“Ever since my husband started carrying weapons in this war, he lost his mind, and sees himself as a leader that’s second to none. I do not blame him. I have read a lot of psychological studies and research done on this. Weapons have an effect on the brain, and makes a person think that he is very strong, along with all the situations, difficulties, fighting, and skirmishes he has been through. All these things have affected him, and made him violent. He wasn’t like this before the war.”
This is what Mayada (pseudonym), who lives in Damascus, says while talking to Raseef22 about the violence she was subjected to at some point inside the walls of her house. She recounts, “He would lose his temper for the most trivial reasons during his few days off. I still remember the first time he slapped me because I had added more salt to the food.” At that time, Mayada left her home and went to her parents’ house where she stayed for about a month. She continues, “He employed plenty of methods, tried many tricks, and even begged that I agreed to return on the one condition that he would never again think about striking me. That was in 2012, and to make matters worse, I was pregnant at the time, so the final decision to separate wasn’t an easy one.”
Days passed and Mayada gave birth to her only son, and indeed her husband fulfilled his promise and did not harm her, until 2015. She says, “We fought viciously because of his mother, who doesn’t like me and keeps creating problems for me every day. The fight got worse and he hit me on my head with the butt of his gun, and I lost consciousness. Yes, my husband hit me with a rifle, and for the sake of my son, the story that was constructed states that I fell down the stairs in the house. Despite the horror and violence of the incident, I would not have sent the father of my son to jail.”
Globally, one in three women is subjected to physical or sexual violence, usually at the hands of a partner
Mayada did this because, like her fellow Syrian women, she fears divorce and the shame that comes with it, especially since she comes from a family belonging to a closed society that forbids divorce. To this day, her husband still abuses her every now and then, and Mayada is still unable to make the final decision to leave, since in her society, separating is a desecration and an abomination and will haunt her and even her son for many generations to come.
She concludes by referring to the case of her divorced aunt, “My aunt has been ostracized since she had a divorce twenty years ago, for reasons similar to mine, and since that day she has been ostracized by the family and no one is allowed to communicate with her and know how she is doing. I do not want my fate to be the same as hers, and to die alone in a strange house. My mother once said to me: ‘A beating every day, is better than the word divorced’.”
It is not difficult to find abused women in Syrian society, for it is quite teeming with them. They are the unheard victims crumbling under the crushing weight of this dominant Middle Eastern masculinity that has carved the war into their bodies, leaving them even more exposed. This has made these sad battered women face the world with a face full of patience, and then even more patience, because within our societies, in Syria in particular, divorce is disgraceful, and a divorced woman is flawed.
The young Mona (pseudonym), 15, went to a Damascus police station after suffering from abrasions and blows that led to swelling in her body. Immediately, the police took the case seriously, summoning the medical examiner, who also confirmed the presence of burn marks on the body of the little girl as a result of the “warming up” of a metal skewer over a fire and then holding it against her body, according to the forensic report at the time.
“Ever since my husband started carrying weapons in this war, he lost his mind, and sees himself as a leader that’s second to none. He became violent. He wasn’t like this before the war”
The incident is one of several accounts that Raseef22 obtained from a number of various sources, including those in the police force, during our search for domestic violence in Syria. In Mona’s case, the perpetrator was the mother, who was then taken to the police station and from there, was referred to the judiciary to examine her case. During the investigation, the woman had simply said, “I am raising my daughter.” Courage had outweighed fear in Mona, after she became fed up and took a step that most adults would not dare take, going to the police to file a complaint against her mother.
The noble grandfather
Like Mona’s story, there are maybe hundreds or even thousands of similar stories that have remained trapped within the walls of homes that have witnessed such forms of torture, even though the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page is full of news of abuse and violence. The secret to covering up the bulk of these complaints is the absence of a culture encouraging complaints, and the young age of the abused children, such as the story of the child Moussa, whose story was reported by the Ministry of Interior. Fate had blessed the 5-year-old with a grandfather, to save him from his mother’s hands.
In the story of the abused child, the grandfather filed an official complaint with the Eastern Mazzeh police department in Damascus against his very own daughter, to save his grandson from her clutches. The woman had been subjecting the little one to various forms of abuse including burning, beating, and flogging. Thus a police patrol was immediately sent in and the mother was arrested, according to what a police source also confirmed to Raseef22 after we inquired about the case.
Immediately, the medical examiner was summoned and recorded the traces of the torture, saying in his report, “There are multiple extensive bruises spread across the chest, back, abdomen, and upper limbs, with bruises around the eyes, swelling of the upper lip, and an internal wound.” The mother found nothing to justify her actions other than claiming that her son was an obstacle to her freedom of movement after his father had recently passed away.
