By Christiana Essien
Domestic violence is a violent or aggressive behaviour in the home setting involving the violent abuse of a spouse or a partner.
According to the US department for Justice, domestic Violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over other intimate partner.
REASONS WHY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS ON THE RISE IN AFRICA (With Particular reference to Nigeria)
Domestic Violence has assumed ridiculous and alarming proportions today for the following reasons:
-It is believed that marriage is the peak of achievement for the African woman.
-Many religious persons, believe that divorcees will not make heaven, – Divorcees are mostly treated with contempt and are subject to some disabilities. They are sometimes not allowed to hold certain offices in society and in religious circle. This perspective is taken without finding out the circumstances surrounding the divorce or hearing from the victim.
-Many victims of domestic Violence are afraid that their children will hate or blame them if they choose to walk out of a domestic violence situation.
-Many persons are reluctant to end violent marriages because they don’t want their partner to end up marrying someone else.
– Male victims are unable to walk out of violent marriages because it is believed that a man is less of a man if he is not in charge of the situation at all times. It is not culturally accepted for him to leave such marriages. He is perceived in the light of a coward, weakling or less than a man. This is damaging to the ego of most men who eventually choose to keep condoning emotional abuse instead.
For these reasons enumerated above, many women and men trapped in domestic violence situations would rather endure brutality than risk leaving such marriages so that they would not become an object of scorn and ridicule in society.
SOLUTIONS TO THE ISSUES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The challenge of identifying the solution to domestic violence is three fold:
Firstly, no one act comprises Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence can be sexual, physical, emotional, economic and psychological.
Again, the causes of domestic violence are many and varied. It therefore follows that the solution to domestic violence would depend on the actual cause of the violent behaviour. We all know that a cause has o be identified and accepted before a solution can be prescribed.
Lastly, even when these causes are identified, society and the abusers, refuse to accept them as being causes of domestic violence. Instead, some persons erroneously prefer to hold the victim responsible for the action of the abuser. This may seem strange but victim blaming is the order of the day in our African society today.
Solutions to domestic violence include:
a. SEEKING REFUGE – Victim are advised to seek refuge in cases of domestic violence to ensure that the conflict doesn’t escalate and to heal up emotionally. Whether the decision to seek refuge from an abusive marriage will be a temporary one or a permanent one would determine on the circumstances of each individual case of abuse and on the conduct of the abuser afterwards.
In the instances enumerated below, victims of abuse may give the marriage a second chance where the abuser:
– accepts that he/she alone is responsible for his/her actions, -accepts that he/she needs help, – accepts to seek help from the right sources as will be discussed below, -accept to be accountable to an unbiased third party, who should be a specialist in counselling/handling domestic violent cases.
– accept to be closely monitored to ensure that the victim can still live peacefully should she/he return to the marriage,
– accept that any further attempt on the part of the abuser, to resort to domestic violence, could end the marriage because human life is precious and many who have lost their lives in the course of continuing to endure abuse, do not have a second chance to live again.
b. SCRUTINISING PRE – CONCEIVED NOTIONS ABOUT DIVORCE AND DIVORCEES – Many view divorcees with contempt, in religious circles, some believe that divorcees will not make heaven and should not aspire to any office in society or in religious settings, the circumstances of the divorce notwithstanding.
If we must progress as a society, we must be ready to scrutinize these preconceived notions and discard them where appropriate. The yardstick for determining which of these notions should be discarded should ultimately be whether the reason for enduring a violently abusive marriage is worth what the victim could actually end up losing – human life.
A second chance is neither wise nor advisable for a victim who nearly lost his/her life in the hands of the abuser. This article seeks to proffer the alternative of leaving abusive marriages permanently as an option only where the victims reasonably suspects that his or her life is endangered. The victim must be encouraged and should personally choose to live and not die.
However, the ultimate choice to end an abusive marriage lies on the victim. The victim need not be pressured to make this decision.
Christians who frown at divorce need to know that domestic violence is anti – gospel and anti – Christ because the model of family interaction as laid down by Christ for the family is self – sacrificial love.
C. COUNSELLING – Both abusers and victims of domestic violence need psychological treatment by a psychologist and/or religious leaders separately or individually. Religious institutions should have a viable counselling unit since in this part of the world; religion plays a significant role in people’s lives.
