The role of women in the development of any country cannot be overemphasized. Women play significant roles in the upbringing of children and in the maintenance of family harmony. Violence perpetrated on women in the home and outside the home has adverse effects on individuals within the family and society in general both in emotional and physical wellbeing. Sexual abuse is a significant aspect of domestic violence. If unchecked, the goal of having a healthy and balanced society is deeply threatened. Variables and factors which occur in varying proportions act as catalysts in determining or influencing human behaviour and actions in general and human behaviour in the home in particular. In examining physical and sexual abuse of women in the home, concepts and definitions are explored. In addition to the review of relevant literature, which would cover both international and Nigerian studies, this article examines perspectives and theories that seek to explain this social problem and crime as applicable. These perspectives have been grouped into the following – historical (to identify the origins of domestic violence); psychological which includes psychiatric approaches (concentrating on the individual offender and victim); sociological or socio-cultural (emphasis on institutions, structures, socialization, subculture of violence; and economic explanations. Feminist perspectives are incorporated in these explanations. Through the use of interviews, current opinions of stakeholders on this subject (legal practitioners, interest groups and the police) with regard to the Nigeria experience are discussed. Finally, possible remedies and treatment of the abused, and batterer shall be discussed.
THE CONCEPT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The physical abuse of women in the home falls under the umbrella of domestic violence. However, in any relationship or family, the physical dwelling or home is a residential unit, abuse can occur in any location. On domestic violence, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2012):
Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering,
family violence, and intimate partner violence (IPV), is a pattern of behavior
which involves the abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship
such as marriage, cohabitation, dating or within the family. Domestic violence
can take many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking,
biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof;
sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation;
stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.
The focus of this article is mainly the female victim in the home. Other victims of abuse within the home include children, males or husbands, the elderly and domestic helps. Violence against children and women get reported to authourities more often than those associated with males. Domestic violence against a male victim is difficult to determine, as the male victim is usually reluctant to get help or report incidents for a variety of reasons such a negative response and attitude from law enforcement agencies, including the notion that there appears to be a high degree of acceptance of aggression against men by women (Wikipedia, 2012).
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What is physical and sexual abuse?
Domestic violence covers physical and sexual violations for which there are provisions in the statute books for offences associated with it. Other forms of domestic violence such as child abuse and the abuse of the elderly are not part of the subject for discussion in this article, though relevant examples from other victims of abuse in the home shall be highlighted. In this paper, attention is on the physical and sexual abuse of women or the wife.
The Real Life Dictionary of Law (Hill and Hill, 1995) defined the following concepts and offences: Domestic violence – The continuing crime and problem of the physical beating of a wife, girlfriend or children, usually by the woman’s male partner (although it can be female violence against a male); Assault – the threat or attempt to strike another, whether successful or not, provided the target is aware of the danger; and Battery – the actual intentional striking of someone, with intent to harm, or in a rude and insolent manner even if the injury is slightâ€¦It is often coupled with assault (which does not require actual touching).
A form of domestic violence on women in the home is sexual abuse. Sexual violations or offences can be categorized into buggery, indecent assault, indecency between males, rape, unlawful intercourse with a girl under 13 and under 16 years, incest, procreation, abduction, bigamy, soliciting by a man, and gross indecency with a child (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984). In a Dictionary of Law, “A husband can be convicted for raping his wife, and a boy under the age of 14 can be guilty of rape. The maximum penalty for rape or attempted rape is life imprisonment, but this is rarely imposedâ€¦” (Martin, (ed.), 1994). In England and Wales, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (amended), defines rape as forced penile penetration of the victim’s vagina or anus by a male where the female is not consenting. This definition now includes sexual acts such as anal intercourse, oral sex, or penetration of the vagina by other objects (Painter and Farrington, 1997).
Other forms of violence within the domestic domain honor killings, acid attacks and dowry violence. According to Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, (2012) an honor killing “is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community.” It is also noted that dishonour could include refusing to enter into an arranged marriage or the woman committing adultery. Also, another form is dowry violence and bride burning, which is known to occur in places such as South Asia, and bride burning is a form of the man or husband’s discontent over the dowry provided by her family. It is said to be a problem in countries such as India.
