By Arab News
According to the police in Jeddah, 20 percent of cases of physical abuse between married couples — 145 a month — involve wives attacking their husbands. Before readers conclude that women in Jeddah are particularly aggressive, there is no reason to believe that the figures are any different elsewhere in the Kingdom. The explanation from a spokesperson for the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) that women have few other means to express their anger sounds entirely plausible but logically there must be similar numbers of women in Riyadh, Damman and other places whose anger takes the form of violence. Nor, is there any reason to believe the suggestion from both police and the HRC that this figure represents a growing trend. Women, like men, have been prey to sudden outbursts of violence since time immemorial. What can be seen as new is that it is now being reported.
That is, in itself, a significant development. Traditionally, men would have been embarrassed to state publicly that their wives beat them. Clearly attitudes are changing.
Husband beating needs dealing with — and we endorse the HRC’s call for more family counseling centers to be set up to address with the issue. But the main problem is not wives beating up husbands. It is husbands beating up wives. By Jeddah police’s own statistical admission, if 20 percent of cases involve women beating husbands, then 80 percent— 580 cases a month — are those of men beating their wives. And in this case there is not the simple excuse of a sudden outburst of anger. There are men who habitually beat their wives to enforce their will. The proof is in the number of government shelters to protect women from family violence.
There are no published figures on domestic violence in the Kingdom. But if the 725 monthly cases of violence involving couples in Jeddah that the police report are replicated nationally, it means an annual Kingdom-wide figure of almost 74,000 cases. That is a lot less than, say, in the 686,000 cases a year in the UK. But it is still a horrendous number. Moreover, it is certainly miniscule compared to the real figure. Worldwide, the overwhelming majority domestic violence incidents go unreported. In the US, it is estimated that just one percent is reported to the police.
Domestic violence is not just about husbands beating wives or vice versa. There is also violence against children. Again in the UK, where far more research has been done than in Saudi Arabia it is reported that in over 50 percent of cases of violence between couples, children were also attacked. Again, there is no reason to imagine that Saudi Arabia might be any different.
Arab News and other Saudi newspapers report on such incidents when we hear about them but there is a culture of silence that envelops them, even in those comparatively few cases reported to the police or the courts. Family honor and fear of humiliation come first — but in doing so enable the scourge to flourish. Moreover, often the police and the courts are accused of siding with the abusers. Even so, there is only so much that they can do when most cases remain undetected, behind private walls. Attitudes have to change. More exposure is needed. That requires a national campaign. So far there is not even a willingness to speak up, let alone compile and publish statistics.