Counselling would identify the root factors which influence the abuser to act the way he does. It will identify if the abuser lacks self control, whether the abuser is from an abusive home, whether the problem of the abuser is insecurity, inferiority complex, jealousy, whether its spiritual, whether it is anger related (in which case, anger management classes may be recommended).
Both parties would be taught how to reduce tension as opposed to escalating a conflict. They would be taught how to walk away in the face of a disagreement etc, as opposed to being argumentative, harassing or constantly throwing insults to the other. This could escalate the situation as some provocation could influence a person to act violently.
D. DIVINE INTERVENTION –People rarely change who they are unless by divine intervention. This is for those who believe in God. It has been observed that adherents to Christianity believe in the power of the Holy – Spirit to change an individual. The combined fruits of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer make for a peaceful home. In fact, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is said to be Self – Control. So abusers can be advised to turn to the God of the Christians if all else fails. Unless the divine occurs or the abuser takes steps to change, going back to an abusive marriage may enable further abuse which may lead to emotional or actual death.
E. SAY NO TO VICTIM BLAMING – As mentioned earlier on, some persons erroneously prefer to hold the victim responsible for the action of the abuser. This may seem strange but victim blaming is the order of the day in our African society today.
The negative consequence of victim blaming is that it makes the victims feel responsible for the actions of their abusers. It will make them disoriented. Some end up not leaving marriages that they should have left, some end up not seeking the help that they should have gotten because they don’t want to be judged or criticized by society.
Victims need our love, understanding and acceptance not ridicule, condemnation or isolation. We need to learn to comfort victims of domestic violence.
F. AWARENESSS/SENSITIZATION – The society needs awareness on the evils of domestic violence. The society should be made to understand that domestic violence should not be tolerated. They need to be told how to help a victim of domestic violence and what they must not do – Victim blaming.
Society needs to be made to understand that violence is never justified except it’s in self-defence when confronted with life or death. We need to know that it is better to walk away than to let the violence get to this stage.
G. CHILDREN SHOULD NOT GROW UP IN ABUSIVE MARRIAGES – For, a person who remains in an abusive marriage is exposing their children to the same influences which might make the children re-enact the same form of violence in their future families. For violence is the only form of interaction that a child witnessed between his parents, it would be hard for him to give what he does not have by way of sharing a love that he never witnessed nor received as a child. An abused spouse should not let the children grow up in an abusive marriage so that they would not grow up damaged and live an abusive life as the norm.
When an abused spouse runs from an abused marriage, they will be preserving the children from being exposed to an abnormality.
H. ABSTINENCE FROM ALCOHOL AND DRUGS – Alcohol could contribute to violent behaviour. Where this is the case, the abuser should reduce, or better still, stop the consumption of alcohol or drugs completely.
I. LEARNING APPROPRIATE FORMS OF DISCIPLINE – Parents, teachers and guardians need to learn about how best to discipline a child. There is a thin line between discipline and abuse and unfortunately, this line is crossed most of the time. Everyone who interacts with children in one way or the other, is encouraged to read books on how to properly discipline a child so that in an attempt to discipline the child, we would not be teaching the child violence as a way of responding to disobedience. Our children watch how we treat relatives and house helps. They see how we violate them. Yes, spare the rod and spoil the child doesn’t always translate to abusing the child.
A child has rights too. The same way a spouse should not act like they own the other spouse, this is the same way that parents need to stop playing God over their child. They do not own the child. Let’s get it right.
J. VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (ESPECIALLY MEN) SHOULD START SPEAKING OUT – The saddest thing is that where a man is abused in the home, many don’t believe it. He is expected to be a man and not feel pain. A man who admits to being a victim perceived as being less of a man, a weakling. This unrealistic expectation of society about men, in addition to men being repressive in nature, makes it quite difficult to estimate the percentage of men in domestic violence situations. Many remain and lose their lives or die internally. There is no support system for men. There is no knowledge of what constitutes violence to a man. Domestic violence to a man may not always be physical assault. It may take the form of when a wife harasses a man to a point where life becomes unbearable for him, denies him of food or sex for long periods, belittles him in the eyes of society etc. This is emotional abuse and is a form of domestic violence as it kills the man on the inside.
Domestic violence is hard on women because women are emotional beings. Victims should be encouraged to break the silence over abuse today because the weight of silence is great. For the reason silence is said to have torment. Victims of domestic violence should
BREAK THE SILENCE TODAY.
Christiana Essien is a Legal practitioner and Public Affairs Analyst.