Perspective on Domestic Abuse – a Former Victim’s Candid Opinion

…a former victim’s candid opinion

I had wanted to continue with the analysis of penultimate Tuesday’s American Presidential Election that had resoundingly returned President Obama for a second term and how Nigerians can fashion a winning coalition without placing too much premium on geography but more on proven abilities, but since last month-October, was “Domestic abuse month’ and fully aware of the negative and destructive effects that social ill has had in our Diasporan community, I decided to devote this column to addressing the issue by publishing this piece that was written by Evangelist Christiana Chineme.

Evangelist Christiana Chineme is by every level of consideration, an immigrant success story. A registered nurse with a masters degree and a top official in a medical facility here in New York, she combines beauty with high intellect. Ordinarily, she cuts a picture of a supremely accomplished immigrant, but all her accomplishments did not stop her from getting abused by a man whom she had married and devoted a greater part of her life to loving and cherishing.  In 2009, she wrote a bestseller “If God didn’t do it. He only signed off on it: Living a purposeful life through the storm” which chronicles the pain and emotional torture she had gone through as a victim of domestic abuse. For years now, she has devoted her life to the issue of domestic abuse and has spoken at numerous avenues and events.

Domestic abuse is a major problem confronting our immigrant community. Several women have been affected buy this problem and some had paid the ultimate price. In 2006, a Nigerian man- John Onwuka of Hampton’s, Virginia responding to what he felt was the wife’s lack of respect she accorded him, killed the woman. “Yes, I have killed the woman who messed up my life” he was reported to have unapologetically told the cops who responded to the crime scene.

The piece below by Evanglist Chineme sheds light on some of the root causes of domestic abuse.

It’s that time of the year again when cancer and domestic violence are in the spotlight. However cancer tends to beat out domestic violence even though both diseases are devastating to our community. The month of October usually is dedicated to shedding light on cancer and domestic violence, but my experience has been that cancer seems to dominate the news while domestic violence is hardly mentioned. As a survivor and someone who’s dedicated whatever length of time I have left in this life to this cause, I will not let this month pass without bringing to our attention the disease that is ravaging our Diaspora.

Our culture and religion have helped shape our response to domestic violence, in that both (our culture and Christian beliefs) advise us that a man is the head of household, and women need to be submissive. To the extent that I agree with this concept, men have to live up to their own end of the bargain before asking their women to submit. My ex- husband used this line of argument against me severely, and so many victims I know say also that it was and is being used against them. Those who use this Bible passage as a line of attack fail to mention that before the verse that said “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”, it first said “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” Ephesians 5:21-22. Verse 25 of same chapter went further to state “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” It is a double standard when someone expects the other to live up to his or her commitment when he/she is not living up to theirs.

Domestic violence is real and endemic in our Diaspora. That’s how it’s been and is still being tolerated because of our culture and Christian beliefs. That shouldn’t be. Christianity is not anecdotal to respect of people and human dignity when so many Bible passages speaks of honor and respect.

Violence in general and domestic violence in particular is about violation of human dignity. Sanctity of human life is not just for pro life stance. It’s for all levels of life. Right to life principle is one in which one has right to live, to love and be loved, and not killed for it. There is no rational explanation for killing someone you claim to love or who cares about you.

Those who perpetuate violence against women have two primary motives-power and control. Oppressors use fear and intimidation to get what they want. How is that any different from armed robbers who use same methods to get what they want?

People have different reasons why they perpetrate violence against women. One is low self-esteem. Inferiority complex, resentment and hatred are believed to have something to do with violence. Do you know people grow into feeling secure about themselves? Which is why it is baffling when a grown man or woman is seen to be exhibiting signs of insecurity. When you know who you are and are comfortable in your own skin, you don’t feel the need to be insecure and intimidate people into giving you what you want. The love of self that is not narcissism and love of one another can conveniently give you that. “Love covers over a multitude of sins” said 1 Peter 4:8b and “hatred stirs up dissension” (Proverbs 10:12a). “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Love and violence do not belong in the same sentence. Hence, it is irreconcilable when someone says “I love you” and goes on to put you down, or hit you. What is even worse is when they proceed to do it over and over again after they did it once and said it was a mistake. It should be clear to you when your partner’s hiccups are not just random occurrences that can happen in a relationship, but a lifestyle of bullying in order to feel good about him or her self; or for them to get their way. That is what it really boils down to. It is who they are.

Females perpetrating abuse in intimate relationships is as common as male abuse, and often extends to the same degree of severity, and can result in serious negative outcomes for male and female victims. It seems to reflect a common set of background causes. The cultural belief is that a woman’s use of aggression is solely reflective of self-defense strategies in response to male initiated abuse, but the fact is that women are known to commit unilateral abuse. Women are culprits in this act of domestic violence as our men and both require services that address the perpetration and victimization needs of both partners. In other words, both male and female perpetrators of domestic violence need help.

