OVERVIEW OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
It was a
gruesome crime of passion. A man in Lagos, who accused his 36 year old
wife of having an affair with his father, returned home on a Saturday,
filled with rage. As if he wanted to press clothes, he reached for an
extremely hot pressing iron and heartlessly placed it on his wife’s
naked body as she laid helplessly on their matrimonial bed at about 11
pm. He pressed the iron first on her back, and when she turned over to
see her assailant, he quickly pressed it hard on her chest, leading to
her death. She died in the hands of her husband of 16 years, over an
alleged affair with her father-in-law and when she attempted to defend
herself; to put up a fight before she died, her husband of 16 years
Mercy’s case is not an isolated example.
Last year, a 29 year old banker, Titilayo Arowolo, was allegedly killed
by her husband, Akolade, after an argument that snowballed into a
brawl. Before that, the story of the Deji of Akure, Adesina Adepoju now
deposed, who allegedly killed his wife, made rounds, thus bringing the
issue of domestic violence once again to the front burner.
Over the past 30 years, in the
wake of such global events as the United Nations’ conferences on
population and development and on women, the international community has
become increasingly aware of the importance of women’s gendered social
and health status in relation to key demographic and health outcomes.
Globally, domestic violence accounts for nearly one quarter of all
Surveys indicates that 10-58 percent of women have experienced physical
abuse by an intimate partner in their life time National Demographic
Preliminary results from a World Health Organization (WHO)
multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence indicated
that “in some parts of the world as many as one-half of women have
experienced domestic violence.
Although the degree differs from community to community and
society-to-society, women have been preponderantly at the receiving end
in approximately 95% of known cases.
Shija reports that here in Nigeria,
an average of 300-350 women are killed every year by their husband,
former partners, boyfriend, or male relations. Most times the incidence
is considered family feuds, which should be treated within the family.
Most police refuse to intervene and advice the victims to go back and
settle “family matters”
It has become a thing of abnormal occurrence to go through the local
newspaper or other news medium or outlets without coming across one
domestic violence story or the other, either shared by a destined
survivor or the relative of a not so lucky victim pushed into the arms
of death by the cold heart of domestic abuse. And as if the gravity of
its consequences is not enough pile to swallow, you come across all
sorts of comments about how he devil is trying to break the home, or how
the man must have been manipulated by some unforeseen forces, some even
go as far as blaming it on the woman to have provoked the man! Domestic
violence affects women in Nigeria irrespective of age, class,
educational level and place of residence. Women are more at risk from
violence than men; this is because of the differential access to
prestige, power, control of material resources, freedom to obtain
knowledge and other basic need of life among the gender. Gender-based
violence is perhaps one of the most terrifying illustrations of
inequality between male and female.
There exist immeasurable number of
governmental and non- governmental organizations, public awareness
group, campaign bodies etc. that are dedicated to creating awareness
about domestic violence and fighting this epidemical sin. Still yet,
domestic violence in Nigeria and the world at large is on the up and up
the statistics are daunting! Protection against violence now exists on
paper, in many if not most countries of the world. Yet, violence remains
pervasive and enforcement weak. In many countries, legislations against
domestic violence is relatively recent like the Violence Against
Persons Prohibition Act 2015 in Nigeria which is still only applicable
in the Federal Capital Territory though some states have on their own,
taken up the mantle to enact laws on domestic violence and abuse.
There is no
universally accepted definition of domestic violence. Some human rights
activists prefer a broad-based definition that includes “structural
violence” such as poverty, and unequal access to health and education.
Others have argued for a more limited definition in order not to lose
the actual descriptive power of the term. In any case, the need to
develop specific operational definition has been acknowledge so that
research and monitoring can become more specific and have greater
cross-cultural applicability. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has
defined domestic violence as the range of sexually, psychologically and
physically coercive acts used against women by current or former male
intimate partners. Domestic violence has also been defined as engaging
in activity towards a family or household member that would cause a
reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated,
threatened, harassed or molested. And it doesn’t matter whether or not
physical force was applied as long as the victim has been threatened.
Still along this line, the United Nations Commissions Draft Declaration
of 1992 on the status of women defines violence against women as:
any act of gender based violence that
results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological
harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, as coercion
orarbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or
From the definitions given above it is
clear that domestic violence can encompass, but is not limited to
psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. Further
into the definition, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) act 2015
(VAP Act) in its interpretation defines Violence as the “any act or
attempted act, which causes or may cause any person physical, sexual,
psychological, verbal, emotional or economic harm whether this occurs in
private or public life, in peace time and in conflict situations.” The
Act went further to define domestic violence as “any act perpetrated on
any person in a domestic relationship where such act causes harm or may
cause imminent harm to the safety, health or wellbeing of any person.” A
person in a domestic relationship is one that according to the Act is
one that was either married to the perpetrator, or lived together with
him, or is the parent or child, or is related to the person by
consanguinity, affinity or adoption, or was engaged, dating or in a
customary relationship perceived to be romantic, intimate or sexual. Or
it could be that the recently shared the same residence.
