Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence, is a pattern of abusive behaviors by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, or cohabitation. Domestic violence and abuse is not limited to obvious physical violence. It can also mean endangerment, criminal coercion, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, trespassing, harassment, and stalking to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.
Domestic violence is a global phenomenon and not limited to Nigeria. It occurs across the world, in various cultures, and affects people irrespective of their economic status. According to a study, the percentages of women who have reported being physically abused by an intimate partner vary from 69% to 10% depending on the country. In Nigeria, spousal abuse has become a scourge and there is a report that 50% of our women have been battered by their husbands at one time or the other and unbelievably, more educated women (65%) are in this terrible situation as compared with their low income counterparts (55%).
The problem of domestic violence is rooted in the socio-cultural complexes of various societies of the world, for this reason, a legalistic approach is now being adopted by many nations in the fight against this plague. In Nigeria, there have been agitations on how to stop domestic violence against children and women. In 2007, the Lagos State House of Assembly made a bold move and passed into law, a bill “to provide protection against Domestic Violence and for Connected Purposes.”
Many victims of domestic violence usually lack the courage to seek legal redress on the violations of their rights due to lack of positive response from the society. Domestic violence is so entrenched in our society that even the victims condone such violations of their rights as some perceive it as sign of love and the socio-religious belief that a broken marriage or relationship is a mark of failure in life.
Due to poverty and economic dependence on men, many female victims may also choose to suffer in silence for fear of losing the economic support of the male perpetrator. This trend is evident in several of the reported cases where victims prefer to withdraw their complaints where it becomes apparent that punitive measures will be meted out to the abusive spouse. Their usual objective is for the authorities to appease rather punish the abusive partner for fear of backlash.
Presently, in Lagos State, a Sexual Offences and Child Justice Unit had been created at the State’s Ministry of Justice to monitor the prosecution of Sexual Offences in the State. The Unit was brought on board to ensure timely prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence cases at the newly designated Sexual Offences Court, High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja Judicial Division. Thus far, the Unit has been diligent in the prosecution of sexual offence cases and its first recorded judgment in the Sexual Offences Court is the case of The State of Lagos vs. Gabriel Obinna & 2 others, where one of the Defendants pleaded guilty to the charge of defilement upon arraignment and was sentenced to sixty (60) years imprisonment by Honourable Justice Nwaka.
In the same vein, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, through the Domestic & Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) has continued to improve strategic action against the increasingly rampant incidents of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment in the State. DSVRT obtained judgments in Defilement matters, ranging 7years, 10 years and 15 years imprisonment, respectively.
In addition, Engagement and Sensitization campaigns for Army Personnel on Domestic Violence, Child Abuse and Rape were carried out. While National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Officials were conscripted as Ambassadors in the fight against Sexual and Gender based Violence. In the previous year, 920 cases bordering on Domestic Violence, Child Abuse and Sexual Violence were handled by DSVRT. The Team has also assisted 20 survivors of defilement with sponsorship for their education, provided professional Psycho Social Therapy for 20 Rape and 60 Domestic Violence Survivors respectively as well as 30 survivors of Intimate Partner Violence.
On a national scale, it may be necessary to create special complaints desk in all police stations where domestic issues including child abuse will be handled. Designated officers must be trained on the sensitive nature of handling domestic matters. Also, the authorities must organize continuous seminars and workshops for all those involved, judicial officials, law enforcement agents, legal practitioners and other social workers. There must also be the creation of special family courts where domestic disputes can be resolved and criminality prosecuted in confidentiality. Law enforcement and court mechanisms also have to be made friendly and accessible to women.
Also, law enforcement and court mechanisms have to be made friendly and accessible to women. The police are often indifferent to matters concerning domestic violence believing it is a family affair. Also, many communities condone violence against women in a manner that tacitly suggest approval of the practice. Neighbours and friends may hesitate to intervene in violent relationships because marital issues are often regarded as personal matters. There is a need to ensure that all those who respond to violence against women irrespective of social status are sensitized and trained to provide a response that is compassionate and comprehensive.
A major challenge will be altering the societal outlook and traditions that accord inferior status to women. It is, therefore, essential for more women to know and appreciate their rights. It is also important that people really understand the need to protect women and what the society stands to gain when women are treated in dignifying manners. Equally, NGOs and women rights activists must coordinate efforts, share information and resources to expose men that engage in domestic violence against women.
At the community level, religious and local leaders must unite to ignoble treatment to women that involve violence against women. Perhaps, more importantly, a new approach that connects between men and gender violence must be designed by stakeholders in order to bring men firmly into prevention equation. Hopefully, this will eventually put men at forefront of campaign against acts of violence that are targeted at women.
The subject of sexual aggression and violence against women has gotten to an alarming level that calls for tactical planning and resolution among all stakeholders. Every segment of the society must, therefore, support government’s efforts in tackling this menace to provide a common front needed to frontally tackle and dislodge this evil. The earlier we set out to do this, the better it would be for us all.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja