Race Week – Hidden Abuse?

I'm going to do something a little different this week. I'm going to 'theme' the week around both the difficulties and the pleasures of working in a multicultural area. This is partly because there are various bits in the news about race at the moment and I have various thoughts churning around in my head, setting them out here will help me deal with them.

We were looking for the last job of the day, something simple that would leave us close to our home base. The job which came down our vehicle's terminal wasn't ideal, but it wasn't awful either.

“36 year old female, assaulted. Currently in police station”.

It wasn't ideal because she would be going to a non-local hospital, but it wasn't too far from our station. We'd be getting paid overtime to drive back.

Our patient was sitting in the front of the police station talking to one of their civilian support workers. With her were two of her neighbours. All three came from the Indian subcontinent. Our patient didn't speak any English at all, the neighbours were translating as was the civilian support worker.

Out patient physically had a small injury – nothing too awful, it would be sorted out by a quick visit to hospital.

We set about getting a history of what had happened to her via the different translators.

Our patient (36 years old) was married to a sixty-year old man. She had been assaulted by him and by her daughter.

Except the neighbours told us that the daughter wasn't her daughter – she was the sixty year old man's other wife.

She is aged thirteen.

The neighbours had basically rescued our patient and brought her to the police station in order to get this state of affairs out in the open – the assault had been the final straw for them.

Our patient kept crying, partly because of what had happened, but also because she thought that the police, and us, would beat her up.

There are some weird (compared to how I was brought up) power dynamics in some of the communities around our area – young girls marrying men very much older than themselves is just one of them. This is the first one I have come across where the other wife has been under the legal age.

But then I wonder – in this community families live in large groups, perhaps I've taken more than one under-age wife to hospital. If they are described to me as a 'daughter' or 'sister', how am I to know? I've got so used to seeing lots of people packed into one bedroom that I don't think about it anymore. Is there a huge amount of child abuse going on that I have no way of knowing about?

I used to think that these large families were a good thing – the community would look after their own elderly population, I'e often been very impressed with the round the clock care that large families can give. But perhaps there is a dark side to this.

21 thoughts on “Race Week – Hidden Abuse?”

  1. Yay first post, but anyway,I come from a middle eastern family, and I guess it just depends – here any involvement with anyone younger than 16 is classed as child abuse, but back home, its not unheard of for 14/15 year olds to get married – I have to admit, to to someone that old, but 10 years is quite a common gap. On the point of thinking that the police / ambu crew will beat her up – this is quite common from people from countries that have a poorer record of human rights – my parents keep thinking that if we call the police / ambulance up without a very good reason (man running around our garden with a shotgun isnt a good enough reason because he hasnt shot anyone yet, and he might be innocent) that they will get locked up and tortured etc…


  2. The whole bit about being scared about being beaten up is something that I think I'll be touching on in a later post about language.Thanks for the comment.

  3. It's pretty well inevitable that there's a dark side, given the accepted practices. The good news is probably that the care outweighs the abuse in most cases. The abuse, like this case, is way more noticeable and painful. What a sad story. What the poor woman really needs is an emergency room for the soul.I can't see the whole “it's the culture” argument for this sort of thing. (I say that as someone who grew up bilingual in two rather different cultures (with one toe in a third, Middle Eastern one), and who's lived in three very different cultures for extended parts of my adult life. So, anyway, I have been outside the “gated community” on occasion.) Sure, there are cultural differences. Middle Easterners have a very different idea of hospitality than, say, Scots. But there's also a real, fundamental line below which human beings are being ground up and spat out, and that's not acceptable no matter whose culture it is.

    Abuse is abuse. The fact that some communities don't recognize it (yet) doesn't change that fact. Some people think slavery is okay. Some people thought cannibalism was okay. That doesn't make it so.

  4. Interestingly, some of that goes beyond the cultural boundaries. Some victims of Stockholm Syndrome or of other such psychological after-effects of violent abuse like that will fear authority figures such as police and ambulance crews, no matter where they hail from. Of course, coming from poor countries or countries where human rights are stepped upon certainly doesn't help. Just don't underestimate the power of the abuser — given enough time, he can convince anyone that the police, social workers, ambulance workers… anyone, really… will react just as violently to the victim as he does.I'm Canadian, born n' bred. I've graduate degrees. I was the poster-child for Stockholm Syndrome after a year in a violent relationship that pretty much left me clinically dead. I believed him. I was convinced that those who were meant to help the public were going to take his side and beat me up just as badly as he did.

