…says more men are reporting DV
By Morenike Taire, Olasukanmi Akani & Josephine Agbonkhese
Appearances can be indeed deceptive and Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi is one perfect example. On the shoulders of this youthful, energetic lady rests the onerous task of eliminating sexual and domestic violence from Africa’s largest city, Lagos State, as Co-ordinator of the state’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, DSVRT, established in 2014. In this encounter with Weekend Woman, Vivour-Adeniyi speaks of her challenges, achievements and more.
What’s currently the problem with tackling domestic violence?
It is tough; victims just desperately want their perpetrators to stop. For example, currently, we have only four cases out of the 700 reported to us, in court presently. You know all the societal tradition and perception; some saying you can’t send your husband to jail, etc. Such have been our challenge.
But isn’t that dangerous; supposing it leads to something deadly…
That is why we say every domestic violence case is a potential murder case. But then, you cannot be seen to be coercing an abused person who is already traumatised. And then sometimes we’ve had cases where victims become hostile witnesses in court. Yes, we’ve had survivors who tell us to back out and accuse us of trying to break their homes.
Thus, we have to resort to public interest litigation, bearing in mind that these persons do not want to go to court in the first place.
Is there a provision for removing a child out of such situations supposing he or she is witnessing this violence?
Of course, and that is the function of the Family Social Services and Child Protection Unit. Witnessing intimate partner violence is a form of abuse but a lot of people do not know this. We recently started keeping data of the number of children affected by domestic violence. We started in May 2017 and we currently have over a thousand cases. Majority was on emotional abuse; and it’s a vicious cycle. Children who witness intimate sexual violence either become perpetrators in future or gravitate to people that will be abused.
This is a study that we have done and it is proven. We are privileged to meet with some of these abused children and most of them will tell you they saw their fathers beat their mothers. Some will tell you they saw their mum beaten several times and she stayed. So, we do not want to keep on reacting but to prevent or reduce the chances of future occurrences.
What we are trying to do now is to provide psychosocial therapy because we cannot continue removing children from their environments. But if we can remove the abuser, we can be sure of a safer environment for these children. This will ensure children do not get lost in the system. Most of these people that grew up to be adults did not receive psychosocial support and that has contributed to the situation on ground.
What about the cases of women who would want to stay in that marriage simply because the man is the provider?
It is not always the case. Sometimes, we have survivors who tell us they are the ones providing for the family and yet they are still beaten every day. I think it is because of the premium we place on marriage. Another angle to that is, most of these partners are not even married.
How effective has it been trying to remove the offending partner?
We use restraining order. In Lagos State, we have a law for Protection Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The law is quasi civil and quasi criminal and that law, in its section 5, provides for restraining order. Sometimes, when you tell the offenders not to come to the house, some of them can be so violent that they resort to going to the workplace of these survivors just because they want to make sure they lose their jobs. So, that restraining order can ensure protection for the survivor. But the challenge is that there is so much phobia about going to court for the restraining order and this is because people feel court procedures can be very cumbersome sometimes.
But we are trying to make them understand that going to court for a restraining order is not necessarily to prosecute; it will only help to ensure safety for the survivor and her children. It however takes a lot of work to ensure that these women secure a restraining order. Last month alone, we got about 18 restraining orders and I am not aware of any agency that has ever done so successfully. That law has existed for over ten years but I must tell you that that it takes a lot of work to enforce.
How many of such cases have you handled in the past one year when it is the other way round; violence against men?
In 2017, we had about 57 and in 2016, at a point, we had in hand over 700 cases and only 50 something were male. However, the ratio is a stark contrast to what we had in 2016; about 10 to 11 male.
So is it that there are more people reporting?
Yes, more people are reporting. In October(2017), we had over 400 cases reported.
What is the reason for violence?
