Across the world, domestic violence is clearly making the headlines. In Nigeria, for instance, such headlines include: “Judge sentences man to death for killing wife”; “Husband pours acid on wife”; “67-year-old man defiles eight-year-old girl”; “Wife stabs husband to death” and many more.
Whilst women, men, boys and girls can be victims of domestic violence, women and girls are disproportionally affected. Common forms of violence in the home are perpetrated by males who are in positions of trust, intimacy and power over the female partners, like husbands, boyfriends, fathers, fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law, stepfathers and stepmothers, uncles among others.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, nearly 2.5 million cases of sexual violence were reported globally in 2014, with many countries reporting more than 100 instances of rape or sexual assault per 100,000 people.
Domestic violence is often defined in varied and broad terms depending on the country and calling of the person wanting to enforce the law. What constitutes domestic violence and degree of occurrence in Nigeria may vary from what it is in countries such as America, Britain, India or Saudi Arabia.
Our socio-cultural cum religious differences have also given room to diverse understanding of what constitutes domestic violence from one culture to another. For instance, in Lagos State, where we have the Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, Section 18 (1-xiv) of the Lagos State Protection against Domestic Violence Law defines domestic violence as, “acts against any person; physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation including but not limited to rape, incest and sexual assault, starvation, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, denial of basic education, intimidation, harassment, stalking, hazardous attack including acid bath with offensive or poisonous substance, damage to property, entry into the complainants’ residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence, or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harms to the safety, health or well being of the complainant.”
Basically, all forms of domestic violence have one purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim. On the effect of domestic violence, children are often the most hit in terms of setbacks and the trauma they go through and which are most times irreparable. A child who is exposed to domestic violence during their upbringing will suffer in terms of developmental and psychological welfare. Depression and self-esteem issues can follow due to traumatic experiences while problems of attitude and cognition in school can start developing, along with a lack of skills such as problem-solving.
Following recent cases of Akolade Arowolo, who killed his banker-wife, Titilayo; Sulaiman Olalekan who was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Chika Egbo; and the alleged domestic violence case between Nollywood actress, Mercy Aigbe and her husband, Lanre Gentry, it is time we began to see domestic violence as something even bigger – as a vital issue of governance, and even as betrayal of true democratic norms.
According to Amnesty International, a third of Nigerian women are believed to have been subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence carried out primarily by husbands, partners and fathers. This is terribly reprehensible. In the last one year, no fewer than 4,035 domestic violence cases have been reported in Lagos State.
The reasons are not far-fetched. In some cultures, domestic violence is still being accepted as a cultural phenomenon or as a way of life instead of being treated as a criminal matter. We have this tendency of seeing the woman as a lesser or inferior human being. It is sad that many still encourage husbands to beat “madness” out of their wives.
Domestic violence is not yet understood by many as a human right issue which touches on the right to liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of movement among other rights. In spite of existence of agencies like DSVRT, established to provide assistance to victims of the abuse in Lagos, many are still being persuaded to tolerate abuse rather than report to appropriate authorities.
Also, while the agency strives to ensure the abused get fair judgment from court, a study conducted by the Lagos State Government showed that evidence for 88 per cent of cases recorded within Lagos were either destroyed by the abusers or misplaced by the victims. A report by the state government in 2016, for instance, indicated that victims of the cases perpetrated within the period could not provide evidence that would assist the agency in court or in settling the case amicably between both spouses when the need arose.
The report further disclosed that of the 20 per cent domestic violence survivors, who had sought the assistance of government agencies to get redress, 18 per cent withdrew their cases from court while 85 per cent of the victims blamed third party interference which includes mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law etc for igniting domestic violence.
It is imperative that we all realize that though women are the most directly affected by domestic violence, it is society as a whole that bears the cost as the violence is a major obstacle to human development. It has a huge economic cost and aids the entrenchment of poverty.