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Domestic violence: Why abused men don't talk

Written by Josfyn Uba, Christine Onwuachumba And Bianca Iboma
~The SUN, Nigeria. Thursday, July 7, 2016

There was news about a man whose wife allegedly hacked to death in Ikotun, a suburb of Lagos, for speaking up against her affairs with a younger lover. Mr. Efua Omoghoti, 63, was said to have lost his first wife after 23 years of marriage. She had three boys and a girl for him. He re-married to Maggie, a younger lady. Unfortunately, their union had been saddled with issues of domestic violence and abuse. Residents confirmed that he had been enduring an abusive marriage where he was serially assaulted and emotionally battered by his younger wife until the last quarrel where Maggie hacked him to death in the night. She would insult him publicly at his shop, calling him names and telling him that she only did him a favour by marrying him at an old age. Many times, she had starved him of food and seized his mobile phones, especially when she couldn't get enough money from him. When matters came to a boiling point, the man threatened to divorce her but she vowed not to leave the house. The long arm of the law caught up with Maggie, the embattled mother of two, as the Lagos State Police Command apprehended her.

In another breath, Uwie, a sleepy community in Delta State, once woke up to the shocking news of the death of a 51-year-old lecturer, Mr. Henry Ebenuwa. He was said to have committed suicide because he could not face the public disgrace of his wife's confession to infidelity with his close friends and relatives. The deceased, a father of four, was said to have been subjected to emotional trauma, physical abuse and harassments from his wife, Omiyowa, for the better part of their marriage of a decade and a half years. Fighting and verbal assault were said to have been a trademark of the troubled marriage in their early days. Things got worse when the husband was hit by stroke, which left him incapacitated. From then, he was said to complain about his wife's disloyalty and infidelity. The community was awash with stories of his wife's constant nagging and even starving him of food. When he could not face the shame and humiliation of her public escapades any more, he allegedly ended it all.

These incidents are just some of the many cases of domestic violence that has gradually become regular occurrence in the country. Every week, at least, a domestic abuse case hits the print and electronic media. It is either a husband butchers or chops off his wife's head or wife stabs husband to death, or a 68-year-old man rapes a 12-year-old pupil. It is an endless tale of horrifying news stories and it doesn't seem as if there is an end in sight to some of these bizarre headlines.

From all indications, domestic violence in Nigeria is rising by the blink of an eye just as the statistics are not, in anyway, diminishing. According to the National Demographic and Health Survey in 2008, over a quarter of the population of Nigerian women experienced domestic violence. Amnesty International also said that the level of domestic violence in Nigeria is shocking. Unfortunately though, domestic violence, especially, as it affects women is an age-long phenomenon all over the world. Nigeria is not an exception. Studies have shown that battered women suffer physical and mental problems as a result of domestic violence. Domestic violence has serious destructive social consequences, including physical and psychological disorders. With its high prevalence now, which threatens to tear down what is left of family values and national peace, something must be done urgently to curb the growing trend. It cuts across all strata. It does not matter whether you are literate or not, working class or just a housewife.

A small survey carried out recently in Nigeria showed that 70 per cent of educated women are abused and 60 per cent market women face the same humiliation. To further give credence to the superior nature of the male specie of African descent, the African Journal of Reproductive Health in 2005 said: A husband has the liberty to violate and batter his wife if he feels she has not adequately fulfilled her obligations.

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person with an intent to intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound the person.

Traditionally, domestic violence is committed against females. Common forms of violence against women in Nigeria are rape, acid attacks, molestation, wife beating, corporal punishment and homicide. Most often than not, women in abusive situations speak out more and are always willing to go to any length to see that the perpetrators are brought to book. However, one constant factor in all abusive relationships is the fact that it does not only affect the couple. Domestic violence affects not just the victim but indirectly, affects all those who witness the violence or live around the victim. Children, family members, relatives and witnesses to the physical fight and violence are likely to be traumatised and suffer from some other forms of psychological problems all their lives. If serious steps are not taken to help them cope, they might live to replicate such abusive lifestyle later as adults. But in recent years, women, are fast taking cue from the men. The table is turning.

Women are beginning to get involved in most wicked domestic violence too. There is a growing trend of women abusing their spouses. It may sound funny and a little strange, but it is happening on daily basis because it is a natural phenomenon. Victims abound in neighbourhoods, offices and even in families. It occurs in the same shape. Though, with slight variations from that of the women. Women are becoming perpetrators of some of the most heinous domestic violations in their marriages.

The only difference is that while the abused woman promptly cries out, the men shy away from speaking out. It does not underscore the fact that he is embattled. Sadly, this silence occurs from a deep cultural belief in Nigeria that it is shameful and socially unacceptable for a man to openly cry out in any tortuous situation. Unarguably, in some communities, when men beat their wives, it is justifiable, particularly in cases of actual or alleged infidelity on the part of the woman. But in the case of a man being maltreated in a marriage, what is the justification? Does he get any protection from the law? And above all, why should a man in an abusive relationship or marriage keep mum over his travails and how can he find an escape route from it?

Daily Sun's attempts to tackle issue

Ifeanyi Nnaemeka, businessman: Generally, victims of domestic violence are mainly women. A great number of them experience it but we have men who are victims but cannot speak out. It is because of their self-esteem and ego as men. In this situation, we are looking at the men as victims. Abuse of men happens far more than women than you can imagine. Men are physically stronger than women but it is not a measure that they can easily escape from the violence. When a man is faced with domestic violence, there will be shortage in his resources, skepticism from police and major legal battles because he won't want his friends to know what he is passing through. He is ashamed and wants to hide it from his children and protect them. It often leaves one depressed. They should go to church and talk to a marriage counselor because persistent occurrence of violence can lead to death. The young lady seizes the man's property and he just agonises silently because he has compromised. In such situation, he has to get help so as to end the relationship with the lady through settlement.