Another form of violence or abuse against women which has also been occurring in Nigeria involves the use of acids or corrosive chemicals. Acid bathe is the pouring of corrosive substance on someone. According to Eze-Anaba, (2007) this could cause permanent disfigurement of the victims, and unfortunately acids are readily available on the streets for purchase. She noted that acid baths first gained public attention in 1990 when a former beauty queen was attacked by her boyfriend because she refused to renew their relationship. Acid attack or vitriolage could occur out of jealousy or revenge, and the acid is usually thrown on the face, with long term effects such as blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body (Wikipedia, 2012). Certain countries with reports of such attacks include Pakistan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India.
LITERATURE AND RESEARCH ON THE ABUSE OF WOMEN IN THE HOME
A number of studies have been carried out on the abuse of women in the home. These studies include that of the effects of domestic violence or wife abuse on the family in general and the woman in particular. Some research has also been carried out on possible remedies and treatment for the victims and the offenders. Historically, prior to the mid-1800s, most legal systems accepted wife beating as a valid exercise of a husband’s authority over his wife. Later, political agitation during the nineteenth century led changes in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. For instance, in 1850, Tennessee became the first state in the United States to explicitly outlaw wife beating. Women’s movement of the1970s especially as it concerned feminism and women’s rights gained a lot of attention.
In England and Wales for the years 1885-1905, out of 497 murders committed by men, 124 were women murdered by their husbands, 115 were mistresses or lovers of their assailants and over 50% of all murdered victims were women with long relationships with the male murderer (MacDonald, 1911). The work of Wolfgang (1958) in Philadelphia revealed that during the 1950s the number of wives assaulted by their husbands constituted 41% of all women who were killed. In his study, only 10% of the murder cases were committed by wives. Wolfgang (1958) concluded that the home was the most frequent setting for severe violence. In another study, Dobash and Dobash (1979) revealed that 109 women interviewed reported 32,000 assaults during their marriages, but only 517 of these assaults (less than 2%) were reported to the police. They discovered that women rarely reported to friends, neighbours, doctors and social workers because of their expectation that the violent acts would soon discontinue, the anticipated family shame, and desire to save the marriage especially because of the children. Other reasons include anticipated financial difficulty and psychological pressure in divorce proceedings.
The national Survey of Wives in Great Britain carried out to determine the prevalence of violence by husbands and rape of wives in and outside marriage revealed that out of a quota sample of 1,007 wives, 228% of wives had been hit by their husbands, while 13% of them had sexual intercourse with their husbands against their will. Lower class wives and separated or divorced wives were likely to have been assaulted. In total, 22% of wives had been raped inside or outside marriage (Painter and Farrington, 1997). Further, based on 19,301,000 ever married women in Great Britain aged 18-54 in 1991 (Office of National Statistics, 1997), it was estimated that between 2,483,000 and 3,162,000 women have been hit by their husbands. Also, between 1,761,000 and 2,379,000 women have been threatened by their husbands, and between 2,936,000 and 3,657,000 have been hit or threatened by their husbands (Painter and Farrington, 1997). On rape, it was analysed that one in seven British wives had been raped, and nearly all the raped wives (94.4%) were raped by their husbands when they lived together and on different occasions (painter and Farrington, 1997).
A study in Papua New Guinea in 1982 revealed tht in the 19 villages sampled, 67% of rural wives had been hit by either their husbands and 66% of rural husbands accepted that they had hit their wives. Marital rape was said to be very common and is allowed by law (Bradley, 1994). In Brazil, reports gathered from the women’s Delegacias (special police unit formed to address issues of domestic violence and other related cases) in a 1987 study of over 2,000 battery cases registered at the Sao Paulo delegacia from August to December 1985 revealed that over 70% of all reported crime against women occurred in the home (Thomas, 1994).
