08202017Headline:

Domestic Violence: It’s assuming epidemic proportions

Chioma Obi, 35, got married to her loving husband Daniel in Abia State but three years after, it became a an undesirable relationship.  She was beaten and battered most times to coma. Chioma is currently suffering from partial blindness.  The story is not different from that of Tomilola Akinrogbe, who courted her husband for four years but little did she know that the day she signed her wedding certificate was like signing her death warrant when her husband, Adewale Akinrogbe stabbed her to death after an argument ensued between the couple at their residence, Ijaiye, Ogun State.

Apart from physical battering, once a spouse is physically or emotionally abused,  he or she is no longer free, no longer valued, respected or safe.  What can be more violent than living under such circumstance.

When Saturday Vanguard sought the opinions of experts on the issue, they expressed worry over the dangerous trend in our society.

Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, the Executive Director, Project Alert,  a non-governmental women’s rights organisation set up to promote and protect the rights of women and young girls who share his view on the issue opined that the current  rate of domestic violence in Nigeria can not be established, as there has not been a national survey to that effect. However, she said that following the current trend, one in five Nigerian women is a victim of domestic violence. “As according to the 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report, one out of every five Nigerian women and girls aged 15-24 years, has been a victim of one form of violence or the other.”

She said while poverty and social economic challenges could be considered to be one of the numerous reasons for domestic violence, they are not the main reason for the act. “Domestic violence, as indeed other forms of violence against women/young girls, is a power relationship. It is more about men and boys feeling they have power and control over women and young girls, and physically and sexually assaulting them into submission. Putting them (i.e women/girls) in their place (below men) as its often said.

This idea was corroborated by Pa  Aderibigbe Olofin, an octogenarian and sociologist based in Lagos. He stated that violent behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes of a person, mainly the man. “Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children.”

Olofin added that violence at homes could be as a result of avoiding important issues out of fear of angering your partner or  excessively jealous and possessive or domineering attitudes.

“When your partner control where you go or what you do, limit your access to money, phone or car;

destroy your belongings or property; threatens to hurt you or kill you if you opt and of the relationship or marriage could be possible cause of domestic violence.

Effah-Chukwuma however stated that culture and religion play a major role in the continued perpetration of violence against women in general, and domestic violence in particular. “This is because people hide under the guise of both, to justify acts of domestic violence. You here people saying things like ‘’its our culture’’; ‘’the African culture allows it’’; ‘’the Bible says a woman should be submissive, and if she is not, she should be beaten’’; ‘’a foolish woman breaks her home’’ etc. All these add up to keep women in abusive relationships, while encouraging their husbands to continue their abusive acts.”

She expressed worry over the increase in the trend, adding that her NGO receives an average of eight cases of domestic violence per week. “At Project Alert, we receive an average of 8 cases weekly. In 50% of these cases, we are able to settle the matter, after several counselling sessions with both parties individually and then together. We mediate and help them arrive at a mutual agreement, especially where there has been no physical injury, on either parties. In 25% of the cases, the extended family members come in, and take over the matter, with the consent of the couple, and try to resolve the matter. In the remaining 25%, the violence and threat to life is so severe that the woman, states clearly that she does not want to go back to the marriage, for fear of dying, and as such wants a separation or divorce. Thus our first response is typically to try mediating,” she noted.

Effah-Chukwuma also stated that both domestic violence which includes physical battering, threat to life etc and sexual violence (rape, gang rape, incest, defilement, sexual abuse) are the two commonest forms of violence against women and young girls in Nigeria. “In fact sexual violence against children (especially little girls) is becoming very prevalent. Hardly can a day go by, without one newspaper reporting a case of defilement and incest against a young girl, some times as little as two years of age. It is in my opinion, that it is assuming epidemic proportions,” she stressed.

On how stigmatization has been affecting agencies intervention and prosecution, Effah-Chukwuma agreed that stigmatization is one of the factors that cause victims to remain silent.

“Yes, stigmatization is an issue, as it causes victims to keep silent, and not cry out for help. The greatest challenge however is the poor response from the criminal justice system (police and courts) and social service providers (hospitals, social welfare) to victims and their families/friends. Police insensitivity to and unprofessional handling of sexual violence cases due to poor training and lack of logistics, has resulted in low reporting rates of sexual violence cases especially.”

“Lack of logistics for the police means that victims of crime have to fund the process of seeking justice, starting from providing transportation to investigating police officers, going to hospital, paying for medical tests, pay for telephone calls, etc. Very few victims can afford all these costs, and as such their cases never get prosecuted. The courts on the other hand are also insensitive to the plights of victim, with the frequent adjournments and delays. Justice delayed it is said, is justice denied.”

“The Domestic Violence Law of Lagos state, which was enacted in May 2007, is a relatively new law that Lagosians are just getting to know about. It requires aggressive mass sensitization and awareness creation by government, targeting the public, the police and the judiciary. My organization Project Alert, in 2008 and 2009, bought copies of the law from the Ministry of Justice, and donated to all police divisions in Lagos, during the tenure of Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo as Commissioner of Police in the state. We also conducted some trainings for officers. However there is a need for a sustained public awareness campaign on the law, if it is to make impact, and help prevent acts of violence in the domestic sphere. Presently it is not very functional, as so many people are yet to know about it, and understand how the law works.”

She advised that government at all levels should stop playing politics with the lives of women and young girls, and take seriously the issue of domestic violence and sexual violence. Effah-Chukwuma maintained that more and more women are suffering various health implications and even dying from these twin problems. “Relevant agencies charged with responding and providing support services to victims, should be well trained and well equipped to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Government, NGOs and the private sector need to partner to end all forms of violence against women and young girls,” she stated. Shedding more light on the issue, Pa  Aderibigbe Olofin, said: “Domestic violence includes assault with weapons such as knife, gun, matchet, burning or killing, pushing, throwing, kicking, slapping, grabbing, hitting, punching, beating, biting, restraining, confinement to hurt and cause emotional imbalance in a person.”

“When your partner control where you go or what you do, limit your access to money, phone or car;

destroy your belongings or property; threatens to hurt you or kill you if you opt and of the relationship or marriage could be possible cause of domestic violence.

According to him, other causes include, “when your partner forces you to participate in an unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity;  is domestic violence.

He opined that although it is most times caused by men.  “It is as a result of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.”

He added that alcohol and other chemical substance may contribute to violent behaviour. “A drunk or high person will be less likely to control his violent impulse at the slightest provocation by a spouse.

He advised that people should acquaint themselves with the existing prohibitive laws to seek redress.

Olofin urged spouses to take note of signs of an abusive relationship which according to him is the first step to ending it. He added that it is absurd to live in fear of the person you love.

What Next?

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