Confusing "Cases" With "Complaints" Raises Numbers of Battered Women in Media: Law Does Not Recognize Term "Honor Crimes"; No Statistics About Sex of Victim

AKEED, Aya Khawaldeh

Local and external media outlets are inclined to use the highest number when it comes to crimes committed against women in Jordanian society in light of the discrepancy among sources. However, all these sources do not have a classification in their statistics of so-called "honor crimes," of which media outlets circulate conflicting figures.

Many media outlets rely on statistics contained in reports issued by the Criminal Information Department, which provide the number of complaints of rape, molestation, and homicide filed with police stations, alongside other crimes. Others rely on figures published by civil society organizations in their press releases. Here, it should be noted that statistics by the Ministry of Justice present the number of cases filed and decided on in this respect.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) has checked the figures published on the number of battered women in Jordan and the cases of rape, molestation, and kidnapping in media outlets over the past three years (2014-2017) and compared them with the figures published on the Criminal Information Department website and the figures it obtained from the Ministry of Justice after submitting a request for information.

According to concerned entities and specialists in this field, the Criminal Information Department provides annually the number of complaints received by the security agencies in relation to different kinds of crimes. Afterward, these are given the proper characterization by public prosecutors and courts. Judicial rulings are issued in some of them.

Based on this, the figures of the Ministry of Justice were much lower than those of the Criminal Information Department since they present the cases in which court rulings have been issued. When journalists do these reports, they must compare figures from both sources and must not depict complaints as cases in which final rulings have been issued.

The above table shows that the number of rape incidents in 2014, according to the Criminal Information Department, was 140. Meanwhile, 32 rape cases had rulings issued in 2014, according to the Ministry of Justice. The same applies to 2015 and 2016 as the numbers, according to the Criminal Information Department, were 122 and 138 respectively, while they were seven cases in 2015 and one case in 2016, according to the Ministry of Justice.

The situation is not different when it comes to molestation crimes against both sexes. For example, the Criminal Information Department had a higher number of 982 complaints in 2016, 766 complaints in 2014, and 752 complaints in 2015. The Ministry of Justice figures indicated that there were 17 cases in 2016, 143 cases in 2014, and 23 cases in 2015.

As for kidnapping involving both sexes, the Criminal Information Department recorded 181 complaints in 2014, 190 complaints in 2015, and 199 complaints in 2016. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice had eight cases in 2014, one case in 2015, and three cases in 2016.

The Ministry of Justice refused to provide AKEED with information about homicide although it was included in the request for information submitted to it on 13 December 2017. Some of the questions were answered one month after submitting the request. In addition, the statistics of the Criminal Information Department, which is affiliated with the Public Security Directorate, do not classify types of homicide according to the sex of the victim. Therefore, it is difficult to know how many women were victims of homicide.

According to the figures of the Criminal Information Department, there were 213 homicides in 2014, 192 in 2015, and 151 in 2016. These homicides cover premeditated murder, voluntary manslaughter, beating that leads to death, and involuntary manslaughter, according to the complaints that are filed before referring them to the public prosecution and the judiciary.

On the discrepancy in numbers and the fact that media outlets depend on different sources for figures, AKEED contacted a number of specialists in this field. Lawyer Hala Ahed, legal adviser at the Jordanian Women"s Union, said that the numbers at the Criminal Information Department do not reflect the actual reality, contrary to the numbers of the Ministry of Justice. She explained this by saying that "the high numbers at the Criminal Information Department are normal as they include the complaints lodged with the security agencies and the Family Protection Department. Besides, the characterization of criminal acts is the prerogative of the public prosecutor and then the court."

Many complaints that are referred to the public prosecutor and then the judiciary, according to Ahed, are given a new characterization or a ruling of acquittal is issued. For example, there could be a complaint of rape, which could be characterized as "consensual sexual intercourse" after conducting investigations and hearing the testimony of witnesses and other parties. Meanwhile, the police record the crime upon receiving it based on the statement of the complainant, "which could contain untrue incidents or others that are hard to prove."

Ahed noted that civil society organizations usually rely on official figures, most important of which are those that come from the Criminal Information Department. They do not heed the figures of the Ministry of Justice. They then analyze them and issue press releases. Here, journalists make the mistake of publishing them without comparing and analyzing them and explaining their motives. They also neglect the figures of the Ministry of Justice.

She adds that "when it comes to domestic violence, community-based organizations make a big mistake when they provide exaggerated figures since there is no national record for violence. Battered women may file a complaint with more than one institution. These are not counted as one complaint; they are counted several times."

Ahed drew attention to an important issue, which is that there is no classification or label as "honor crime," like the rest of the crimes, such as rape, kidnapping, and molestation. The media must set an example by deleting this term from its lexicon. It must not be carried away by the mistakes of civil society organizations when they use it. Some people used this label to claim protecting honor. Therefore, using it provides legitimacy and justifications for committing crimes. The term that should be used is "murder of a woman." There are numerous cases in which women face murder due to many reasons. The media should not link this to honor and the conduct of women because it will influence public opinion.

