Domestic violence(DV) in plain terms is any form of violence against a person by another in a domestic relationship; either married or not married. This could also be known as intimate-partner violence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), intimate partner violence is a behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, and psychological abuse and controlling behaviors.
Some factors associated with intimate partner violence are: past history of violence, marital discord and dissatisfaction, difficulty in communication between partners, harmful use of alcohol, and so on.
Some key facts on domestic violence:
- Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
- Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
- Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
Although data in Nigeria is insufficient and those available are quite dated, the National Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2008 showed that domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds with 28% of women having experienced physical violence. Up to 43 % of women thought that wife beating could be justified on the grounds of matters such as:
- burning the food
- arguing with the husband;
- going out without asking permission;
- neglecting the children; and
- refusal to have sexual intercourse.
This is a staggering report and it calls for an urgent action by government and other parties.
This article focuses on domestic violence against women in marriage. It is not to say male victims do not exist.
I had the privilege to work with Project Alert on Violence against Women– a Lagos-based NGO supporting female victims of violence, for two years. During my time there, I came across over 50 such intimate partner violence cases. The most alarming was the increase in the rate of domestic violence among couples aged 25- 40. Young people (I use the term young loosely here) who studies have said to be more knowledgeable, more informed, marry later than their parents and also marry “for love” might be expected to have minimal incidences of domestic violence, but reverse is the case.
For instance, out of the 10 DV cases received by Project Alert in the month of January 2014 alone, 7 of the victims were below age of 40, as well as the perpetrators.
The sad part of this is where a victim of domestic violence reports the incident at the Police Station, she is told things like: “return home and beg your husband”, “madam na family matter” “madam if you cook for him he won’t beat you” “madam you too stop talking too much” amongst other distasteful comments from the men AND WOMEN who have sworn to protect its citizens. Domestic violence is often treated as a “family matter” thereby neglecting the fact that it involves threat to life, child neglect and sometimes, death of the victim as seen in the Late Titi Arowolo’s case.
The attitude of the police as the primary law enforcement agency can be attributed to the inadequacies and problems in the system which contribute to their abysmal performance which in turn discourages victims and families from seeking justice. This then results in fewer convictions. Many times; a victim seeking redress has to cover some “expenses” to move the police to action.
Lagos State Government in May 2007 enacted the Protection against Domestic Violence Law to prohibit domestic violence and also provide redress for victims. Section 2(3) of the law empowers 3rd parties such as the police, health service providers, a social worker or an NGO; amongst others, to apply for a Protection Order on behalf of a complainant. It is expected that the complainant will be made to understand the provisions of the law and how it applies to her before consent can be given.
Section 4 further empowers the police to arrest without warrant, any person suspected of committing an offence containing an element of domestic violence against a complainant at the scene of an incident of domestic violence. What is unclear is if any police officer has ever arrested anyone on the basis of this section. Perhaps they are unaware of its existence?
I strongly suggest a series of training and re-training of our police officers on responding to domestic violence cases and also training a set of police officers specifically to handle such cases. Such officers should also be trained in basic counseling procedures and they should be present in all police stations around Lagos.
Domestic violence does not know race, religion or status. It affects every “level” in the society. It is a multi-dimensional problem with series of short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems for survivors and for their children. It also leads to high social and economic costs to the society as a whole. It is a vicious cycle.
The first step to reducing it is for our mindsets as Nigerians to change through our collective efforts, support name and shame offenders while encouraging victims to speak up, to not treat it as a “family matter” because domestic violence is simply is not a family matter alone. It affects all of us.