1.3 HISTORY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
violence has been visible throughout history. In early Roman society, a
woman was deemed the property of the husband and was therefore subject
to his control. According to early Roman law, a man could beat, divorce,
or murder his wife for offenses committed by her, which besmirched his
honour or threatened his property rights. These were considered private
matters and were not publicly scrutinized.
The Catholic Church’s endorsement of “The Rules of Marriage” in the 15th
century exhorted the husband to stand as judge of his wife. He was to
beat her with a stick upon her commission of an offence. According to
the “Rules”, beating showed a concern for the wife’s soul. The common
law in England gave man the right to beat his wife in the interest of
maintaining family discipline. The phrase “rule of thumb” referred to
the English law, which allowed a husband to beat his wife as long as he
does so with a stick that is no bigger than his thumb. Women were not
the only ones subject to abuse. In 18th century France, if it
became public that his wife had beaten him, he was forced to wear an
outlandish costume and ride backwards around the village on a donkey.
In early America. the English law
greatly affected the decisions of the colonial courts. The Puritans
openly banned family violence. The laws, however, lacked strict
enforcement. It was not until the 1870’s that the first states banned a
man’s right to beat his family. The laws were moderately enforced until
the feminist movement of the 1960’s started bringing the problems of
domestic abuse to the attention of the media. By the 1980’s most states
had adopted legislations regarding domestic violence.
In Nigeria, these practices were
adopted by our forefathers from the then colonial masters and even long
after we had gained freedom from colonial rule, the practices still
continued; male dominance passed down from generation to generation.
Women seeing such violence as a form of correction from their husband
and they tell it to their daughters and their daughters after them to
see it as a form of love from their spouse – adding that they remain
submissive even up until the point of death. These practices are still
very rampant among various culture and even the laws in the country.
1.4 FORMS AND PREVALENCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
According to an
Amnesty International report on Nigeria, on a daily basis, women are
beaten and ill-treated for supposed transgressions, raped and even
murdered by members of their family. In some cases, vicious acid attacks
leave them with horrific disfigurements. Such violence is too
frequently excused and tolerated in communities, and not denounced.
Husbands, partners, and fathers are responsible for most of the
violence. There are different forms of abuse a person may be subjected to in the home. They include:
This is the use of physical force in a way that injures the victim
or puts him/her at risk of being injured. It includes beating, kicking,
punching, choking, confinement etc. female genital mutilation is
physical abuse. This kind of abuse is one of the commonest forms of
abuse. Obi and Ozumba
found that 83% of respondents in their study reported physical abuse.
Interestingly, under certain circumstances, women, more than men tend to
justify the infliction of physical violence. In a survey conducted in
1999, a higher proportion of female than male respondents justified
“wife beating,” and this proportion was found to be higher in the
northern central zone and lowest in the southwestern zone.
- Sexual Abuse
This includes all forms of sexual
assaults, harassment or exploitation. It involves forcing a person to
participate in sexual activities, using a child for sexual purposes
including child prostitution and pornography. Rape is an acknowledged
widespread problem but statistics are not certain due to societal
pressures which impresses the importance of chastity and honour. The
reporting of rape is difficult as many women do not have the education
or economic capacity to negotiate the legal system. Raped women are
often traumatized and stigmatized and can be abandoned, divorced and
declared unmarriageable. The low status of women contributes to their
vulnerability in the wider society and within the home. Marital rape is
This include stealing from or defrauding a
loved one, withholding money for essential things like food and medical
treatment, manipulating or exploiting family member for financial gain,
preventing a loved one from working or controlling his/her choice of
- Emotional, Verbal and Psychological
This means a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards any
person including repeated insults, ridicule or name calling, repeated
threats to cause emotional pain; or the repeated exhibition of obsessive
possessiveness, which is of such a nature as to constitute a serious
invasion of such person’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security. It
also includes threatening a person or his/her possession or harming a
person’s sense of self-worth by putting him/her at risk of serious
behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. Shouting at a
partner which was found to be the most common abuse
is included. Traditional practices are widespread. A survey completed
by UNAIDS found that 16 percent of married women are in a polygamous
marriages and 10 percent of girls between 15 and 19 are married compared
to 1.3 percent of boys. Thus, girls are often married to older men
leaving them vulnerable to unequal power
1.5 CAUSES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The causes of domestic violence are
many, complex and varied depending on the types of violence. The
widespread poverty and the political, cultural and religious
marginalization of women in Africa, make the African woman more
vulnerable to domestic violence.
Traditional attitude towards women all over the world help perpetuate
the violence. Stereotypical roles in which women are seen as subordinate
to men constrain a woman’s ability to exercise choices that would
enable her end the abuse. According to UNICEF, causes of sexual and
gender based violence (SGBV) of which domestic violence is part, can be
categorized into four broad categories as being: socio-cultural causes;
economic causes; legal causes; and political causes.
Social-cultural causes include
gender-specific socialization, cultural definitions of appropriate sex
roles, expectations of roles in relationships, belief in the inherent
superiority of males; values that give men proprietary rights over women
and girls; notion of the family as the private sphere and under male
control and acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict.
Economic causes include women’s economic
dependence on men, limited access to cash and credit; discriminatory
laws regarding inheritance, property rights, use of communal lands and
maintenance after divorce or widowhood; limited access to employment in
formal and informal sectors; and limited access to education and
Legal causes include lesser legal status
of women either by written law and/or by practice; laws regarding
divorce, child custody, maintenance and inheritance; low levels of legal
illiteracy among women.
Political causes includes limited
organization of women as a political force; and limited participation of
women in political system.
1.6 VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Anyone can be a victim of domestic
violence regardless of their ethnic group, income level, marital status,
gender, education or sexual orientation. Overtime, statistics have
shown that women are by far the most frequent victims and men are the
most frequent abuser. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 95%
of the assaults on partners or spouses is committed by men against
women. Also, a review of studies from 35 countries indicated that
between 10 and 52% of women reported being physically abused by their
partner at some point in their lives, and between 10 and 30% reported
that they had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Between 10 and 27% of girls reported having been abused, either as
children or as adults.
Debate regarding the rates of violence against men committed by women
in intimate relationships still exist, and there has been a growing body
of research into the nature and prevalence of male victimization and
domestic violence in homosexual relationships. However the
under-reporting of victimization limits efforts to understand and
prevent violence against men as well as those victims living in gay,
lesbian and transgender relationships. Characteristics peculiar to victims or likely victims of domestic violence include, inter alia,
low self-image; being in relationship with a partner that abuses
alcohol or other substance; has unrealistic belief that he/she can
change the abuser; is experiencing financial setbacks; believes jealousy
is proof of love; is economically and emotionally dependent on the
1.7 EFFECTS ON WOMEN, CHILDREN, MEN AND THE SOCIETY
People who have exposed to domestic
violence often experience physical, mental or spiritual shifts. This is
because abuse can have a serious impact on the way a person thinks and
interacts with the world around them. The chronic exposure to domestic
violence--and the stress fear resulting from this exposure—can cause not
only immediate physical injury but also mental shifts that occur as the
mind attempts to process trauma or protect the body.
In women the most common effect of
domestic violence is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a
mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Common
symptoms associated with PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety
and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. These symptoms can also be
found among children that have been exposed; and can persist till
Depression and dissociation is another symptom exhibited by survivors
of domestic violence. Coping with the effects of domestic violence can
be overwhelming, often because the survivor’s control over the situation
has been taken away by the perpetrator. When this happens, a survivor
may have the need to self-medicate or use drugs or alcohol to help him
or her cope with the overwhelming feelings. Effects of this include
prolonged sadness, feelings of hopelessness, unexplained crying, changes
in appetite with significant weight loss or gain, loss of interest and
pleasure in activities previously enjoyed etc. in extreme cases of
depression, people may even experience suicidal thoughts and/or
attempts. Children of abuse feel isolated and vulnerable. They are
starved of attention, affection and approval. Because Mom is trying to
survive she is often not present for her children. Because Dad is so
consumed with controlling everyone, he also is not present for his
children. These children become physically, emotionally and
psychologically abandoned. Domestic violence is also the most common
factor contributing to homelessness among women and their children. They
may be forced from their homes in order to escape violence, disrupting
social support networks as well as children’s schooling and social
networks which can be a major factor in hindering development in the
Lastly, women and children and on very few occassions, men, who have
experience domestic violence especially physical abuse are usually left
with bruises, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations and internal
bleeding. Some chronic health conditions that have been linked to
victims of domestic violence are arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome.
Victims who are pregnant during a domestic violence relationship
experience greater risk of miscarriage, pre-term labour, and injury to
or death of the foetus.
In conclusion, domestic violence is
generally acknowledged to be a far more pervasive problem than indicated
by reports, and much research has attempted to estimate its true extent
and associations within the general population. Findings concerning
prevalence, incidence, history, gender distribution, causes,
consequences and risks of domestic violence vary significantly according
to study context, resources and scope. To begin with, violence may take
place within very different societal contexts, and the degree to which
it is sanctioned by a community will naturally influence the kind of
strategy needed because it is a complex problem and there is no one
strategy that will work in all situations. It is not always easy to
determine in the early stages of a relationship if one person will
become abusive. Domestic violence intensifies overtime. Abusers may
often seem wonderful and perfect initially, but gradually become more
aggressive and controlling as the relationship continues. Women as well
as men can be victims of domestic violence, survey however shows that
women are preponderantly at the receiving end of this jejune act. Aside
the psychological, mental, emotional and physical injuries suffered by
victims of domestic violence, some of them go through series of social
stigmatization and dissociation in the community and this is a leading
factor in why most continue to suffer in silence hence the phrase
“domestic violence exist in a culture of silence”.
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percent of men justified wife beating if the wife goes out without
telling her husband; 39.3 percent of women and 25.4 percent of men
justified it if the wife neglects the children; 52.5 percent of women
and 31.0 percent of men if meals are not ready on time; 33.3 percent of
women and 18.3 percent of men if the wife argues with her husband; 34.4
percent of women and 19.1 percent of men justified it if the wife
refuses to have sex with her husband.
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