In India before the abolition of the ‘Sati’ rite practice in 1829 by the British, Narasimhan (1994) recounts, saying violence is not only attributed to physical battery or rape, and that culturally before 1829 in India, widows burned themselves to death on the late husband’s pyre (pile of wood) to become a stati, exalted and deified. Surprisungly, in 1987 an 18 year old girl performed this rite. Furthermore, dowry deaths are common in situations where the woman commits suicide or endures whatever abuse in the home rather than have her parents ‘disgraced’ by returning to their home or leaving the husband. Narasimhan (1994) noted that there still exists a pervasive belief governing the social perception of women as complete servants to their husbands.
In African and Nigerian societies in particular, Eze-Anaba, (2007) observed that many of the victims do not speak out about violations of their rights because of the poor response from society. However, she noted that the situation has improved over the years through international and local policies and laws. She cites the examples of documents, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action at the international level. Eze-Anaba, (2007) noted that Nigeria has incorporated the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also been incorporated in Nigeria. However, she observed that Nigeria is a country where international human rights instruments have yet to be incorporated into domestic laws. According to Eze-Anaba (2007) examples of research in Nigeria include that of a survey carried out by Project Alert in 2001 – women and girls in Nigeria were asked about abuses within the family unit. This survey revealed that in a particular state, Lagos, more than half of the participants confirmed their partners, boyfriends, or husband had beaten them. Reasons for the assault included drunkenness, financial problems and refusing to have sex with the perpetrator. A good number of the participants had reported the abuse to family members, the perpetrator’s family and to their religious leaders while some just endured the abuse. Interestingly there was no report of any respondent filing a complaint with the police or seeking redress in court (Eze-Anaba, 2007).
Research conducted within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja by Owonibi (2008) revealed that the mean age of respondents who have experienced domestic violence within the home was 32 years. It was also observed that incidents of domestic violence decreases with age – for instance from 41 years and above. This study highlighted that within the home, children and women are often victimized compared to males.
Awusi, Okeleke, and Anyanwu, (2009) in a study on the prevalence of domestic violence during pregnancy in the Oleh community in Nigeria observed that domestic violence against pregnant women could expose victims to higher risk of complications during pregnancy. Using a questionnaire-based, cross-sectional study, from 400 pregnant women attending the ante-natal clinic of the Central Hospital at Oleh., 92% of the women showed complete knowledge of domestic violence, and 36% had experienced domestic violence during pregnancy. Further, domestic violence experienced were verbal (58%), physical (31%) and sexual (11%) abuses. The husband was the main offender (92%), and 77% of the women would rather keep the experience of domestic violence during pregnancy secret. Awusi et al (2009) noted that domestic violence against women cuts across ages, ethnicity, religion and educational status. Also, common risk factors include low socio-economic and educational status, early marriage, alcohol and substance abuse by the partner and unemployment. They assert that the impact of domestic violence on pregnant women is increasingly being recognized as an important public health issue.
Idogo, (2011) studied the effects of domestic violence on pre-school children She noted that some empirical studies show that children growing up in violent families are vulnerable to low cognition, and are likely to engage in youth violence, adult violence tendencies, and other forms of criminality. She also observed that in Nigeria, pre – school children are tutored and raised up under the culture of violence. For instance, physically abused, punished and beaten for any misbehaviour in the home and in the classroom. Starvation is also employed as a form sanction in some families. Also children are often given adult tasks, such as going to the farm and market, and even used as guardians of younger children. Further, family violence could be transferred to the children especially from their mothers who tend to express their frustrations on their children. Thus, pre – school children regress developmentally, and exhibit various forms of behavioural disorders, such as insomnia, nightmare, anxiety and violence towards their mates.
The male perpetrator
This is difficult to come by as men do not usually file complaints officially. However, information about the male batterer usually comes from the staff and residents of shelters of battered women (Roberts, 1981). The childhood experience and other variables are not normally taken into consideration in describing the batterer (Smith, 1989). In his treatment of 42 men, Smith observed certain features of male batterers, some of which were that as children, 21% of them were physically abused, 7% were sexually abused, 45% saw their mothers abused, 93% had battered previous partners, 62% were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, 50% were currently involved with the Criminal Justice System, and 45% have been violent with others outside the family. Batterers usually deny their violent behavior due to embarrassment, guilt and shame (Walker, 1978). Some are also known to have low self-esteem (Falk, 1977), and project their anger from previous experiences into marriage.
Societal responses to spousal abuse
The effects of wife abuse can be categorized into physical i.e. extensive injuries to death (Dobash and Dobash, 1974) and psychological like symptoms of stress, weight loss or gain (Smith, 1989). This could result to thoughts of suicide (Stanko, 1985). Gayford (1978) revealed that suicide attempts were common and often repeated by battered women in his sample. Children are also known to suffer physically (miscarriages, still birth and other injuries) and psychologically from domestic violence with boys being most affected behaviourally (Jaffe, et al. 1986 and Wolfe, et al. 1985). How society responds to domestic violence is significant for treatment and rehabilitation.
On Social Responses and Treatment, in the laws, changes have occurred in statute books in most parts of the world deliberately addressing domestic violence. For example, in Britain, The Homeless Persons Act of 1977-78 makes battered women a priority group for housing. However, Smith (1989) noted that the problems with legal remedies are in its complexity and delays in civil matters (especially in the burden of proof) unlike the criminal laws governing domestic violence. Closely associated with the law is the police who usually exercise their discretion in handling violent offences in the home in particular (Black, 1971). It was observed that the police are more likely to wave arrests of husbands for various abusive offences and the judicial responses usually neglects the same pattern in treatment and sanctions which are usually mild like fines and probation (Dobash and Dobash, 1979). The main argument being that prosecution and arrests may destroy the marriage coupled with the fact that most women do not usually press charges and testify in court. For Dobash and Dobash (1979) the system actually discourages and frustrates women with deliberately prolonged court proceedings and on the contrary, most women in their study actually followed up their case up to the final adjudication. According to Smith (1989), vigorous arrest policy would demonstrate social disapproval and might act as a deterrent to further violence.
Welfare associations formed by the government and interested groups also play important roles in counseling, provision of refuge accommodation, and assisting in pursuing complaints to a logical conclusion. Maye and Timms (1970) observed that the orientation of staff or members of a welfare association can determine which cases they think are serious since they usually lack sufficient resources for their activities. The Women’s Aid Federation of England declares its objectives as follows “to eradicate and inform the public, the media, the police, the courts, the social services and other authourities with respect to the battery of women, mindful of the fact that this is a result of the general position of women in society” (Smith, 1989). Other important groups relevant to remedies are the medical practitioners who usually treat injuries of abused women. They could intervene by counseling and other necessary actions within the law. For Dobash and Dobash, a ‘conspiracy of silence’ often exists between doctor and patient. Family and friends are useful especially in giving emotional support to the victim.
Citing examples from the “Laws of Northern Nigeria, Criminal Code Act (1990), Cap 77” Eze-Anaba, (2007) noted that some provisions of the law, rather than protecting women from domestic violence, could encourage offenders by giving them opportunities to escape sanctions. She further stated that for instance, in Sec. 55 (1)d of the Penal Code a man is empowered to correct children, pupil, servant or wife. For Eze-Anaba (2007: 37), “since there is no law against domestic violence in Nigeria, at best a victim who seeks protection under the law will rely on the provisions of the Criminal Code on common assault. The Criminal Code considers assault on a woman as a misdemeanor while assault on a man is a felony.”
Laws concerning domestic violence differ between countries. According to Wikipedia, (2012) most countries in the western world regard it as illegal, but this is not the case in some developing countries. The country Russia is cited where there is no law specifying domestic violence as a crime, even though physical violence is illegal. Another example is from the United Arab Emirates’s where in 2010 a Supreme Court ruled that a man has the right to physically discipline his wife and children as long as he doesn’t leave physical marks. The Encyclopedia also notes that social acceptability of domestic violence also varies between country.