The final confession
Safaa (pseudonym), has just entered her 30th year, and her sixth year in her traditional marriage. The young lady from Homs entered the “golden” cage of marriage in a hurry, wanting to have children and live a happy life, and she in fact had children, but never knew the taste of happiness, she tells Raseef22.
“About what should I tell you? About my broken ribs? Or about the latest break in the bones of my wrist? Or about the abrasions on my back? Or about the traces of his belt on my belly and skin? Or is it that there was not a day that went by that I wasn’t abused in front of my sons (5 and 3 years old), and always for little to no reason. He just tortures me for the sake of torture and takes pleasure in it, and it has increased even more so for him since he became unemployed.”
“About what should I tell you? About my broken ribs? Or about the latest break in the bones of my wrist? Or about the abrasions on my back? Or about the traces of his belt on my belly and skin?”
Hardly a day goes by without Safaa being beaten and insulted. She tries to heal herself with hope that her husband will soon change, and that if she had not likely been wrong, he would not have done so. What logic is this? A lady justifies her husband’s exaggerated abuse lest she get divorced, and so that she would continue to respect and sanctify married life in its entirety, against the sound of the whip raining down on soft flesh.
She continues, “When I read the news of deaths that happen from domestic violence, I fear for myself a lot, especially since he is quick to get angry, and a simple look from me can provoke him to beat me violently while cursing me with the most insulting and vulgar words.” Safaa believes that she is a patient woman in the face of all this suffering, but what she is certain of is that “if she had understanding parents behind her, she would not have stayed with him all this time”... She was finally able to utter these words at the end of the conversation.
Sociologists believe that violence affects societal value systems, so it is necessary to address those values that take into account the existence of women and their fundamental role, and the whole matter follows the structure of the social system and the rights of its members. The absence of gender justice makes the places where women feel safe inside or outside their homes much less so under the dominant male control in society.
As for the external factors, they are also related to the structure of the social system and the resulting conflict of roles it produces within the same house. Despite that, the pressure coming from outside (physical and psychological pressure under the current circumstances) plays the largest role in the explosion of violence inside the home, which is generally linked to the war taking place in Syria — military in nature in the past — that led to the spread of weapons, up to the economic war and the starvation of people. It all becomes interconnected, the husband abuses his wife, the wife abuses her son, the son abuses his brother, the brother abuses the neighbor’s son who’s younger than him, and so on, thus making violence the prevalent language of expression in this society.
The impact of war
Today, more than ever, gender-based violence, including domestic violence, is emerging in Syria as a result of the turbulent war that the country has gone through. This has made fear dominate the lives of many women and children, some of whom have even lost safety and security inside their homes, which should be the safest place of residence for the family, and is the first unit that begins in building a society that has become permeated by its many injustices through the acts of violence that Syrians hear about almost every day.
Moreover, there is a fear of sexual violence. The corridors of courts have witnessed several cases involving sexual violence recently. All these things have increased women’s fears for their own safety and that of their children, contributing to increased stress and psychological burdens.
The Syrian legislature has not established a direct law or concept with regards to domestic violence and its consequences, but the Syrian Penal Code mentions criminal behavior and assault
In addition to this are traditional marriages that have produced the most harm and societal violence after families had their daughters married off for motives mostly relating to money and giving her a ‘home of her own’, as well as the marriage of underage girls, and this is another lengthy research in and of itself.
In the law
The Syrian legislature has not established a direct law or concept regarding domestic violence and its consequences, but the Syrian Penal Code mentions criminal conduct, assault, rape, coersion, and harassment.
However, any abused woman can turn to the police, forensic medicine, and the judiciary to take her right from the aggressor, who is often the husband, for the crime of intentional abuse and harm. The case can be referred to the Criminal Magistrate’s Court, so that reconciliation can then be an option, accompanied by a written pledge by the husband to not hit the wife again, or else a final judgment can will be issued against the aggressor in imprisonment or a fine, and later the outcome of the court’s decision in the case of divorce may be based on the grounds of violence.
In the event of reconciliation, and the complaints of beatings repeating anytime within 3 years, the judge will take action to transfer the case to the Sharia judiciary for a decision, and if the renewed beating of the wife causes permanent disabilities, the husband is then incriminated by the criminal court.
The UN’s stance
The UN Women website states: “Violence against women is a serious human rights violation that takes place every single day around the world. Globally, one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. While domestic violence and abuse are sometimes hidden, if we know the signs of an abusive relationship, we may be able to recognize it better and seek or offer help to those who need it.”
It also says: “One of the common signs of abuse is that he may physically harm you, employing practices such as hitting, beating, punching, slapping, slapping, kicking, or biting, and he may use or threaten to use a weapon against you.”