A dab here, a swipe there, another coat of mascara and perfectly red-lined lips and all the scars and pain of yesterday are obliterated from the blinding lights of fame and the over enthusiastic cheers of over-excited fans and paparazzi.
We have followed with utter shock and disbelief, the public degradation of the marriage of Melanie ‘Mel’ Brown, a member of the defunct 1960s girl band, Spice Girls. She had accused her husband, Stephen Belafonte, of not only beating her but also on one occasion, forcing her into tweeting a fall prior to one of her shows to cover up a beating episode.
Back home, Actress Tonto Dikeh battled, again publicly, with infidelity in her marriage accusing her husband of physical and emotional abuse, stating that she was running for her life. Just recently we saw pictures and statements from another actress, Mercy Aigbe-Gentry, describing horrible episodes of abuse and injuries from her husband of seven years, including a most recent episode which has resulted in visits to courts, restriction warrants and an impending surgery to correct a damaged eye orbit.
In May, a female drummer, Adebukola Shittu, shared pictures of a badly bruised and bleeding nose, an aftermath of physical abuse by her husband few months into their marriage.
Only last Thursday were we greeted with the gory details of a 21 year old South African, Karabo Mokoena, who had been killed and burnt to death by her partner whom it was claimed, she was in an abusive relationship with, and was discovered 12 days after she had been declared missing.
These are the ones we are opportune to learn of. How many more go unnoticed?
What domestic violence is
The National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, and/or emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically, however the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.
It is important to note that domestic violence victims are not necessarily only women. Men, children and domestic help can also be victims of abuse in the home.
Not a lot of current statistical data on domestic violence in Nigeria is available. However, the Demographic and Health Survey 2013 implemented by the National Population Commission (NPC) provides us with the most up to date and accurate insights into the statistical data of domestic abuse of men and women in the country.
According to the report, 28% of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical abuse at least once since they turned 15. Over 25% of married women aged 15-49 reported having experienced domestic violence in any of its varied forms from their spouse. 33% of this number sustained physical injuries while 45% never sought help or spoke to anyone about the abuse. Findings from the report show that 11.8% of the respondents who were victims of abuse had no education. 36.5% had only primary education; 38.6% had only secondary school education while 35.6% of the respondents had schooling beyond secondary school levels.
From the report, women who are more educated and live in urban areas are more likely to be victims of abuse than their counterparts who are less educated and live in rural communities.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that in the U.S. 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by a whopping 500%.
The attacker’s profile
Sadly, not enough statistics is available on the number of male victim cases that occur. In this part of the world, not only is an unconscious stigma attached to victims of domestic violence, male or female, for a man, it is considered emasculating to be at the mercy of a woman let alone a wife or partner.
According to the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), 70% of male perpetrators in the state noted that they were survivors of verbal and emotional abuse while growing up. In reverse cases, you also find that women who abuse their spouses, children or domestic help also have history of having been raised in a similar environment.
Typically, there is a desire to control and be in charge on the part of the perpetrator, a feeling of superiority, and a parallel feeling of helplessness on the part of the victim. There is also a cyclic nature or pattern to domestic abuse. Once an incident occurs and a separation follows, there is aggressive mediation usually involving extended family members and/or religious leaders sometimes with a subsequent ‘mending of fences’ which is often followed by a more severe episode. Sadly, most women continue this repetitive and dangerous cycle till an untimely demise happens.
Society and the culture of silence
Like Mercy Aigbe–Gentry who has come out to say she endured as a victim of abuse for seven long years because she desperately needed to keep her home, many other women stay on in abusive relationships subdued by a hidden code of silence fuelled by culture, to keep their marriages and ‘make it work’ because that is what women are supposed to do. Given that divorce is frowned upon in our culture and religious spheres, women in situations like this are usually incapacitated to make a quick exit before irreparable damages occur.
Also in a bid to preserve family values and peace, victims are usually not encouraged to legally pursue actions against their abusive partners until dire situations arise where restriction orders are urgently needed to preserve life. The DSVRT team found that evidence for 88% of cases recorded within Lagos were either destroyed by the abuser or misplaced by the victim stalling court proceedings or making them impossible to start with. Subsequently, 88% of husbands deny ever physically assaulting their wives. The DSVRT team also found that out of 20% domestic violence survivors who had sought the assistance of the government agencies to get redress, 18% withdrew their cases from court due to influences from extended family, a case of not airing dirty linens in public.
The way forward
When it comes to curtailing the occurrences of domestic violence in our society, a lot of hands must be on deck. Only by collective effort can we win. At the government level both federal, state and local, laws must be enacted and fully enforced to protect the rights of citizens against spousal or domestic violence of any kind. Laws like the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, need to be implemented across the country and followed through with culprits serving sentences commiserate with their crimes to serve as a deterrent for other intending culprits.
Culturally, we need to break down mindsets that unconsciously allows for abuse and the silence code that allows victims suffer privately just to protect the ‘integrity’ of their family names. We must refuse to turn the other eye or encourage women or men to stay on in abusive or life-threatening environments for the ‘sake of their children’ or to ‘keep their family together’. We must refuse to pressure our women to marry men with clear temper problems with the promise of ‘change’.
Women must be taught to be independent and to cater for themselves. It is much harder to leave an abusive relationship if a woman has no backup plan or resources to fall back on. According to the DSVRT team, 90% of the abused women in Lagos were financially dependent on their husbands and as such found it hard to exit the relationships when it turned violent.
Religious and extended family institutions need to do more than plead and mediate factions with a violent bent. We live in a stressful society. With the rising uncomfortable economic conditions in the country and all other added pain points, it isn’t difficult to find adults who have bottled up anger and frustration needing to find a vent. We pay very little attention to mental health issues in our world. It took the suicide of a doctor to get us to create suicide help lines and seminars to help citizens get through everyday life. A man or woman who beats a loved one to stupor does not need a mother or father or pastor begging on his behalf. He/she needs to be registered to speak with a trained psychologist and address his/her anger in a lasting manner. We must encourage this instead.
In all, it is our collective responsibility to ensure the safety of our men, women and children and to ensure that as it remains in our power, they have an opportunity and a shot at the best quality of life possible.