Before anything, some clarifications about violence are necessary. What really is meant by violence? Everyone has a different definition of the word “violence”. Some feel that a slap or a shove is not being violent. Others think that any angry physical contact can be considered violence. To many Nigerians, the words “domestic violence” is suggestive of an abusive husband who easily gets out of control, is cruel and always hurts. You probably have different definition of domestic violence than your neighbor. However, let us examine the popular definition of violence which is, “exerting physical force so as to injure or abuse”. This definition, as good as it, is incomplete for our purpose. This is because, when we talk of domestic violence, we are speaking of five different types of violence at the same time. These are physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, property violence and verbal violence.
Let us define each of these types of violence in our context.
1. Physical Violence
Physical violence is what comes to most people’s minds when we mention the words “domestic violence”. This type of violence includes choking, grabbing, hitting, hitting with weapons or objects, kicking, physical force to make a person do something or go somewhere against that person’s will, punching, scratching, slapping and so on.
2. Sexual Violence
When someone forces another person to have sexual intercourse by means of physical force, the threat of force, or by use of a weapon, it is considered rape. And rape is one form of sexual violence. Sexual violence is not something that happens only between strangers. In fact, a good number of rapes occur between individuals who know each other. Other forms of sexual violence include forced sexual activity such as oral sex, sodomy, and so on; forced sex with animals, forcing a person to have sexual intercourse or sexual activity with another person, or forced sexual activity with objects. In Nigeria, it is now an offence against the law for a man to force his wife to have sex with him. Spousal rape, as it is known in legal angle, is on the increase in Nigeria.
3. Property Violence
When violent threats and actions are directed at a partner through destruction of property or pets, it is known as property violence. If a woman watches her husband breakup furniture or dishes, or punches a hole in the door, she is likely to feel frightened and insecure; and willing to agree with him to get him to stop. Property violence is a systematic attempt to force the other person to do our bidding by destroying or damaging property. The property can belong to both parties; it could be that of the victim or a third party. The aim is to create fear and panic and to force the victim to succumb; to deny the partner use of the property, to reduce his or her partner’s self-esteem and to make him or her powerless. The transfer of aggression from the victim to property is what I called, “damage syndrome”. Cases of men setting their spouse’s wrappers on fire are common place; so also are cases of women venting their anger on properties by destroying or damaging same or even setting family buildings and household properties on fire. This is one aspect of domestic violence that is on the increase in Nigeria; yet, property violence cases have not been tested successfully in the courts in Nigeria.
4. Psychological Violence
Psychological violence can be expressed in various ways, including controlling another person’s thinking and behavior. A man may accomplish this by making either direct or veiled threats of physical violence. He may combine these threats with occasional violent acts as a means of keeping his partner constantly intimidated and subjected. When she is paralyzed with fear, he can feel in control. The aim of psychological violence is to damage the victim’s sense of self-worth, to make the victim feel powerless and empty. The victim has to give up his or her own values and viewpoints in order to keep the other partner from being out of control. The partner may also try to breakdown the other person’s self-esteem by degrading him or her through name calling, humiliation, and demanding that he or she be put first always. Because of extreme jealousy or insecurity, the partner may dictate the other’s every move and accuse him or her of things he or she could not possibly have done. This may get to the point of trying to isolate the partner at home, with minimal or even no outside social contacts. This results in hostage syndrome in which the captive becomes emotionally dependent on the captor. Because the captor controls the captive, he or she feels he/she cannot survive without him/her. In the short run, this may be what he/she wants. But, in the long run, it will eventually destroy the relationship.
5. Verbal Violence
Verbal violence is expressed through nagging, slander, and other forms of verbal insults. Verbal violence is a very different type of violence. Except in rare cases, for instance, (when the offender lies about the victim publicly before witnesses and can be charged with slander), there is no agency that the victim can call for help. The pain of verbal abuse goes deep into the self and festers there, but because nothing shows on the surface, it will not win the victim even sympathy, much less actual assistance. Worst still, verbal violence all too often goes unrecognized, except at a level that the victim cannot even understand himself or herself. The victim knows that he/she is suffering, and vaguely knows where the pain is coming from; but because the aggressor is so well hidden, the victim is likely to blame himself or herself instead of the aggressor, thereby adding to his/her own misery.