There are different contributing factors. There is the issue of upbringing in which children who grew up in abusive homes and did not get professional psychosocial support now grow up to become abusers and victims themselves. Then there is the patriarchal society we live in. This is a serious problem especially for the fact that the word submission has been bastardised. It is so bad that a lot of women do not know when they are even in an abusive relationship simply because of that word which has been abused. You don’t submit to the extent of your life.
There was a lady that came to report physical abuse by her partner. She had not spent more than 10 minutes in my office and she had received over 10 messages from that man who, apparently, wanted to know where she was and what she was doing at every point in time. At a point, I noticed she looked sad after looking at her phone and when I asked, I found out she had received a messages from the man saying: “So you are sleeping with somebody”, “I’m going to deal with you.” But that was stalking; she did not know it is a form of abuse. They just feel that most times there have to be blood or scar before they can say they have been abused.
It is very rare for abuse to begin with a beating. Most times, it starts with verbal, emotional and then before you know it, it goes physical. And the truth about violence is that it doesn’t stop easily. Violence doesn’t stop unless checked.
But most times, these women wait until it is physical before they attempt to stop it. Meanwhile, if they resisted it earlier, they probably would have been able to. But how do you stop something you do not know about?
So, it’s a real psychological issue; a dangerous ploy to control and dominate the other.
Do you work with psychologists and have you done reconciliations in the past?
We are survivor-centred; we try to increase offender responsibility and victims’ safety. Before now, people would just focus on the offender, forgetting that there is somebody who is the victim and who is going through hard times. But one thing that is a common factor is that they just want the offender to stop. So, how can you ensure this?
Thus, we find out in our investigations that a lot of partners are not communicating but are only just talking; and this is what leads to violence a lot of the times. Such poor communication is what is responsible for 88% of violence cases we come across.
Social media too is causing a lot of problems in relationships these days. The woman is accused of cheating with someone on social media and then an argument ensues and leads to violence. Most times, in cases like these, we find out that the man had cheated in the past and the woman stayed. Thus, it is now hard for the man to believe that the woman is faithful because he fears his infidelity did not anger her.
What is the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence right now in Lagos State? Is it rising?
No. It is the reporting that is on the increase.
What are you doing to let people know when to raise an alarm against violence because from what we see, a lot of women hardly identify it when it starts?
We are creating awareness in secondary schools and higher institutions right now. When a man starts trying to separate you from your relatives, including your mum and dad, just know that he does not want you to have a support structure; which you will always need. Also, when a man tells you not to work but to stay at home and not do anything at all. Most times, this is because he wants to ensure you are without financial power.
Also, when a man is so much in a hurry to be married to you, without wanting to give room for a background research, just know there is danger looming. Somebody that has experienced intimate partner violence cannot over-flog this issue; it is important to know the background of the man you want to marry and live with. There are patterns and trends you should look out for even before you settle down with someone. It can even be as simple as the man comparing you to other ladies; that is emotional abuse and it is even worse.
Your office has been on since 2014; what would you say about the achievements?
In line with our vision, we have greatly increased awareness. The reports you hear about domestic violence are a result of the concerted efforts we put into ensuring domestic and sexual violence continue to be on the front burner.
We have also tried to influence policies. For instance, we now have the Sex Offenders Register as well as the Mandated Reporting Policy. That is why you see that people are speaking up now against the abuse of children. Then we have the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy which is an executive order signed by Governor Ambode. Last year, we also had four convictions and that is no mean feat when it comes to prosecuting domestic and sexual abuse.
Advice to members of the public?
To the married, speak up and get help. Every sexual and domestic violence case is a potential murder case. For single ladies, it will be so much easier to call-off an engagement than to pull-out of a marriage.
I’m a lawyer but I am into public administration because I believe so much in Public Policy and how it shapes our society. I worked with the former Attorney General as his Strategic Assistant and I also worked with his predecessor.
I’ve worked with two Attorney Generals precisely. I was also on the sub-committee that amended the Criminal Law in Lagos State in 2011 and my portion was to investigate rape. So, it is amazing that many years after, I’m saddled with the task of tackling domestic and sexual violence in the state.