Study Shows That the Belief That Wife-beating is Rare in the Jewish Family is a Myth

The wide spread belief that wife-beating is practically non-existent in the Jewish family is a myth, according to findings presented at the first major conference here on the battered Jewish wife, a Task Force on Marriage and Divorce of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies has reported.

Findings of a study of some 2,600 families served by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS), presented to the conference, indicated that nearly one in 20 of all Jewish families among the 2,600 were found by agency caseworkers to have experienced incidents of physical abuse of the wife. The conference, held last Wednesday, was attended by some 250 social workers, rabbis and other professionals concerned with the family.

The survey of the 2,600 families was presented by Michael Friedman, JBFCS director of operations. He reported that only physical abuse, including sexual abuse, was examined for both Jewish and non-Jewish families coming to the JBFCS for help.

According to a breakdown provided to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 70 percent, or about 1,800 families in the study, were Jewish, while the other 30 percent, or some 800, were non-Jewish.

FINDINGS ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

The study, covering the agency’s 1981 year of operations, found that at least 84 percent of the agency’s caseworkers questioned reported at least one case of family domestic violence. The study found that 77 percent of the cases were moderate — mostly sexual abuse — defined as unacceptable physical abuse but not requiring medical attention.

The study also found that 13 percent of the 2,600 cases involved severe physical abuse, defined as requiring medical attention; and three percent were defined as severe, requiring hospitalization.

Friedman said that overall domestic violence situations — which included child abuse, abuse of spouses, sibling abuse and abuse of parents — totaled 13.4 percent of such violence reported among the 1,800 Jewish family clients of the agency, compared with a total of 29.4 percent of such problems reported by the 800 non-Jewish families among the 2,600 families studied.

Friedman said the data translated into the fact that nearly one in 20 of the 1,800 Jewish families in the study had incidents of abuse of spouses, which a spokesperson told the JTA was almost entirely beatings of wives by husbands, but with a very small number of cases of wives abusing husbands physically.

The percentage figures were 4.3 percent for spouse abuse among the Jewish families for which caseworkers reported domestic violence; and 7.4 percent among non-Jewish family clients found to have domestic violence problems.

DATA ON CHILD ABUSE

Friedman said the study data showed that abuse of children was higher than abuse of spouses for both Jewish and non-Jewish families. He said 6.1 percent of violence-affected Jewish families were found to have problems of abuse of their children, compared with 15.8 percent of non-Jewish families. The data showed that 1.6 percent of the Jewish families with domestic violence had instances of abuse of siblings, presumably by each other, compared with 4.1 percent of non-Jewish families with domestic violence problems.

The data also showed that 1.4 percent of the Jewish families had instances of abuse of parents, compared with 2.1 percent of the non-Jewish families. The spokesperson said this apparently referred to abuse of elderly parents by grown children with whom they lived.

Friedman reported that the study did not find much statistical difference in incidence of domestic violence between white versus non-white family clients, and no difference between poor and well-to-do parents.

Friedman concluded his report by asserting there is an “enormous” amount of ignorance about abuse of spouses and estimated the incidence of such abuse of wives was probably about 25 percent more than the roughly one in 20 reported for the 1,800 Jewish families with such domestic problems.

NEED TO FIGHT THE PROBLEM

Karen Burstein, executive director of the New York State Consumer Protection Board and co-chairperson of the Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, opened the conference with the declaration that “we are here to begin the work needed to fight the problem.”

Quoting from the rabbinical tradition which declares that “to save one life is to save the whole world,” Ms. Burstein stressed that while government can help through laws and regulations, it does not have the resources to deal with the problem and that problem must therefore be tackled by the total community.

PERSONAL TESTIMONY BY AN ORTHODOX WOMAN

Personal testimony of husband abuse was presented by an Orthodox woman, who told the conference that, in the first six weeks of her marriage, her husband slapped her and pulled her hair. Her husband apologized but, a week later, he hit her hard enough to make her black and blue. The beatings consistently became more severe, she said.

She said she went to her rabbi, who said to her “What did you do to deserve such a beating?” Finally, she said, she went into hiding for five days and then, having nowhere else to go, returned home. She said her husband subsequently stomped on her, though she was two months pregnant.

She recalled that she always hoped “things would get better. Now I know that this was not living, it was surviving.” She said she sought and found refuge in the Transition Center operated by the Gustave Hartman YM-YWHA in Far Rockaway in the Borough of Queens, the only one of seven city-funded shelters which has kosher facilities.

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