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Conspiracy of silence

Thursday 26 February 2009, by Nicole Pope

Next time you are in a crowd, look around you: Four out of 10 of the women you see — 4.19 to be precise — have probably been physically or sexually abused by their husbands at some point in their lives.

This means that many of the men milling around who appear confident resort to violence to express their frustration. One rarely hears about it because of the implicit “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude that still prevails throughout society.

The publication last week of a comprehensive report on domestic violence commissioned by the General Directorate on the Status of Women (KSGM) is an important first step toward tackling the problem. The study, which involved face-to-face meetings with more than 12,000 ever-married women, can be a useful tool in the fight against family violence, as long as it is not left to gather dust on a shelf.

It shows that women are much more likely to experience violence at home than in the public arena. Aside from an urban/rural divide, wide regional differences were identified: in northeast and central Anatolia, half the female population is affected by violence. Nationwide, domestic abuse cuts through social classes: Three out of 10 women with high school or higher education also get beaten at home. Seven percent of women were also found to have suffered sexual abuse as a child. The study also examines psychological and economic abuse, and found that many women were prevented from working outside the home by their partners.

Compulsory reading

This document should be compulsory reading for all Cabinet ministers, for CEOs of large companies and for the General Staff because all levels of society need to be mobilized to change social perceptions. Awareness-raising training in family matters has already been planned for conscripts, but perhaps young men need to learn anger management. Violence experienced within the past 12 months was highest in the 15-24 age group, suggesting that abuse starts during the very early stages of a relationship.

One of the study’s most heartbreaking findings is the level of isolation of abused women: 49 percent of women who had suffered violence had never uttered a word about their plight until they were approached for this study. While prosperous and well-educated women were more likely to confide in a relative or a friend than their poorer peers, a staggering 92 percent of women who had experienced violence had never sought assistance from officials or an NGO.

Politicians like to talk about family values and to wax lyrical about mothers, who they say are the foundation of society. This report, however, challenges the traditional idyllic picture of family life.

Women who had experienced abuse were three times as likely to have thought of suicide, four times as likely to have tried and twice as likely to suffer from poor health than non-abused women. A quarter of abused women had left home temporarily at least once. But in the end, concerns about their children, about the reputation of their family, about making public what they believed should remain private led them to return and accept their fate, even if one in four suffered injuries during heavy beatings. The study found that traditional perceptions of gender roles were still strong, but only a small minority of women, 14 percent, thought the use of violence was justified in some circumstances.

Break the silence

Beyond the simple issue of women’s rights, domestic violence carries a cost, financial as well as human, for society as a whole. It also affects the next generation as well as the current one. While mothers worry their children would be affected in case of separation, the psychological impact of witnessing violence and growing up in a tense atmosphere is sometimes overlooked.

We can only hope that as a result of this report, a broad outreach campaign will be launched. It is time to break the silence and to say, loud and clear, that family violence is unacceptable and the shame lies with the abuser, not the abused.

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Source : Today’s Zaman 17 February 2009, Tuesday

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