Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Spousal Abuse among Immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Spousal Abuse among Immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel

Article excerpt

This ethnographic study obtains first-hand information on spousal abuse from Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. Data include 23 interviews with male and female immigrants of various ages and 10 professionals who worked with this community as well as observations and documents. The findings, verified by participants, show that during cultural transition, the immigrants' code of honor, traditional conflict-solving institutions, and family role distribution disintegrate. This situation, exacerbated by economic distress, proved conducive to women's abuse. Lack of cultural sensitivity displayed by social services actually encouraged women to behave abusively toward their husbands and destroy their families. Discussion focuses on communication failures in spousal-abuse discourse between immigrants from Ethiopia and absorbing society, originating in differences in values, behavior, social representations, and insensitive culture theories.

Key Words: community, couple violence, culture, ethnography, family roles, immigration from Ethiopia.

Over the past few years (1999 - 2004), I was involved in evaluating an experimental program to prevent spousal abuse among immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel (Kacen & Keidar, 2006). In a conversation with an educated man from this community who participated in the program, I asked how to say "violence toward women" or "domestic violence" in his native Amharic. My informer replied that there is no such term in their language. "Then how do you describe situations in which a husband beats or insult his wife"? I asked. He answered, "There is no reason to speak about it. " The conversation aroused my curiosity, as language is a means used by cultural groups to transmit knowledge and shape social norms (Green, 1995). I asked myself whether there was no need for the concept because violence toward women was nonexistent in Ethiopia, or perhaps because there is another term with a similar meaning, or was it that the phenomenon is an accepted, self-evident norm that need not be discussed judgmentally as it is in Western cultures. Something else troubled me as well. If there is no term for domestic violence in Amharic, how do immigrants from Ethiopia understand this concept as used in Israeli society to describe negative situations of violence between husbands and wives? What is the term's meaning to them? I decided to find out what the immigrants themselves have to say about these issues, interviewing men and women of various ages who fulfill a variety of functions in their community.

Two additional factors motivated examination of the topic: the high rates of violence toward women among immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel and the failure of social services to prevent and treat the problem, particularly within this population group.

Spousal-Abuse Rates Among Immigrants From Ethiopia

Twenty-five percent of all cases of murder of women by their spouses in Israel each year involve immigrants from Ethiopia, a rate considerably higher than their proportion in the general population (1.5%). Although murder of women by their husbands is an extreme indicator, it does reflect a problem that requires special investigation. According to an Israel police report, 13,592 spousal-abuse complaints were registered in 2004, of which 1,956 were filed by new immigrants of various origins, including 226 immigrants from Ethiopia (1.67% of all files and 11.6% of all those involving immigrants). This percentage, too, is higher than the share of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel's population (http:// The figures do not reflect the full extent of violence toward women, as only 10% of all battered women (Fishman, Eisikovits, Mesch, & Gusinsky, 2001) - especially immigrants from countries with traditional societies (Bui, 2003) - inform the police of their situation. Despite this high rate, spousal abuse among immigrants from Ethiopia has only been on the Israeli agenda for 5 years, and the taboo imposed on the subject was only lifted about 2 years ago when members of the community began speaking openly about the phenomenon, seeking to reduce its incidence. …

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