“I never hit my wife in the face. I do not want to mark her,” confides 48-year-old Walid between puffs of his arguileh. “I beat her on her shoulders, on her back or arms, [and] sometimes with a stick.”
The violence does not occur on a regular basis; sometimes once every three months, sometimes every week. He emphasizes he does not hit his wife Huda because he hates her. He just needs to take the pressure out somewhere.
“Most abusive men are not abusive because they are sadistic,” explains psychotherapist Anthony Keedi. “They do not enjoy seeing people in pain. It is not like they think, 'I am going home now to punch her in her face to see her cry.' It is because they are sensitive and they do not know how to deal with what they feel, so they act out in anger.”
Walid’s wife Huda is not alone in her suffering. Although accurate figures are difficult to ascertain, a 2002 study conducted in different primary health care centers in Lebanon revealed that 35 percent of the 1,415 women interviewed admitted to being victims of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is really a big issue [in Lebanon],” confirms psychotherapist Ola Ataya, “especially if we talk about refugees and people who are displaced.”
“It is very hard for [abusive men] to realize that there are other way to express themselves than through violence.”
According to Jinan Usta, a doctor and researcher who has been working on the issue for over ten years, the problem stems from childhood. “Men in [Lebanese] society are brought up to deal with anger and frustration by shouting or being violent, not by crying, communicating or discussing,” she said.
Walid attributes his stress and anger to the difficult circumstances in which his family lives. A decade ago, he had a fixed job, a regular income and led a comfortable life in a Christian village outside Baalbek. Following a poor business decision, he lost his investments and could only afford modest accommodation in a refugee camp. Now the family relies on the assistance of UNRWA to supplement his irregular income as a taxi driver.
Walid is aware of how his violence has affected those close to him. He sees how his children—whom he also beats—have become afraid of him. They ask their mother for permission to do things and they tell her if something happens to them. The father is left out. It makes him angry.
“They cannot hide stuff from me, because I am the household and responsible for everything and everyone in the house. If any problem occurs, the law will follow me, not my kids or wife.”
“They see how their father behaves,” Huda says, “so they are dealing with each other in the same way, by hitting, shouting and cursing.”
Huda, meanwhile, revealed that she would have left her husband years ago if she had not been sure that he really loves her. He loses control when he gets upset and cannot see in front of himself, she says. But he kisses her and tells her that everything will be fine.
“In the moment when I lose control over my feelings and beat my wife, I cannot tell you if I am doing something wrong or not. But afterward, of course, I feel that I did something bad, because I did something out of my control,” Walid says.
This is typical behavior, according to Keedi. “When the men come back for forgiveness, maybe they cry. They feel that they will change, and that is why the women stay. But this is the problem, because the next time they get angry, they go down and act violently again.”
Huda, meanwhile, thinks that if she treated Walid in a more gentle way he would be less angry.
“I do not show my feelings. I keep them inside. I am so shy. And our kids are getting older and I do not feel comfortable hugging him in front of them,” she says.
Walid has no friends with whom he can confide. He is afraid that if he tells someone, the person will misuse the information and talk with Huda behind his back and advise her to leave him.