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Eze-Anaba, (2007) observed that impediments to legal redress by women in Nigeria include lack of access to justice as they are not aware of their rights and do not have access to institutions that can remedy violations of such rights. Illiteracy is said to be one of the reasons for this situation. The formal legal system in Nigeria is said to be exorbitant for most Nigerians and especially poor women. Also, poor law enforcement riddled with corruption and stereotypes in favour of males are problems to contend with. Further, the tripartite legal system has its issues as elucidated by Eze-Anaba (2007:55) as follows:
“The Nigerian legal system is made up of three different systems of law: the
statutory law, religious law, and customary law. Statutory laws include the
Constitution, laws made by the government, and government policies. There
are different types of religious groups in Nigeria with different laws for their
members. The common ones are Christianity, Muslim/Islamic, and traditional
religious laws. Customary laws include laws of diverse people of Nigeria,
which govern personal matters like marriage, children, and inheritance. These
three types of law are enforced by three types of courts namely the formal
courts: customary courts in Southern Nigeria and Shari’ a courts in Norther
n Nigeria. In principle, statutory law takes precedence over all other laws. In
practice however, things are different. In the Northern part of the country,
the predominant religion is Islam. Statutory laws are not necessarily more
protective of women. The judicial system is male dominated and reflects
the prejudices and stereotypes of the wider societyâ€¦”
THEORIES/THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK – Why are women abused in the home?
The various explanations have been categorized into the historical, psychological, socio-cultural, feminist and multi-dimensional or integrative perspectives.
From a historical perspective, studies reveal that wife abuse emanated from the enabling environment in the history of most cultures and societies which encouraged and condoned it. For Dobash and Dobash (1979), the physical abuse of women more especially wives is an expression of patriarchical (male headship of an organization or institution) domination. Since the legal, political, economic and ideological structures supported this, men used these avenues to possess, control and oppress their wives. For example, with regard to religion, the Christian account of man’s creation, and the creation of the woman to meet his needs created a moral ideology that justified the subjugation of women especially in the marriage institution which provides a conducive atmosphere for the assault and physical abuse of women (Dobash and Dobash, 1979). In most traditional communities especially in Arica, women are viewed as part of the husband’s asset or property. Thus, her treatment depends on his discretion. Sexual violence relates to contempt of female qualities and rape is part of the culture of male dominance (Sanday, 1979).
Akin to the emphasis on patriarchy is the feminist perspective. With regard to violence against women, this perspective draws attention to patriarchal societies that encourage patriarchal family structures that ascribes power in the home and in other areas of human endeavour to men (Power, 1988: 133). This creates the environment and opportunity for abuse and exploitation.
The psychological perspective focuses its explanation on anomalies in the personalities of the offender and victim – in this discussion these are the male batterer and the abused woman. In other words, under the psychological perspective, psychoanalytical theories focus on the individual’s psychological makeup that encourages and accepts abusive behavior. Hyde-Nolan and Juliao (2012) draw attention to psychodynamic theories, one of which is the Object Relations Theory associated with character molding. According to Fairbairn (1952), this theory suggests that humans are motivated early in their childhood by the need of significant relationships with people in and out of the family unit. Thus, early relationships play a role in the individual’s psychic development and consequently forms an enduring psychological “template” for future interactions and relationships (Hyde-Nolan and Juliao, 2012). They also state that first experiences usually comes from ones primary caregiver.
For Zosky (1999) initial life experiences, if positive and adequate contributes significantly to the emotional health of the individual later in life. Thus individuals that experience poor nurturing during infancy and childhood may grapple with issues such as self-esteem, poor anxiety management and the inability to regulate emotions or emotional responses in the course of their lives. According to Zosky, (1999) it has been found that somen that engaged in intimate partner violence (IPV), had inadequate nurturing in their early years of development. Dutton et al (1996) also found that parental rejection and violence in the family was highly correlated to intimate partner violence in adulthood. From another perspective, it has been argued that people ‘adapt’ to abusive situations having acquired the ‘skills’ from childhood, and this may encourage victims to remain in an abusive relationship or household in their adulthood (Blizard and Bluhn, 1994).
