although domestic violence against men is not as prevalent, it is not an exclusive issue to women and children, especially in western societies. Men are often portrayed as strong and women as weak, which is why so many people have difficulty realising that men are also victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, parent-abuse is another phenomenon, where elderly citizens suffer through drug-related cases by addicted grown children.

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviours aimed at gaining power in order to control an intimate partner. It is a pattern of assault and coercive behaviour, including psychological, sexual and physical abuse. Some abusers will blame the victim for the abuse or use jealousy as an excuse as to why the abuse happened. All these types of violence are ways the perpetrator controls the victims' body and mind.

Domestic violence is an especially sensitive issue because it is typically associated with conflict between husband and wife. Yet, as we have learned, domestic violence does not always involve confrontation between a husband and wife. Child abuse is an integral component of domestic violence: in 70% of families where wife abuse occurs there is also physical abuse of the children. Statistics claim that at least 30% of women in Egypt are the victims of domestic violence (wife beating, physical and emotional battering, etc.) Most probably the percentage is much higher, due to the fact that many women fear of divorce by the abuser, or are too ashamed to speak out and seek help. And in many cases, ignorant Moslems will claim that the Holy Qur’an sanctifies wife battering and therefore ‘justifies’ their abuse.

Where are the “children’s rights” and how can we avoid or prevent child abuse, and punish the perpetrators of inhumane domestic violence (including incest) as well as protect victims of abusive acts? All schools, the mass media, and NGOs should have an available ‘hotline’ for children living in such dangerous families. We don’t have any “safe houses” in Egypt to protect them, but we should have a means of communicating with these victims of violence. Most children are too scared to report home violence, or don’t know any better. Some even think that the way they live is in fact the normal way of life. The mass media (television) and the Ministry of Social Affairs should give more awareness to the public, and should find realistic means to help and protect the victims of domestic crime, and helpless abused children in particular.

"Violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm to women, including threats of such acts and/or coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. It encompasses physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, marital rape, and other traditional practices harmful to women, as well as violence-related exploitation.

Violence against women is a significant problem and is reflected in some accounts in the press. According to a national study conducted in 1995 as part of a comprehensive demographic and health survey, one out of every three women who have ever been married has been beaten at least once during marriage. Among those who have been beaten, less than half have ever sought help. Smaller, independent studies confirm that wife beating is common.

Women’s abuse is the most widespread, yet the least recognised human rights abuse in the world. It denies women and girls equality, security, dignity, self-worth and their right to enjoy basic freedoms. It is also a serious health problem, draining women's energy, compromising their physical health and eroding their self-esteem. Reports of abuse from around the world confirm that domestic violence is a pandemic to which no one is immune. It is difficult to know the extent of this pandemic because of the hidden nature of domestic violence. Not only do families try to hide it because the abuser may threaten to punish or kill the abused victim if she tells, but women are often too ashamed to report such incidents. In many countries there are no legal or social sanctions against the abuse so there is nowhere for these women to turn to.

There is not one specific cause of violence. Absence of moral or spiritual teaching and exposure to media violence increase violence levels. We all experience trauma, stress, anger and fear, but an abusive man chooses to abuse, as a way of dealing with his pain or problems. He uses excuses to avoid taking responsibility for his behaviour. Frequently he tries to blame the woman for the abuse by saying that she is a bad wife, a bad mother, or both; that she provokes him or ‘asks for it’. He needs her to believe that she is bad and stay dependent on him.

Many men abuse women to control and dominate them because they believe their masculine identity depends on this image. In some cultures, as in Egypt, societies approve of the 'disciplining' of wives and usually ignore incidents of domestic violence. Even if the police are notified, they may feel reluctant to intervene in ‘domestic problems’, believing it to be an infringement on the privacy of the family, or ‘marital rights’. Our Egyptian community fears that if we admit that family violence occurs, we challenge the idea of what family means - mainly love, safety and security.

Poverty, illiteracy, and living in a small, crowded space, increases the risk of violence. Financial insecurity is another factor. If a man cannot establish his authority intellectually or economically, he will tend to do so physically or psychologically. For him, it is exerting control, not losing it.

The understanding that violence against women is a gender issue is gradually being accepted. Also, on a grander scale, those who lack power in society are the most likely victims of violence; they are vulnerable because they lack the alternatives to resist abuse, ways to escape from dangerous situations and means to secure protection from society.

Effects & Results:

Health may be impaired, through domestic violence, which includes anything from minor injuries to chronic problems. Children and young women are also greatly affected through both experiencing and witnessing abuse. Emotional violence is often worse than physical violence, because it leaves a deep-rooted scar in the soul. As one victim said: "The body mends soon enough; only the scars remain… But the wounds inflicted upon the soul take much longer to heal, and each time I re-live those moments, they start bleeding all over again. The broken spirit has taken the longest to mend; the damage to the personality is the most difficult to overcome".

Isn’t time now to take strict measures in order educate the impoverished majority of the population on domestic behaviour, and that child abuse is NOT their ‘parental rights’, and that wife battering will not continue to go legally unheeded? If the government cannot issue strict laws against such abuse, and protect the victims, nor spread domestic awareness, then at least the ‘abusers’ should think twice before enacting inhumanly towards their own flesh-and-blood; towards these victims.

Several NGO's abroad, and a couple newly founded NGOs locally, offer counselling, legal advice, and other services to women who are victims of domestic violence. These NGOs also prepare gender awareness programmes in the rural areas, for both males and females, in order to change their perspective of the traditional misguided concepts of their roles in society. But, they believe that in general the police and the judiciary consider the "integrity of the family" is more important than the well being of the women. So far, nothing has been published nor a hotline established. The hotline should be a 4-digit telephone number; easy to remember and fast to dial for the victims in distress.

After the questionable ‘tourbini’ crimes, and with probably more hidden and unpublished gruesome acts of domestic violence or murder, isn’t it about time now to implement a fast and practical way to reach and protect the victims? Announcing a national Hotline, as well as implementing strict laws against the perpetrators, is the first step.

I pray that the Ministries of Social Affairs, Interior, Telecommunications, and whatever it takes…will get together and come up ONE simple ‘hotline’ for all the cities of Egypt, before the end of this year. Is that so difficult to implement? If it was for a rich tycoon for his private enterprises - like for all the fast-food deliveries, it would have been implemented in two seconds!


H.N.

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