Devastating effects: Women and girls as victims of domestic violence in Syria

A young woman protests against violence toward women and girls by writing messages on her face demanding an end to the violence (Shutterstock)

A young woman protests against violence toward women and girls by writing messages on her face demanding an end to the violence (Shutterstock)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hamood

Amidst her screams trying to prove her innocence from an accusation that she “is not a virgin” (implying that she had an illegitimate or illegal relationship), sticks crowded over a young woman’s body in the Raqqa province, northeastern Syria, as two men beat and kicked her while hurling insults.

One of the men, believed to be her older brother, joined the “beating party” on the roadside, with brutality and violence.

The incident was circulated via a video on social media at the end of last February, sparking angry reactions opposing the violence practiced against girls, especially in childhood, which is just one form of several faces of domestic violence.

Domestic violence against girls is not new in the Syrian family, as video recordings occasionally surface on social media reminding that it is still active, in the absence of official statistics.

Saba (17 years old), living in Idlib city, is subjected to insults and beating almost daily by her father, for no apparent reason, according to what her mother Hasna told Enab Baladi.

What pains the mother most is her inability to rescue the girl from her father’s hands or to defend her, fearing that she would also be subjected to abuse, but in an even harsher way, as happened in a previous instance detailed by the mother, when she tried to free her young daughter and became the new victim of abuse, due to her forbidden defense as repeatedly warned by the husband.

Traditions and customs play the biggest role

Domestic violence is the deliberate abuse among individuals linked by family relations—like a husband beating his wife, violence of one or both parents towards their children or one of them, wife’s violence against her husband, or between siblings. Typically, the abuser is the stronger party, and linguistically, this behavior signifies severity and cruelty.

Violence is the deliberate use of physical force, whether through threat or actual application, by one person against another, or a group of people. It may result in actual or potential physical injury, death, psychological harm, poor development, or deprivation, according to the definition by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Violence against women, causing devastating harm to women’s lives and their children’s, is not much different from domestic violence if the woman herself is a victim and subjected to both forms of violence.

Medical psychology specialist, Dr. Omar al-Nimr, told Enab Baladi that domestic violence could be physical, verbal, economic, sexual, or psychological, including all types of threats, rights deprivation, and neglect. It is regarded as a general phenomenon known in all societies to varying degrees.

In Arab societies in general, traditions and customs play an important role in governing and deciding, implanting ideas in people’s minds and altering the nature of how they perceive events and their psychological formations, making them act violently in line with those traditions, according to what psychologist Alaa al-Dali told Enab Baladi.

Al-Dali explained that other fundamental reasons prompting violence in conservative environments that adhere to their customs and cultural heritage include the prevalent culture that views the girl as a “second-class human,” deficient and bringing “disgrace” to the family, in addition to the spur of anger controlling the situation at that moment.

We can say, according to psychologist al-Dali, that the abuser is a person whose thinking is “unconscious and confused” and is usually in a state of chaos, influenced in some way by the social norms of the region which embolden them to practice it against their family members.

The psychologist believes that whoever uses domestic violence in any of its forms might very likely be incapable of “properly” thinking or feeling towards the person they abused. Additionally, the abuser in some cases lacks the emotional connection with the victim, regardless of the actual family bond, as the idea of controlling those around him outweighs.

Long-term effects

The United Nations defines violence against women as “any gender-based violent act that results, or is likely to result, in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”

According to Saba’s mother, living in Idlib city, her daughter has recently become quieter and more withdrawn. When the mother tries to entertain her or sit with her, the girl responds unexpectedly and shows a desire not to engage in conversation, something that has become more apparent after she reached puberty.

Domestic violence leads to negative effects on the individual, family, and society, both psychologically and physically, and its outcomes may last for extended periods, appearing both in the short and long term, as explained by two specialists to Enab Baladi about the anticipated consequences after a girl or woman is subjected to domestic violence.

Psychologist Alaa al-Dali believes that violence inflicted on girls and women leaves long-lasting effects, both in its depth and over time, especially if it accompanies them daily and continues, allowing the effects to be more severe.

As for the impact on the abused person’s character, it deepens, and her staying in the same environment is considered a “disaster” whose results may not be amendable, according to the psychologist, and intensifies her feelings of guilt, deficiency, and humiliation, and her inability to confront society or handle relationships with a spouse or children emotionally.

Psychologist Dr. Omar al-Nimr sees that the psychological effects affecting the abused girl include sleep disorders, a state of continuous anxiety, self-esteem and confidence deterioration, mental capabilities weakening, focus loss and distractibility, and her incapacity to make decisions and act independently and correctly in society, sometimes leading to suicide.

According to Dr. al-Nimr, the psychological impacts on the abused girl play a fundamental role in her future life, affecting her ability to choose a suitable partner, possibly making her accept someone she does not desire to be with, but who appears as a savior from the surrounding domestic violence environment. He noted that tension and fear would accompany her due to previous experiences in her family relationships.

The psychologists who spoke to Enab Baladi agree on the necessity of psychological treatment for the abused to face the effects of violence before psychological issues exacerbate and evolve.


Psychological therapy for the girl in cases of domestic violence or violence against women is very necessary, to rebuild correct conceptions about her relationship with herself first, then with the man, the family, and children, aiming to establish a healthy family.

Alaa al-Dali, Psychologist


Violence distorts family relations

Violence disfigures family relationships, as exemplified by Rama, who has been severely beaten by her husband of ten years. The violence has escalated in recent years, a situation exacerbated by the absence of her family members, who were killed by an airstrike from the Syrian regime targeting the city of al-Bukamal in 2014.

Rama (33 years old) mentioned that she lost her unborn child last year due to severe beatings and kicks to various parts of her body. However, she sees no solution but to endure her husband, with whom she has four children, the oldest being eight years old.

Primarily, the absence of a shelter is a reason why Rama (who preferred not to disclose her full name for personal reasons) does not consider divorce, despite suffering harsh treatment from her husband towards her and the children. She describes their treatment as “unnatural” compared to other families, causing the children to fear making any noise from the moment their father enters the home to avoid being beaten.

The atmosphere of violence within the family leads to its destruction and paves the way for family disintegration, in addition to reducing the productivity and efficiency of its members in all aspects. A person who is subjected to violence cannot perform as effectively as a healthy, confident individual, according to Dr. Omar al-Nimr.

Al-Nimr highlights one of the most dangerous consequences of domestic violence on the family: its weakening, loss of security among its members, and the breaking of the spirits of the abused. This can result in an individual incapable of integrating into society and forming a normal family, as the abused person may unconsciously pass this behavior on to their children.

Al-Nimr also notes that restoring the familial relationship between the abused girl and the family member who abused her to normal or near-normal conditions might take a long time and is dependent on several factors, including the extent of abuse, the personality of the girl, and the nature of any apology provided, if present. He emphasizes that the ability to forgive and move on varies from one individual to another.

Lack of transparency

There is a lack of precise statistical data in Syria across various sectors, mainly due to a lack of transparency. Syria ranks 177th out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index for the year 2023 by Transparency International.

According to the latest statistics released by the head of the General Authority for Forensic Medicine in Syria, Zaher Hajjo, in August 2022, there were 872 cases of violence against Syrian women in the first half of 2022.

In October 2021, Syria ranked second to last on the Women Peace and Security Index (WPS) issued by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and the PRIO Center on Gender, Peace and Security at the United Nations. According to the index, Syria is the worst globally concerning organized violence and regionally for community safety.

Based on the 2023 Women Peace and Security Index, Syria is ranked 171 out of 177, reflecting the state of protection, justice, and security afforded to women in Syria.


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