In sum in studies, Faulk (1974) and Gayford (1975) presented the male batterer as mentally ill, neurotic or disturbed. For Smith (1989), the focus on the pathological aspect of the abuser neglects the social, cultural and situational factors. Walkate, (1989) noted that this explanation does not bring into focus the recurring patterns of victimization since it focuses mainly on the individual in particular situations.
The sociological or socio-cultural explanation consists of other sub-perspectives such as the subculture of violence, social learning, socio-cultural, control theory, conflict and economic inequality theories. According to Goode, (1971) if force does not exist, the structure of the family will be destroyed and the family like other social institutions requires or depends on force or its threat for its control. Husbands are most likely to use such force. Strauss (1973 and 1976) laid emphasis on ‘deviant authourity cultures’ as the source of violence in homes as likely reaction when the wife is dominant in decision making. Smith (1989) using socio-cultural analysis explains violence in the home as a response to frustration, stress and blocked goals like in relative poverty, unemployment and poor working conditions.
Hence, control theorists argue that the need to obtain power and control within the family or within relationships is a source of conflict. Hence, the threat of force is a common tool used against weaker members of the family such as women, children and the elderly. Thus in an attempt to secure and maintain control, the abuser may adopt methods such as intimidation, coercion, isolation, denial of personal responsibility or blame and economic abuse. Resorting to violence as a result of loss of control could occur as result of the influence of substances – for example alcohol causes people to lose control, in addition to the inability to control anger and frustration. In turn, the abused or victim in an attempt to survive modify their behavior to suit their abuser (Bostock, et al 2002). This can also be referred to as “learned helplessness” the outcome of repeated abuse, which eventually prevents the victim from resisting the violence or leaving the relationship.
On the subculture of violence, Wolfgang and Feracuti (1967) view violence as the outcome of a socialization process or subcultural patterns existing in certain societal groups. For Levi (1994), this theory does not adequately explain the origin of the subculture in the first place. However, Box (1994) argued that the existence of a ‘culture of masculinity’ and within that, a ‘subculture of violence’ creates these abuses of women as within our culture to be a real man is to be strong, powerful, independent, being able to always overcome resistance, and other attributes often measured by the number of sexual conquests.
In socio-learning theory, social theories give attention to the learning process of abusive and violent behavior and how they are transferred to members of the family or group as the case may be. Closely associated with social learning theories are the cognitive behavior explanations that focus on the learning and transfer of abusive, violent and aggressive behavior between individuals. According to Capell and Heiner, (1990) research has found that young adults who witnessed and experienced domestic violence as children are more likely to be in an intimate relationship as either an abuser or victim.
It is believed that criminal behavior is learned and the use of violence is a learnrd response from the company of others, gangs, groups or police enforcement techniques (Sutherland and Cressey, 1966). For Bandura (1973), aggression is learned through imitation (modeling) and sustained through reinforcements during the individual’s life. Other socio-learning theorists are Schultz (1960), Snell, Rosenwald and Robey (1964). These proponents believe that he source of violence is a s a result of unfulfilled childhood experiences and deviant marital relationships (Dobash and Dobash, 1979).
Studies that have focused on children suggest that experiences throughout life influence an individuals’ propensity to engage in family violence (either as a victim or as a perpetrator) (Wikipedia, 2012). Thus, researchers have identified childhood socialization, previous experiences in couple relationships during adolescence, and levels of strain in a person’s current life are likely explanations for domestic violence. Thus domestic violence is a learned behavior through observation, experience and reinforcement. It can be learned in cultures, within families and in communities, such as schools, peer groups and workplaces.
Hyde-Nolan and Juliao (2012) drew attention to the Violence as Trauma Theory, which argues how the victim of abuse process their traumatic experience in life can have an impact in their behavior and how the cope
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