Understanding the stigma and consequences of domestic violence in Jordan

Part 1

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AMMAN — Often underreported and misunderstood in Jordan, domestic violence can affect entire communities and leave victims with scars they can carry for the rest of their lives, according to officials and health professionals. اضافة اعلان

A lot of stigma and misconceptions surround this topic.

So we decided to break it down and get to the bottom of it. This article is the first part of a series that will dive deeply into the issue and explore all of its angles. 

Firstly, many Jordanians are unaware of many forms of domestic violence and only acknowledge physical violence.

“Today, a dad beating up his kids is may not seem conclusive if it’s violence or not, so not everyone has that understanding. Some people would say, ‘I was disciplining them’,” Mohammed Meqdadi, the secretary-general of the National Council for Family Affairs, told Jordan News

“Domestic Violence hits the community on all levels, and that’s a major concern,” added Dr Abdallah Abuadas, a consultant psychiatrist. “People in Jordan do not know how to define abuse; they don’t know how to define domestic violence. So when we go to the family protection unit and the General Security Directorate, people don’t know it’s a case of abuse. So it’s always unreported in a scientific way.”

The Family Protection Department received around 37,000 reports of domestic violence and 22 cases family murders from the beginning of 2021 until August.

Last year, the country received 55,000 reports of violence and 32 victims of family murders, head of the Department of Family and Juvenile Protection, Firas Al-Rashid, told a symposium Al-Ghad News reported on. 

Domestic violence comes in many forms: emotional, mental, sexual, physical, religious, and economical.

But, it almost always starts with the often overlooked stages of emotional and mental abuse, which can often be downplayed by both the victim and abuser, according to psychiatrists. 

“Domestic violence has narrow and wider definitions, and no one is safe from it. The sexual and physical types of violence are the most known and acknowledged types in Jordan. But there’s the emotional, mental, religious, and economical types,” Dr Abuadas said. 

Abadas explained that there are four stages of violence that can escalate to physical or sexual violence. 

“Abuse is a cycle of four stages. The first stage is tension between parties which is the psychological build-up of a conflict. The second is the first attack or abuse. The third stage is the reconciliation stage, where they calm down and downplay the attack. Finally, the fourth stage is advanced levels of abuse and attacks,” Dr Abuadas said, adding that this can include “broken bones, bleeding, dysfunctions. … and death.” 

All forms and stages of the abuse are massively harmful, he said, not only to victims but also to families and to society.

“When we speak about all forms of abuse, we will reach the same conclusions: all are harmful physically, socially, and psychologically. It creates a fragile community, and the bad part of this is the unreported cases,” Dr Abuadas said. 

Therefore, the harm doesn’t end at the physical or emotional pain a victim can endure and keep secret, but it can cause psychological issues that can last a lifetime and, in many cases, turn into a cycle of abuse where a victim becomes the abuser.

The more immediate harms of sexual abuse may be apparent. However, it can often have a more profound impact that can last long-term.

The consequences vary from one victim to another, but some might experience all of the following; “a loss of confidence, development of phobias from sex, withdrawal from the community, refusal of marriage, refusal to deal with other social anxieties, cases of depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” Dr Abuadas said. 

One should remember that the abuse doesn’t have to be severe or extreme to cause lifelong complex psychological issues. 

“All of this is a cycle, and all forms of abuse are equal at the end of the day. The intermediate results can be post-traumatic stress disorders that will continue for a lifetime. It can also cause Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Bipolar Disorder,” Dr Abuadas said. 

BPD is a mental health disorder that influences how a person thinks and feels about themselves and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life.

It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings, and a pattern of unstable relationships, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. 

Bipolar Disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that can include extreme mood swings representing emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

A patient might suffer from feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in what were formerly their most pleasurable activities, before shifting to mania or hypomania (less extreme than mania), and feeling euphoric or full of energy.

The mood swings can also impact one’s sleep pattern, energy activities, judgment, and the ability to think clearly, according to the Mayo Clinic.  

Why abusers abuse

To answer why an abuser does what they do, one must understand the background and cycle that influenced the abuser and the victim, as studies have shown that abuse often becomes a cycle. 

“Generally, in most cases these disorders are found in victims of abuse. In the case of bipolar (disorder), they won’t be the ones initiating the abuse. ...” Dr Abuadas said.

“But if we look at the causes, we may see a high level of psycho traits in the people who commit that abuse, and in certain cases, we can find structural changes in the brain.” He added that its often a “bio-psycho cycle” caused by social and other external issues.

Why stigma exists surrounding reporting domestic violence 

Many reasons play a factor in a victim not reporting a case. “We don’t have much equality. People justify men’s actions, but they don’t justify them for women,” Dr Abuadas said.

“So, women will always be told that they don’t need to report because that will damage their life, that they need to protect their children, they need to be smarter. The discouraging reporting culture is an issue due to the male dominance theory.” 

Social Dominance Theory predicts that people who oppose group-based dominance, in general, will support social and political policies and practices that promote groups with not as much power, according to Intergroup Relations Social Psychology at the University of Connecticut. 

Women make up the most significant number of domestic violence cases. 

Fear, reputation, and shame are all factors that skew reporting in Jordan.

Victims are scared for their story to become a scandal, scared of their abuser, and sometimes scared of family members.

Victims are also sometimes ashamed when the shame shouldn’t fall on their shoulders.

Family members, neighbors, or any eyewitness to the violence are also often scared to get involved and be dragged into the legal process or consequences, according to interviewees. 

“We have a culture of reluctance in reporting to the Family Protection Unit. Whether from the victim or the neighbors or family members who are aware of the abuse. One of the issues that we are witnessing, and we see it a lot, is that the issue reaches to the point of murder,” Meqdadi said.

“Anyone and any institution can report by directly calling the Family Protection Unit, and their report will be anonymous; they won’t be involved in the legal process. 

“The ability to report a violent event is applied to the abuse of children and women cases because one might be reporting a possible crime,” he added. 

For part two of the series, Jordan News has spoken with domestic violence survivors about the experience of living through the stages of violence and how they survived the effects.

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