Edwin Darek Obed, social worker: Domestic violence and abuse against men is not something one can easily identify but it is a serious threat. I will call it intimate partner violence because it can happen between unmarried couples too. It can take any form, be it emotional, sexual, physical and threats of abuse. It has a serious physical and psychological impact on the victim and children especially. If a man is in an abused relationship, it is important for him to involve people. He has to get help; he should not stand alone. He has to reach out to someone with wisdom and trustworthy or call a domestic helpline. I lived in Europe for several years and have seen several men go through this because the law over there favours the women unlike Nigeria. The women over there abuse the men at will since the law is in their favour. Under such hard situations, the men become very depressed and anxious. Although culture differs, a man in an abused relationship should go for counseling and in situations when the abuser does not want to use dialogue the best thing is separation. Men usually do not want to open up because of their ego and the situation usually brings humiliation. It belittles the victim before his friends, colleagues. The men often tend to bear it. If they try to leave the relationship, they become more abused. It is never simple ending such relationship. If the victim admits to the challenge, it does not mean he has failed as a man. Nobody will blame the victim for opening up and will not be seen as being weak.

Dr. Celine Njoku, marriage counselor psychologist: When one thinks of domestic violence victim, what usually comes to mind is a woman. The number of domestic violence against men is shocking. Domestic violence against boys and men in an intimate relationship may constitute a crime but there are no strong laws against it. Social cultural norms favour women in some parts, while the male victims cannot really open up. It depends on the geographical region and the victim's abusive partner's physical behaviour. It is best for victims to openly report case of domestic violence before it gets out of hand. A woman can easily report a case of violence, but a man is not encouraged to do so. There have been cases of physical violence on men but unfortunately, there is no guide on how to handle the men's aspect of violence.

Ese Lucky, health and fitness instructor: Such abuse in emotional and psychological form often occurs when a man is riddled with illness. The woman would take advantage of this by leaving him hungry or in a state of uncleanliness while seeking pleasure outside with other men. If the man attempts to react, she uses verbal abuse. The victim will have no other choice but to keep mute or risk losing the little fragments of care she shows him because he is at her mercy. Another cause of domestic abuse is when a man is in a state of financial incapability. The woman sees it as a liberty for her, such that she begins to wield power. The man can also lose control over his wife due to his old age. This is when an old man, in a bid to reclaim his youth marries a young wife and he is unable to satisfy her sexually. The situation gets worse if the old man is sickly. She brings in lovers, resulting in domestic abuse. Alcoholics are often viewed to be violent for a man to take to physical assault on his wife. But statistics have shown that women often take advantage of men in this state to be physically and verbally abusive. Nagging too is a verbal abusive. It is mentally unnerving and exhausting, which causes rancour and bitterness in the home. In some extreme cases, it can drive a man to untimely death. Victims should seek help from senior citizens and marriage counselors.

Lillian, psychologist: Male victims of domestic abuse are frequently abused in their homes by their wives. Many of the effects of abuse for the male victims are the same for women. But men generally feel ashamed, worthless, frightened and not in control of situation and sometimes confused. A lot of men in this situation find it difficult to speak out. This is partially due to the socio/cultural inhibitions. Men are thought of as strong, domineering and macho. From their boyhood, they are told not to cry because they are males not girls. So, the idea of a man being abused is ridiculous and such man is seen as being weak. For the man to still claim a position of authority in the family, he pretends that all is well, even though, he is a victim of domestic abuse. Men should not be ashamed and die in silence because of societal inhibitions. They should be bold and courageously speak out so that help will be given to them.

Onyeka Nwankwo, marriage counselor: Denying your husband sex is an abuse. When a woman mocks a man's sexual incapability, it is a form of domestic abuse. Demanding a favour before sleeping with your husband is also sexual abuse. External factors, usually friends influence women to abuse their husbands. I advise that any man going through this should pray fervently but most importantly, go for counseling. On the other hand, if they are not wedded, I suggest divorce because no family survives such level of violence without a deep scar.

Innocent Agbo, human rights activist: The first question is, how is a man being abused? If it really exists, then the victims (men) should not be afraid to come out and complain. We are all humans and nobody has any right to hurt a fellow human being knowingly. We are all equal before the law and before God. There are lots of NGOs ready to take up such matters.

Chinedu Okatta, councilor, Imo State: It is real. Domestic violence and abuse against men is real. Men do suffer abuse in the hands of their spouses. It is only a weak man that suffers domestic abuse. If you are truly a man, you cannot suffer such. Of course, the major factor that leads to abuse is when a man is not financially capable. The Church frowns at such things and should not be obtainable among Christians. Women should respect their husbands and the husbands should also love their wives. Louis Obasi, sociologist: Honestly a friend of mine is going through hell in the hand of his wife. The wife is terribly abusive. He has reported to the church and town union meetings but to no avail. Do you know that denying a man his sexual right amounts to a woman being beaten by her husband? The fact that men pretend that everything is all right does not mean that they are not hurt. But how can we not pretend when the law is silent on such matters? Culture and religion also play important factor. The Church often supports the women. They rally round an abused woman but would see an abused man as a weakling.

Henry, student: The women go through domestic violence more than the males but this is not to say that the males do not undergo such treatment. Women are sometimes insulting and feel that their husbands cannot raise a finger on them. They take advantage of their silence and physically abuse their husbands.

However, the power to change the social norms that justifies domestic violence against women or women in our society lies in our hands. Never has commencing a social change been an easy process. No matter the reasons, domestic violence is an aberration in our society and must be treated as such. Our existing laws must prosecute and punish those who inflict psychological and physical pain on any individual, whether male or female while protecting the victims of such violence.

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