Studies have revealed that for every person in Nigeria who is suffering physical abuse, there are hundreds suffering the effects of verbal violence. For every person who just got a fist in the face, there are hundreds who just took a verbal blow to the gut. Interestingly, there are major differences between these two kinds of injury. The physical attack is at least obvious and unmistakable. When someone slugs you physically, you can call the police. The physical attack hurts horribly and leaves a mark. But it is usually over fast, and the mark is evidence in favour of the victim and against the offender. Verbal violence has destroyed more relationships and homes than all other types of violence put together.
These five types of violence have several things in common.
1. Against The Law: They are all against the law. Physical or sexually assaulting someone, verbally abusing someone, threatening to assault or kill another person or destroying another person’s property are all against the law.
2. Causes Emotional Trauma: They each can have very serious emotional or physical consequences for the victim, unintended victims like children, relations and the offender as well.
3. Instrument of Intimidation: They are ways in which someone can dominate, control, manipulate and intimidate another person.
4. Primitive Way of Dealing with Anger: Any type of violence is only one way of dealing with anger, conflict and disagreement in a relationship.
From the foregoing is evident that domestic violence affects men and women of all ages, races, religions and incomes. It is estimated that approximately over three hundred thousand Nigerians households experience at least one domestic violence episode each year. Victims of violence may be spouse, children, or the elderly.
When violence occurs between adults in the family, men and women are equally likely to be the victim. However, due to the differences in strength, it is women who suffer the most serious injuries. Research has also revealed that when women do act violently, it is usually in response to their being abused for a period of time. Women are also more likely to violent in self-defense, whereas men may attribute their violence to controlling their spouse’s behavior.
Impacts of Domestic Violence
Homicide: Spouse abuse in any form is very dangerous. It is estimated that between 25% and 30% of homicides are domestic in nature. When a domestic homicide occurs between husband and wife, the chances are equal that either partner can be the victim. Again, research has shown that that most women murder their husbands in self-defense seven times more often than men murder their wives in self-defense.
Battering: According to Daniel Jay Sonkin and Michael Durphy in 70% - 80% of the battering incidents, the batterer (and sometimes the battered woman) is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. When the batterer is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of violence, he or she is likely to commit more serious violence that may lead to injuries requiring medical care or even death.
Child Abuse: In over one-third of families where spouse abuse is a problem, child abuse also occurs. This abuse may be physical, sexual or verbal and either parent may be the abuser. In families where there are children, the children have either witnessed the violence between their parents or are aware of its occurrence. It is estimated that over one million children witness family violence annually in Nigeria. Many children try to stop the violence between their parents, only to suffer injuries themselves. Similarly, many children are injured when the violence between their parents spills over on them. Many have also died due to arguments between their parents. On 27th February, 2014 Ayelehin Kehinde killed a 2-year-old boy after having argument with his mother. He is said to have caused the death of the boy after he grabbed the sleeping child off his mother’s back and smashed him on the concrete ground. The incident occurred in the Supare, Akoko area of Ondo State and the child was said to have died on the way to hospital. “Cruel”, you said?
Nevertheless, whether a child is directly abused or not, researches have revealed that children who grow up in homes where there is domestic violence often develop serious emotional problems later in life. An abused child sooner or later turns out to be a loose child, determined for the worst in life. Many of these children grow up feeling helpless, angry, frustrated, distrustful, fearful, and confused. While many more grow up to become more violent, aggressive, cruel and wayward; providing ready foot soldiers for such violent groups as Boko Haram, militants, Area Boys and Neighbourhood Cults.
Impacts of Violence on Children: Over seventy-five percent of men who saw their fathers abusing their mothers or were themselves victims of child abuse turned out to be violent. This tells us one way violence affects the children. Boys learn that violence is an acceptable way of dealing with anger, frustration and stress. Girls learn that they must live with violence. Studies have also show that violence affects children before birth. Women are known to be more verbally violent during pregnancy. It is estimated that one-fifth of all women who are abused are struck during pregnancy. Unfortunately, many of these women miscarriage as a result of the violence.
Impacts of Violence on Society: Spouse abuse does not only affect the family involved. Police officers responding to domestic violence calls are often injured. Family members or neighbours who try to intervene may also get hurt. Women miss work because of injuries, men miss work because of arrests. Sometimes, people lose their jobs. Many times women need medical care, which costs money. If medical insurance is used, rates subsequently increase. If the court is involved, there are attorney’s fees and more work absenteeism. Children often get caught between their mother and father; in-laws may get involved and tension between families may rise. Spouse abuse is a prevalent and serious problem in Nigerian homes.