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Breaking the culture of silence around sexual and domestic violence

The culture of silence is the chain that has kept many women under the bondage of sexual and domestic violence. From time, women have been…

The culture of silence is the chain that has kept many women under the bondage of sexual and domestic violence. From time, women have been groomed to be silent and bear the pain of violence perpetuated against them. Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

Faith is a married woman whose marriage is heavily admired by friends and colleagues. Her husband, Mr Isaac, has been idolised by friends and those around her as the perfect man. Many people wish and pray to have a marriage like that of Faith and her husband.

However, behind closed doors, Faith is constantly being beaten and emotionally abused by her husband.  Every night, Faith cries and prays to God, wishing that her husband will one day change and become the man she once loved.

Faith has refused to open up about her abuse because society has told her that the title of a married woman is more bearable than that of a divorcee. Faith has refused to tell anyone about her ordeal because she wants to maintain the beautiful image that has been created around her family, especially that of her husband.

Ada is a young banker who wishes to someday be the managing director of her branch. She looks up to her boss Mr Ade as a mentor. Ada understands that earning a promotion entails some extra work, so she plays subservient to her boss.

Mr. Ade takes advantage of Ada’s need for a career rise to sexually abuse her. Ada refuses to say anything to anyone because society will say “What did you expect from getting close to a male boss? I’m probably sure she’s the one that seduced him”.

Ada will not say anything even to the police because regarding issues of rape and sexual violence, she has constantly seen the justice system fail and the perpetrator being allowed to go free.

Faith and Ada represent many Nigerian women and girls who have been abused domestically and sexually by people they trusted the most. The culture of silence is the societal prison that many Nigerian women find themselves trapped in.

Following the announcement of the death of popular gospel singer Osinachi Nwachukwu, who died as a victim of domestic violence, a common question that has been frequently asked is “Why didn’t she say anything? Who were the people close to her? Why did she choose to suffer in silence?

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, a relationship and marriage coach, David King Etienam, disclosed that a lot of couples remain in violent marriages or relationships out of fear. 

He said; “Some people are very afraid of their partners. Some persons are so domineering that their partners are scared of them. In some cases, you find out that the dominant partner has threatened the abused that should they leave that relationship, they will harm/hurt them. 

“Also, people are afraid of being stigmatised by their friends and family and then the fear to sin against God which is to seek a divorce from your husband,” he said.

Amaka Mbah was between five and 10 years old when she was continuously molested by her driver and neighbour who lived closed by. She told Daily Trust on Sunday that due to her silence at some point, she had developed what is called the “Stockholm Syndrome”.

“The first time was with my neighbour; he told me that he wanted to teach me adult games and I had to promise not to tell my mum if not I will lose the game. He molested me for a year and I never for one day told my mum or the people at home what was happening,” she said.

Unfortunately for Amaka, her horrors didn’t end with her neighbour as the new driver continued from where he stopped when her parents relocated to a new home.

“At first, my driver was very kind to me. He would stop after school to buy me biscuits and juice before we headed home. I don’t remember the exact time the molestation started but I know that after school, he would take me somewhere to do all sorts and then drop me at home.

“Even when mum and dad separated, he moved with us to mum’s place and still kept molesting me on the way back from school and in the house when mum and the maids weren’t around or looking,” Amaka said.

When asked why she had kept silent over the course of the abuse, Amaka said she wasn’t sure of what had happened to her. She explained that as she grew older, she noticed that her mum strongly disapproved of sexual scenes on TV, so, she thought what would happen when she finds out her daughter is engaging in such acts?

She also explained that: “When my maid finally reported the abuse to my mum, I was so scared because I couldn’t imagine what she would do to me. Instead of receiving a shout/beating as anticipated, my mum hugged me in tears and apologised for letting me go through such.”

Amaka’s silence over her continuous abuse has changed the course of her life in so many little yet damaging ways.

“I didn’t consider myself as someone who had gone through abuse until I grew older. By the time they found out about my abuse; I had allowed other boys in school to touch me. In the university and the place where I did my internship, I was sexually harassed but I never spoke up. That silence is now a part of me. Regardless of the nature of the situation, be it being bullied, assaulted or harassed, I just won’t speak up,” she said.

A mother who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday, Mrs Isioma Aaron, noted that she had begun to teach her daughters how to speak up from the age of five concerning sexual and domestic violence.

“I tell my girls all the time, these parts of your body are not to be touched by anyone and if anybody forces themselves on you, report to me because it is wrong. Also, if any boy raises his voice at you in a condescending manner, report to your teacher, your friends and we your parents. Never let anyone take advantage of you,” she said.

Another mother who is a victim of domestic violence, Patricia Imoh, mentioned that she always used herself as a case study to her children so they don’t fall victim of domestic violence.

“I still have scars from the time I and my husband would fight. I show it to my children all the time because I don’t want them to ever keep quiet while going through such trauma.”

According to Mr. Etienam, there are certain behavioural patterns that could help to point out an abusive partner should one find themselves in such a relationship.

“When you see someone, who is always on edge, whether in tone or action, it’s a sign to watch out for. I tell people when you get into a relationship, be observant because these signs are always glaring,” he said.

Mr Etienam reiterates that for the African woman to break out from the culture of silence, she has to leave behind certain mindsets with which she had been groomed.

“To break out of the African culture of silence is the un-African and this is because in Africa, women have been put in a place of inferiority, have been subjugated and been told not to speak up in public.

“Becoming un-African on her own could seem rebellious and so at times, it’s not just her fighting against the man, it’s her fighting against family either from her side or her husband’s side. So, it’s now a battle against an institution.

“For a woman faced with such a situation; take whatever steps you need to take. Don’t keep silent because there’s a saying that he who wears the shoe, knows where it pinches. You are the one wearing the shoe and you know where it hurts, so you can’t keep silent,” he said.

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