Salma Nims, secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, told AKEED that the commission depends in its reports and studies on official figures from the Public Security Directorate, including the Family Protection Department and the Criminal Information Department, as well as the Department of Statistics and the Ministry of Justice.

The commission had previously submitted a lot of requests for information to the Ministry of Justice, according to Nims. The answer depends on the nature of the requested information. However, there is no classification of some of the requested information, for example, in courts. This is why the Ministry of Justice has promised that there would be classifications for providing more accurate information. She noted that the figures related to cases of violence against women, most important of which is rape, do not reflect reality. There could be cases that are still pending in court, cases that have not been reported, or complaints that the complainant had dropped.

One of the key demands that the commission is seeking to achieve is having a single national register of cases to ensure transparency of information and not registering the same complaint with more than one entity. She adds: "After the repeal of Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which had previously enabled men to get away with rape; and amending Article 98 of the Penal Code, which now states that men who commit crimes, claiming it is for honor, shall be excluded from benefiting from a mitigating excuse, we hope that Article 306 would be reconsidered in order to stiffen the penalty for sexual harassment. Having a deterrent penalty in place would largely reduce such cases." 

On the role of the media and its ability to cover these issues impartially, Nims believes that most media agencies are operating impartially and objectively without seeking to increase the number of followers or achieve a scoop at the expense of sensitive issues that must be reported correctly. In parallel, there are some media entities that are after sensationalism, especially when it comes to crimes whose victims are women. They try to depict the murder of women as honor crimes and use sensational headlines to attract readers. This confirms that we are still suffering from a negative culture in society that strengthens the notion that any crime against women must be the fault of women.

She goes on to say: "We have been working on these issues for two years through the "Stop the Killing of Women and Girls" campaign, which culminated in the repeal of Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code. When we carefully examine these issues, we see that the cause of murder, in most cases, has to do with inheritance or personal differences within the same family, and not honor."

Munir Idaibes, executive director of Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI)-Jordan, told AKEED that the biggest dilemma they face was access to information because sources are scarce. They rely on the annual reports of the Criminal Information Department, reports of the Ministry of Justice about the work of courts, the Department of Statistics, the last of which was the 2012 Jordan Population and Family Health Survey, and some figures from the Family Protection Department. SIGI had previously submitted one request for information to the Ministry of Justice about figures pertaining to cases of an "indecent act" to conduct a study on the phenomenon of harassment, but they "did not receive a reply."

Media coverage of these issues, according to Idaibes, contains a lot of mistakes. This is because many journalists do not make a distinction between complaints filed with the security agencies and cases that have been decided on and in which a ruling has been issued. They treat figures of complaints as final rulings. Therefore, journalists need to be made aware that many complaints do not result in a conviction. This is why the media has to depend on figures issued by the Ministry of Justice, if it can obtain these figures. The Ministry of Justice, in turn, has to publish annually the number of cases that are decided on and the rulings issued in them on its official website, just like other establishments.

Idaibes pointed out that SIGI stopped using the term "honor crimes" three years ago; it now uses the term "domestic homicides." Some of these are motivated by honor, while others involve family members killing each other. After all, a crime is not an honorable act at all. This term offends women, and the media has to avoid using such labels.

On media coverage of these issues, Rania Sarairah, a journalist who is specialized in covering women affairs, says that some journalists find it easy to publish the figures that they get through press releases sent by civil society organizations. They do not try to interpret them or compare them with figures from some official entities.

Sarairah adds: "We also cannot blame journalists when they publish figures that have peculiar indicators, including high numbers, such as those published by the Criminal Information Department. But they need to handle them within a press report or a feature that discusses the reasons and compares them with other figures."

She says, based on 10 years of experience in this field, that some websites take advantage of such figures and envelop them with hate speech. For example, they might indicate that figures pertaining to violence against women are on the rise in view of the rise in the number of refugees. There are many other examples.

Sarairah indicated that the figures in the press releases of civil society organizations are usually taken from the National Information Technology Center, the Jordanian National Commission for Women, or the Department of Statistics, all of which have a government character.

AKEED thinks that the difficulty of obtaining information from the Ministry of Justice, which is the main source of the number of cases registered with courts and their type and breakdown over the years, prompts some media outlets to rely on the number of complaints filed with police centers and the Family Protection Department with regard to crimes against women or other crimes because these are made available to the public.

AKEED also finds that the term "honor crimes" is not listed under any legal classification, whether at the Criminal Information Department (complaints) or the Ministry of Justice and the courts (cases). Neither of them classifies murders based on the motive and sex of the victim.