Domestic abuse is an issue that affects people of all religious and cultural backgrounds. It is for this reason that most communities today have organizations that will respond to abuse in a manner appropriate for its constituents.
One of the most important roles this organization will have is to help victims and community members understand the dynamics of domestic abuse. When victims understand the dynamics of their dilemma, they are better equipped to deal with various issues including fear, embarrassment and intimidation.
So, how do we define abuse and why do women wait so long to get help?
Domestic abuse is defined as emotional, verbal or physical abuse of one spouse by another: in 95% of the cases, it is the wife who is abused by the husband in his quest for power and control. (Child abuse is not dealt with in this article.) The problem occurs in 15-20% of any population, at every financial or educational level in urban as well as rural settings, and in every religious and ethnic group. Denial of this problem within the Jewish community is based on several commonly held beliefs: the myth of the gentle Jewish husband; the concept that only “crazy” men abuse their wives; the primacy of shalom bayis (family harmony) as a goal among committed Jews; and the invisibility of those so oppressed. In fact on the average, the battered Jewish wife will endure 10 more years of this treatment than her non-Jewish counterpart before appealing for help.
Why do Jewish women wait so long? A number of factors contribute to their hesitation:
1. Many have a deep personal stake in continuing their marriages: they would not be able to afford to maintain their homes and keep their children in yeshivot without the financial support of their husbands.
2. They have been inculcated from childhood with their specific responsibilities as wives and mothers: to be a balabusta (ideal housewife); to create and maintain harmony; to please one’s husband. Abuse engenders in them strong feelings of inadequacy and shame, since they perceive it as arising from their own failure to fulfill these obligations. They therefore strive to hide this failure, creating an exterior aura of harmony.
3. Issues which are foreign to the world at large such as finding a suitable shidduch (marriage partner) for their children should their situation become known also play a role in delaying the cry for assistance.
4. Finally, those women who do seek help are often rebuffed by their families, friends, or even rabbis who either cannot believe this problem exists within their world, or respond by questioning the behavior and abilities of the abused woman.
Fortunately, the veil of secrecy on this issue has been lifted. Mikveh attendants (those assisting married women during their monthly visit to the ritual baths), who see the same bruised women month after month, often function as the first advocates for change.
Anonymous hotlines set up for general purposes in various Jewish communities have been getting numerous calls on this topic, bringing awareness of its urgency to established assistance and relief organizations.
Teachers and physicians have undergone training to help them spot the symptoms of this domestic trauma as it affects both the women and their children. Further, extensive media coverage of this issue in the world at large has sensitized women who, when they encounter such situations closer to home feel empowered to do something about it. And so, a new movement grows: Jewish response to the problem of domestic abuse within our communities.
Heightened awareness among professional and lay leaders has also created more options for the victim seeking help. Furthermore, even among those rabbis and leaders who traditionally preach the importance of shalom bayit as an absolute value, this issue is becoming recognized as a threat to their constituents.
(From an article appearing at www.shalomtaskforce.org)
In the Jewish community, due to the tremendous work of Shalom Task Force, Orthodox Jews have an organization to turn to for advice, referrals or simply for a listening ear. I suggest that if you are a victim of abuse, or know someone who is, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org or call their hotline at 1-888-883-2323.
Next week, part 18, Conflict Resolution
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.