  5. That is the problem with Asians and Africans new to this country. They often come from violent societies where the authorities use the stick and baton as part of everyday routine.She must have been totally confused by the whole matter. The physical scars will heal soon, the scars of experience much longer.

  6. I totally agree. In our own country it was legal until quite recently to beat your wife with a stick, providing it wasn't wider than your thumb! And the UK is one of those nations who used to think slavery was fine and dandy – many people made the point our whole economy would collapse without it when abolition was proposed.Abuse is abuse, and hiding behind cultural or other defences just doesn't cut it – no nation has a 100% clean record of treatment for women, children and the poor and that means we cannot afford to say that the abuse one culture has eradicated, often via the struggle and suffering of committed people, is somehow precious and protected for another.

    Poor woman, I hope she finds a way to control her destiny.

  7. I've just watched the opening footage of a Kurdish female teenager being abused by a mob of angry men – she was then kicked, stoned and finally killed – and they filmed it on their mobile phones. Great day out, huh guys?This is on ITV news, relating to the “honour killing” for which 2 men were sentenced today.

    This kind of thing isn't a cultural issue per se – this is bullying, pure and simple.

  8. I had a long hard think about what I could write here today, but there is very little else that can be said really, there are different ways of saying it, but then at the end of the day in our society, not just in the UK but all over the world there are very evil people, some of whom hide behind the guise of “culture” but that is all there are; very evil people.I haven't had the experience that Tom has had with that particular job, but you have me thinking now, have I been to a similar family, and just taken it for granted that they are blood relatives…? its a very scary thought Tom, and by us missing this, are the abused now thinking of the ambulance crews, why won't they help? are we just feeding the abusers lies that the officials are out to get them?

  9. To be honest this doesn't surprise me. In a continent where people are segregated into castes and beaten for attemping to raise themselves above their station, other forms of abuse are more than likely commonplace. The man is king. That poor woman doesn't really stand a chance

  10. I looked up the story at news.bbc.co.uk about the so-called “honour killing” which is in the news today, and read a story that resembled in many ways the Fred/Rosemary West tale – it was this page: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6718731.stmInterestingly, the sister who went into hiding feels safer wearing the full face veil: I've commented on this before and it was unpopular, but I do think that western (esp, male) commentators who want to deprive women of their veils by civic law have no sense of how much protection it can give a woman in unfavourable home and community circumstances.

    I'm not saying it's right that she should be scared into wearing one, but until we have resolved the problems causing it we have no right to make her show her full face for our own comfort.

    In an ideal society, I should be able to walk home at 3am on a Friday night wearing a bikini – the reality is that if I did I would probably be sexually assaulted, and at the very least severely verbally harrassed by drivers and pedestrians.

    Traditionally Muslim societies set the bar of what is “asking for it” (to quote the famous UK judge Pickles, commenting on a rape case) a bit higher, and unless that is addressed a woman's right to wear any item she feels protects her and saves her from unwanted attention must be guaranteed by our laws.

    Want some backup on that? http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=25210

    I have met enough intelligent Muslim women – including converts – to know that is not the only possible Muslim interpretation of the issue of women's clothing, so it is not a religious issue as such.

    And, look at the differences in Christianity between a Catholic and a Methodist, or in atheism between western humanists, and the communist purges of the last century, and you'll see that 1. people in power interpret “the law” according to their whims and 2. people without power often have to agree to measures that exceed the requirements of their belief systems.


  11. I was a Police Officer for nine years and quite frankly some of these comments are getting right up my nose. Unequivocally I can say that hidden abuse was the worst thing I ever had to deal with but it sure as hell wasn't peculiar to any one ethnic or socio-economic group. It seems to me that some people are here are taking a rather lofty view of their own culture, which is completely unjustified. I know from bitter experience that there is evil behind the most unlikely looking doors.

  12. I kind of agree with Genau. There is hidden abuse behind many unexpected doors- in all cultures and classes.I accept that in some cultures I would be considered a second class citizen because I am female, and I do consider that very, very wrong.

    I believe that when there is a language barrier and certain attitudes are ingrained because of a persons culture than it is harder to break that abuse cycle. Even if the abuser and abused party both know it's very wrong. I can think of individuals that I have dealt with (at work) whom have suffered terrible abuse and on top of breaking free from their abuser (and i know how hard that can be from personal experiance) have to get over some fear of shaming the family. Yes there are networks for people from all manner of cultures, however when a non English speaking person has no other contact outside the family, how do they know about these?

    Which ever way, the abuse of another for whatever percieved reason or justification is just plain wrong.

