By CHIOMA GABRIEL
Becky could sense that something was wrong immediately she got home that night. The reluctance of the security guard to open the gate on her way in signalled the danger ahead but she walked right into it. Her husband, Emi, wielding a long whip, was standing at the entrance of the house, his countenance warning her to turn back but it was too late!
It was 10.30pm. Becky had spent hours in the ever-busy Lagos traffic. She had left her office on the Island by 5.30 pm after a hectic day, but had no control over the ensuing logjam. On alighting from the car, her plan was to explain to her husband why she was so late. But that was not to be. He whipped her black and blue before she could do so.
The next day, Becky got to the office with a black eye and her skin was pock-marked with blotches. She lied to her curious colleagues that she fell down the staircase at home, and was given three days’ break to treat herself. But unknown to Becky, her colleagues had noticed a pattern. Over the years, she had often appeared at her workplace with bruises and the ‘tired’ excuse that she had an accident.
Before long, though, Becky learnt to fight back. Her matrimonial home became a battle field and eventually, her marriage packed up. But she made sure she left her guy with a permanent disability during a fight.
Recalling her experience, Becky said she was 21 years old when they met.
“I met him when I was 21 and he was 10 years older than me. For the first couple of months, we had a great time, spending all our spare time together. I thought it would be fun but it wasn’t like that. He was a bit too serious and I admired that as a masculine quality. I enjoyed him asking questions about my past and other family members.
“But when we got married, he began asking about my previous boyfriends. He wanted to know how long I’d known them before I slept with them, and where and how it had happened. When I was vague or didn’t want to answer his questions, he would get angry and I would get frustrated with him and plead with him to stop or tap him on his arm but that was always my mistake. He would hit me,leaving me with bruises, mainly on my arms. The main effect of this violence was that I started to change. I stopped being myself. I would avoid any conversation with friends that would have anything to do with him. I didn’t look at or talk to other men.
“During sex, I didn’t initiate anything or lose control of myself. He wouldn’t like this and would start questioning me about things again. It was like that for six years or so and during that time, we had two children. Also during that time, he would get angry occasionally and would call me names. I always thought that his behaviour was my fault, mainly due to the thoughts he instilled in me at the beginning of the relationship.
“ When I started working in a blue-chip company on the Island, I thought things would be better but that was not the case. We all know about the Lagos traffic, and whenever I got home late, he would descend on me. He was in private business and managed his time, but because his business was not doing very well initially, he allowed me to work so as to complement his earnings. He used to take everything I earned until I began to resist that. Over the years, I grew in my job but that never mattered to him. The beatings even got worse until I started fighting back and we called it quits”.
Meanwhile, if you think women are the only victims of domestic violence, you have to think again. The catch, though, is that most men are ashamed to tell their stories. No man, after all, wants to admit that his wife or partner dominates or abuses him. Men are often thought of as strong, domineering and macho. Boys, even at a young age, are taught that it is unmanly to cry. So the idea of a grown man being frightened or vulnerable is a taboo. The idea of a man being battered is ludicrous. Hence, many male victims of abuse may feel “less of a man” for their experience, as though they are in some way not manly enough and ought to have the ability to prevent the abuse.
John, a trader, admitted he has a domineering wife but has been able to check her excesses over the years.
“ She discouraged me from seeing old friends, especially female friends. She threatened to use violence against them. She would flirt with my friends, but then tell me that they were trying to seduce her behind my back. This left me feeling distrustful of my friends. Later on, I found out that she had been telling them they shouldn’t come around because I was insanely jealous. All this had the effect of damaging my social network.
“ As our relationship progressed, she began to scream at me and hit me. She had attacked me with a knife once and I asked her to leave my house, but after intervention by in-laws, I brought her back to the house. But that didn’t stop her. She would even bite me and I would lie to my friends that I had scratched myself while shaving; whereas it was my wife who did it with her nails and sometimes her teeth.”
But not all men are as lenient as John. The truth of the matter is that many will hit back at wives who attack them, and when they do, they risk being accused of physical abuse themselves.
Abuse is not always physical, and a lot of men, in common with many women, face daily emotional, verbal and psychological abuse in silence for years, their self-esteem being slowly eroded and some get isolated from others around them due to shame.
Linus Nwafor recalls what happened to his neighbour.
“I was dumbfounded when I saw my neighbour getting struck by this woman he spent the night with. I was the one who called the police. I had to do that because my son was married to a violent young woman for a few months before he left her. My son was larger than her and nobody believed she abused him violently. She never used weapons, so she didn’t come close to hurting him physically. But she hit him whenever she got the opportunity, cut up his clothes and threw them in the yard. She destroyed the properties he had accumulated over the years, including their wedding album. Neither party was blameless, but the physical violence was all hers. If my son had ever hit her, there would have been evidence for weeks.”
Pedro, an accountant who is still married, said he had witnessed hell in his marriage.
“I am in a marriage with a woman who has difficulty controlling her rage, which would frequently erupt with verbal abuse and screaming. We fight a lot but she is always the one initiating it. In one particular case, after she initiated a fight by kicking and throwing punches, she called the police to report me as the violent abuser! When they responded, I was seen as the bad guy, she was the victim! These days, I try to stay away from home, visiting friends and other family members at the close of work. Most times, I get home drunk and sleep in the sitting room. I stopped eating her food and she doesn’t care”.
In the final analysis, no one – male or female – deserves to be hit, insulted and ridiculed or touched intimately if s(he) has asked not to be. No one deserves to be treated like a doormat, threatened, attacked with a weapon, shamed before peers, told what to do, when and with whom. In fact, no one deserves to be abused in any way.