Domestic Violence — Let’s Talk About It

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Published: December 1, 2015

We all know someone whose life has been affected by domestic violence. It’s time to get educated about abuse and its warning signs and get help to those who need it — even ourselves.

A hypothetical situation: you are a 34-year-old woman, married for five years, with two young children, and you are aware that your husband has been unfaithful. On questioning him, he uses words to demean you, such as stupid and idiotic. Or he bullies you into giving your monthly income to him, leaving you with no funds to spend on things you need. Or maybe he controls your every movement, policing who you spend time with and preventing you from seeing your friends and family. Perhaps one evening, after a party in your house, you jokingly mention that he drank a bit more alcohol than usual, and he suddenly turns and hits you.

These hypothetical situations mirror real life; they are all examples of domestic violence, which includes but is not limited to physical abuse. Domestic violence is “any incident of threatening behavior, violence or abuse between adults who are or have been in a relationship together, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.” In Nigeria, approximately 1 in every 3 people have experienced domestic violence.

In some parts of the world, approximately two women a week are killed by a former or current partner, and according to the World Health Organization, 40 to 70 percent of the women murdered worldwide are killed by a current or former husband or boyfriend. In Nigeria, up to 50 percent of all women have experienced domestic violence in the form of physical abuse from a boyfriend or husband, with educated women appearing to be at higher risk, with up to 65 percent reporting incidences of domestic violence.

The problem is all too common, and yet there appears to be a stigma attached to doing something about it. It can often take up to 35 incidents before a woman seeks help for domestic violence. And while the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act is now in place, it has yet to be fully implemented. Awareness is increasing and we all talk about it, yet the prevalence is also increasing.

[RELATED]: Domestic Violence — Olutosin Adebowale’s Story

Let’s take a look at some of the different forms of domestic violence, the warning signs signaling that you or someone else may be in an abusive relationship, and the things you can do to help the situation.

Physical abuse

The most common form of domestic violence known to most people, physical abuse can include slapping, kicking, beating, biting or using objects to hurt someone physically. Physical abuse can be potentially life threatening, and getting away from the situation immediately is critical. Call the police or others for assistance. If children are around, it is important to keep them safe as well.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves sex or sexual acts carried out against a person’s will, including rape. In Nigeria, where many still hold to the traditional belief that, once married, a woman surrenders herself to her husband and is required to provide sex and obedience to him, whilst he is at liberty to violate and batter should he feel she has not been obedient, some may not see this as abuse, but it is. No means no.

Psychological abuse

Shouting, blaming, threatening, or being emotionally abusive or controlling are all examples of psychological abuse. Restricting someone from seeing their family and friends is also a form of emotional abuse.

Financial abuse

Controlling someone’s access to their finances can be abusive, as it is even more difficult to leave an abusive relationship when a person is dependent on the abuser for their survival.

Elder abuse

We usually think of domestic violence as occurring between spouses, but it can also happen to our elders. Older people can be vulnerable to elder abuse, often by other family members in a trusted relationship, especially if they have a disability or are ill. 

Cultural abuse

Certain cultural practices are abusive, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage and being punished for bringing shame to the family (for example, by becoming pregnant outside of marriage, dressing inappropriately or dating someone of a different ethnic background).

Effects of Domestic Violence on Women and Children

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Domestic violence has both immediate and long-term effects both for the victim and for any children who may be involved. The effects range from lost career opportunities and estrangement from family and friends to physical injuries, homelessness, low self-confidence, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, miscarriages (domestic violence often begins when a woman is pregnant) and even death. It needs to be taken seriously.

[RELATED]: Domestic Violence — Olutosin Adebowale’s Story

Children brought up in the presence of domestic violence are likely to experience it themselves and also have a higher risk of being sexually abused. The effects on these children can include poor achievement in school, learning difficulties, behavioural problems, nightmares, bedwetting, difficulty in making friends, depression, constant feelings of fear and insecurity, and dependence on drugs and alcohol.

Signs you may be in an abusive relationship

People do not always recognise when they are in an abusive relationship, but there are some warning signs. If you feel frightened of your partner or have to change your behaviour for fear of what they might do or say; if you have a controlling, possessive partner; if you stay away from family and friends because you are embarrassed about how your partner treats you; or if your partner has threatened to hurt themselves or you or your children if you leave, you may be in an abusive relationship. It is important that you get some help and talk it through with a health care professional.

What we can do about it

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Ignoring domestic violence is akin to accepting it. Victims are often vulnerable and need support from the people they are in contact with. It is worth learning to recognise the signs in others and encouraging them to talk about it. It can be difficult to understand why someone would stay in such a relationship, but providing non-judgmental support, understanding and guidance goes a long way toward helping.

There are organisations in Nigeria that provide support for women experiencing domestic violence, and contacting them is paramount should you be a victim. One such organization is the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), which can be accessed by calling 112 or 08137960048.

Call the police if you feel that your life or someone else’s life is in danger, even if you might feel scared or embarrassed to do so. You should also think of a survival strategy should you be in a dangerous situation — this includes planning an exit route and having an overnight bag packed.

And if you are concerned that you may be the perpetrator of domestic violence, confide in a health care professional who can help you to access therapies such as counselling and anger management.

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About Dr. Deyo Famuboni

Dr. Deyo Famuboni is a UK trained GP working in London with over ten years' medical experience in the NHS and private services. She is a clinical advisor at the Royal College of General Practitioners and has an avid interest in health and nutrition. Passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, she ensures she has balanced meals and exercises regularly, as this is very important to the well-being of women.

Follow her on Twitter @doctordeyo and Instagram @deyof. You may also check her out via www.doctordeyo.com

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