Domestic Violence In Nigeria. A Low Blow To Our Collective Moral Torso.

An article that deals with the scourge of domestic violence within our society...

"We don't see death, instead we see a need to try harder to please him, a need to try harder so he doesn't get mad at us the next time," declared Edna Ifeoma Ozoemenam* who as a 25-year-old woman has already experienced domestic abuse. Edna was speaking with this writer days after the body of the latest woman to be killed by a jealous spouse was found in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

This time the victim was 19-year-old Igochi Charity in Port Harcourt City LGA. Charity moved the number of women killed in domestic violence since the start of this year to 65 officially recorded cases, up from 29 officially recorded last year. Edna, also of Port Harcourt city, told me that she knows and understands the fear women involved in abusive relationships experience, even after escaping the situation. "It (the abuse) didn't start right away. I was 17 and this was my first boyfriend. He was six years older and working in his family business. He bought me gifts, including a phone, and because of his looks and money, I gained popularity. A few months later I was deep in him," said Edna. Bought Love

She explained that when her mother found out she was dating she was upset, but after she met the man, who also brought her gifts, she began to respect him. Edna recalled the first time she realized her love story was turning into a nightmare. "We were walking and laughing when I got a phone call. He grabbed the phone while I was talking and threw it at a tree. When I asked why he slapped me in my face. "I had no idea how to react so I slapped him back and we began fighting. I swore to myself we wouldn't speak again but he started begging me and didn't stop until I fell back for him," added Edna.

She said the abuse continued but each time she forgave him because she felt obligated to. "My family was being fed, I was being taken care of, and he would ring those things in my head. I became a prisoner until I didn't love him anymore. I was tolerating him. I had sex and cried, hating him but acting 'lovey-dovey' in public. "I had fights that left me in pain for days. Looking back brings tears, a bitter feeling in my gut, and a taste of blood."

She said her mother shunned the boyfriend when she found out what was happening to her daughter, but he threatened to burn down their house and kill both her and himself if she left him. Protecting Family It was fear for her family's lives that kept leading her back into her abuser's arms. "I prayed. I wanted to be perfect because I thought if I was he wouldn't hit me. I tried to make him comfortable but it continued. I got to the place where I prayed for him to find another woman, and even though he did he wouldn't leave because he invested in me. "He said if I want to go I must first have a child for him," she said.

According to Edna, the abuse lasted for about four years until it came to a point where she almost killed him, as she thought that was the only way out. The ordeal ended with him migrating, and though that was years ago, she admits that she is still fearful at times. "To those in toxic relationships ... run! From the first sighting of abusiveness, there is no stopping it. Don't think that he can change; it isn't worth it. You have to see the need to leave, or others won't be able to help you. Know your worth and walk away," she advised. "At least 1 in every six women in Africa has suffered physical violence at some point in her life."

–CARICOM Post Beijing Plan of Action.

UN Women (2013) defines domestic violence as ´´various behavioral patterns from members of the family against other members, which directly or indirectly inflict psychological, physical, verbal or sexual harm”. The Nigerian government has made efforts in trying to eradicate domestic violence, where they have committed to reviewing the Domestic Laws and signing on to international conventions such as the Convention of the Elimination of All Violence Against Women, The Commonwealth Plan of Action, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The laws against domestic violence in Nigeria outline ´´that persons affected by domestic violence should get a restraining order, and if the order is breached, the perpetrator is punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine.

Despite these commitments, domestic violence continues to impact women and men in Nigeria. The Amnesty International 2016/17 Report on gender issues determined that ´´high levels of gender-based violence and domestic violence continues in Africa with high numbers of women killed by their spouse or partner´´ The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women noted that domestic violence ´´ has not been addressed holistically and systematically and that measures designed to combat and eradicate all forms of violence against women are not enforced in practice´´.

Sexual and physical violence against partners is two of the most prevalent forms of domestic violence in Nigeria. Both males and females are affected by domestic violence. However, there are few statistics to show the level to which men are affected given that they are unwilling to report it based on community discrimination and stigmatization as there is a belief that “real men are not beaten’’ R.W Connell postulates “that hegemonic standard of manhood include holding strong, unyielding opinions and controlling women’’. Therefore, men who are beaten are seen as subordinate and having inferior status.

There is a developing cultural acceptance of domestic violence in Nigeria that affects the eradication of domestic violence. Some women in Nigeria believe that their male partners have a right to beat them, especially in the case of infidelity. The 2014 Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ICMC) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey highlighted that “46% of women in Edo State feel that their husband/partner has a right to hit or beat them for at least one of a variety of reasons (including being unfaithful)’’. Attitudes that justify domestic violence are more common in rural areas.

Men’s perpetration of domestic violence is driven in part by negative masculinities. Men may feel the need to show their power over their partners by abusing them. ‘If a man cannot establish his authority intellectually or economically, he tends to do so physically’’. A victim’s failure to report cases of domestic violence or to leave an abusive relationship also adds to the challenges the government faces in eradicating the issue. The failure of the judicial system to fully prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and the lack of trust in law enforcement are key factors that account for the lack of reported cases. As Bent-Goodley states in her article Culture and Domestic Violence Transforming Knowledge Development, ´´many women of color do not leave abusive relationships because they do not feel protected by domestic violence social service, mental health, or criminal justice systems’’.

The Nigerian government is taking steps with innovative public policies to protect the victims such as a hotline service recently launched where victims can report abuse. There are also non-governmental organizations that help in providing services such as shelter and counseling for victims.

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