  13. I'm with you on that — hence my comment above. I don't think it's fair to claim it's a cultural or ethnic issue.If anything, it's a “culture of violence” issue. The fear can be made worse if you come from a culture where there is already an ingrained fear of authority (police, army, etc.) but I don't think that's really the issue, at the core of it all. Really, the issue is that the abuser has convinced his victim that no one will help her and that she is going to receive the same treatment at the hands of others.

    As I said in my comment above — I'm canadian, with multiple graduate degrees, and I was in that situation. Poster child for Stockholm Syndrome. I come from as liberal a background as one can imagine… and I STILL fell for it. I was absolutely convinced, after a year of psychological and physical warfare (torture? Yeah, let's call it what it was) that if I asked for help I would only be harmed.

    My first response to police officers during the whole legal phase of the process that followed was total distrust and fear. They said it was not all that uncommon, either.

    I think people are way too quick to judge other cultures and claim they're “behind the times”… so MUCH goes on behind closed doors. We'd just like to believe it doesn't happen. The psychology of trauma and violence is frighteningly universal and knows no geographic or cultural boundaries.

  14. I don't think that it's people saying that only non-English cultures have hidden abuse (I know that it's not what I meant when I wrote the post), just that I think it is easier to spot if you share the same cultural values. That and, in the case of honour killing I don't think that there would be the same amount of people willing to 'cover' for the crime within UK culture.That and some cultures find things acceptable that UK culture wouldn't find acceptable.

    I remember seeing a programme on the treatment of women in Islamic cultures, where being allowed to beat your wife (as long as it didn't leave a mark on her face or somesuch) is perfectly acceptable, this from a leading Islamic scholar. In the UK that behaviour is illegal. This in my view means that UK culture has a better view of women, not as property but as equal citizens.

    …And Muslims have a better view on alcohol.

    Like many things, it's swings and roundabouts.

  15. I hear you Genau but where are the “honour killings” – an oxymoronic phrase given to us by the oppressors – in chav culture – trailer trash etc in the States?They still kill women but not for those reasons, and most importantly not supported by local codes of morality.

    Bullying and misogynist violence are the same worldwide, I agree, but to have a culture that clings to teachings that permit this kind of thing, just makes it way worse.

    Of course women get beaten up in chavland, in the trailer parks and tower blocks of every country, but at least they usually don't have the state and the religious authorities backing up that violence.

    Abuse is abuse, bullying is bullying, but when it occurs in cultures – and I'm not talking about religions, because atheist China suffers as much, not least with female infanticide – then that is surely something we need to note and address.

    To ignore that fact – read the link I posted above about the murdered girl fed brandy by her family, and yet no-one believed it, for CULTURAL reasons – is to act like poverty doesn't contribute to disease, AKA it ignores prime underlying factors.

    JMO, peace.

  16. Broadly agree, however, wearing the veil, hijab, or even full burqah does not prevent you from being recognised within your own community – 95% of people can be recognised by the way they walk for example, the women I know who wear the veil do so out of choice, also know others who reject it, depends on interpretation of hadiths.

  17. What is an honour killing except a murder? Why is it somehow worse than what happens on a daily basis in the UK? Cultural norms and ideals are rubbish, it's people, individuals that perpetuate them. As for your comment about people willing to 'cover' the crime, well let me tell you, try getting a doctor to inform on a fellow doctor, even when a wrongful death is in issue. In the end, the only thing that matters is to be a decent human being and anyone from anywhere, is capable of being just that.

  18. “…be a decent human being and anyone from anywhere, is capable of being just that…”I agree wholeheartedly.

    I don't think that 'honour' killing is any 'worse' than a standard murder (if such a thing exists); but this bizarre idea of 'honour' was a motive for her death – without it I wonder if she would still be alive, or would the evil of her murderers have found some other motive to kill her?

    Being a UK doctor is a a culture in and of itself, and I agree that a willingness to cover for other's mistakes is wrong. But you cannot say that we should fight the bad things about doctoring culture, but then ignore the injustices of culture from around the world when they take place on our own doorstep.

    We should fight evil no matter the cause, but I don't think that we can afford to be 'culture blind'.

  19. For sure, but I don't know any chavs who live in mansions (maybe I'm not in Essex often enough?).Watching a recent documentary about the long story of Camilla & Prince Charles made me think that the VERY upper, upper classes do still have a kind of “honour” code regarding women – Charles had to marry a virgin, and Camilla wasn't one – so I mentioned chavs (affectionately) because that seems to be less true, in a mostly positive way, of the people I know who fit that description.

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