Overcoming domestic violence: Arab women discuss their experiences
Three local Arab Americans are opening up about their previous marriages that were plagued by domestic violence for more than a decade. Despite enduring physical and verbal abuse for so long, they're confident, empowered and determined to launch successful careers through college.
"Even if you are abused have dreams, and that dream will one day come true. . .Please step up as soon as you feel like something is wrong. If you are abused, don't be abused anymore," said Kendall, one of the former victims.
The women's stories have many similarities. They all turned to the Safety Oasis for Victims of Crime Program at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services. The program's domestic violence division offers free and confidential services such as monthly support groups, counseling, psychiatric services, case management, legal services, food vouchers among other resources.
Program supervisor and therapist, Mona Makki says she's worked with Arab American victims of domestic violence who have been stabbed, shot or raped by their abusers while their children watched.
The program has seen a rise in the number of domestic violence cases involving Arab Americans. "We know there is an increase, and yet we still know that it's a silent issue because many people are scared to talk about it," Makki said.
The program also provides services to victims of child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, rape, hate crimes, robbery, assault and other crimes. The program is funded through the Victims of Crime Act, Crime Victim Services Commission and Michigan Department of Community Health.
Kendall experienced ongoing physical abuse during her marriage. It ranged from slapping, being pushed into objects and having things thrown at her.
In an attempt to isolate her, Kendall's husband never got her a car, although she said he had the money to purchase more than one.
Kendall says she literally can't remember ever going shopping or to the grocery store alone during the entire marriage. "If he could control the way I breathe he would have," she said.
Kendall's home began to resemble a prison. "The house you live in becomes your jail. It's like I committed a crime and this guy is punishing me, and that home is my jail, and the kids are just friends with me in that jail," she said.
In addition to being physical, domestic violence comes in other forms including, sexual, verbal, emotional, economic or spiritual abuse. In terms of financial abuse a spouse could try controlling all the financial assets in the marriage. Religious abuse is considered telling your partner where and what they can worship. Prohibiting your partner from going to school or driving is also domestic violence.
Kendall's lifelong dream was to become a physician, but her former husband wouldn't let her pursue it. She describes him as the jealous type. Today she's taking classes at a university to earn her bachelor's degree, while working and caring for her children in order to pursue her long life dream.
"I'm going to be a gynecologist. That's my dream. . . I don't care what anyone says. I don't care what happens. This is what's going to happen," Kendall said. She believes domestic violence is a serious issue in the Arab community.
Kendall, including other survivors of domestic violence thought they would never be able to survive on their own. "He wanted to see me hungry with nothing to wear, and living by the stop sign. I proved to him I was strong enough to handle myself," she said.
Jeannie, another survivor who is now in law school, said she had to hide the bruises she received from the harsh beatings. "He used to beat me until I was black and blue," she said crying.
Cattie, also a survivor was physically abused almost everyday during her marriage. Her husband would say she was stupid and dumb. Her children witnessed the abuse and now are in counseling as well.
Cattie described one incident in which her husband started pulling her hair outside their home, then the violence escalated in the house to the point where she didn't know whether or not she was conscious. She says staying in the relationship could have resulted in a fatal situation. "Dead, why not?"
Cattie attended college during the marriage, but her former husband made her quit, and she wasn't allowed to get a job. "I'm really proud of myself right now and my life is way better," Cattie said. She plans on going into accounting.
In many cases, the abusers may have a mental disability that's never been diagnosed, are insecure, have low self esteem, abusive childhood or anger issues that haven't been resolved.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of their socio-economic and educational status. "It doesn't matter where you're from," Makki said. She says people with medical or law degrees, social workers and teachers have all turned to the program for help.
One common trend Makki has seen among Arab women is the lack of knowledge about their legal rights and basic information about what domestic violence is. More Here