Abuse is not only physical. There is emotional and psychological abuse also. Very subtle, but it is there. When a spouse verbally threatens, degrades, talks down, disrespects and derides the partner, the pain is usually emotional and psychological. They show scars that are as big, or even bigger than physical scars, and often explosive to say the least, when it is let out. Emotional and psychological abuse are the most damaging, and very difficult to prove in court. A man will lambaste his wife mercilessly because he’s “the man” even when he doesn’t provide for his family, and the wife will do the same to husband because she happens to be the bread winner.

My aim here is not to blame any one particular sex for domestic violence, but rather, to highlight the prevalence of domestic abuse in our Diaspora and work to heal ourselves of the disease. Domestic violence is one of the major causes of divorce in our Diaspora. Families are in ruin today because two people could not swallow their ego and control their temper and deal with the reality that relationships are difficult to maintain. Lasting relationships don’t come overnight. It takes time to build. Relationships need attention. It requires people spending time together.

Communication, trust, honesty, attraction, and most importantly fun, are important factors in keeping a relationship healthy and relevant. When two people truly have a genuine interest in one another, they tend to communicate well with each other. They are willing to risk sharing their feelings and respect one other’s feelings. When people truly have a genuine interest in one another, they find ways to stay together, and if they stay together long enough; their attitude tends to rub off on one another. There is closeness and greater understanding of one another. Soon, they begin to know what one likes; dislikes or what makes the other tick. These are some ways to tend well to relationships so they go beyond the “I do”. There are things within the confines of Christian beliefs that fit right in to this description. Find them and stick with them.

We keep talking about how pervasive the society has grown than when many of us grew up. Why wouldn’t it when families are no better? We can’t expect a tight knit society when family units are disintegrated. It’s only when family units are intact that society can be expected to be knit together, but when the reverse is the case, the society is no better.

The culture we found ourselves in hasn’t helped much of our cause either. We hail from a culture that has no or little regard for public display of affection. Suddenly we find ourselves in a culture that permits such conduct and think that love is all about kissing and holding hands on the street. It is sad that the only things many of us understand as love are spouses kissing and holding hands at every opportunity; or hopes that nothing goes wrong in a relationship. While all three are essential elements in maintaining a good relationship the third is unrealistic. It is impossible to go through a relationship without your faith in human nature being tested. Whether it is between husband and wife; brothers and sisters, or parents and their children, and even a professional relationship, relationships are always challenged to the breaking point. We are wired differently. Hence, there is the tendency conflicts will arise because of these differences. How we handle these conflicts is the problem, not whether we should have them or not. Thankfully, I have read and been exposed to different forums and avenues concerning some of the issues dogging our Diaspora, and how we could solve them. Add prevention of domestic violence to that list. Let’s tackle this problem and save our Diaspora from degradation.

We owe our children a better world than we had. That is if we find time to do that, which leads me to another cause of domestic violence in our Diaspora-“stress.” Our people are working themselves to oblivion. I’ve seen situations where husband and wife have two jobs, and can go for days without seeing each other. When they finally get to see each other they are so tried their bodies are on pins and needles. All it needs is a wrongly coined sentence and a quarrel ensures. By the time you know it one person is in jail, and the other ends up in the hospital. God help those children if anyone cares to know how they are doing while all these are going on.

How would our children learn respect for people when parents disrespect each other in the presence of their children? Respect starts at home before it gets to the outside. Charity they say begins at home. It is possible a child will treat the spouse same way as Mom or Dad did. The first exposure children have to life is family environment. Children are first exposed to their parents before they know to read the Bible and watch TV. This is why I believe that those who chose non-traditional lifestyles are not our problem. Our problem is what goes on in the house and the bedroom. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it”. (Proverbs 22:6). “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Will this take care of evil in our society? Maybe not! But we won’t know if we don’t try. Do the best you can and let the chips fall where they may. We need improved understanding of the etiology of aggression so we can begin to shape interventions for domestic violent perpetrators. The obvious is the family circle. My father did it that’s why I’m doing it. My mother did it that’s why I’m doing it. Who said a cycle can’t be broken? Break the cycle. If the cycle is ever going to be broken, it might as well be you. Be the one to break your family’s cycle of violence. Excuse is the coward’s way out. Be a man of substance and make tough decisions. There is no excuse for abuse PERIOD.

Finally, people should stop using our culture and faith as reasons for domestic violence. When I was growing up, I saw how some cases of the domestic were handled in my community. It’s either the family asked for their daughter to be returned to them, or they went and got her themselves. Sometimes, youths from the woman’s village took matters in to their own hands. They waited for the husband by the river or farm path and beat the daylights out of him. Vigilante justice was the way to go. That might not be the appropriate thing to do. The point is that loved ones have ways of expressing their disdain when someone they loved is being maltreated. Don’t take love for granted, or it soon disappears.

Christiana I. Chineme; RN, MS

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