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Tackling the epidemy of wife abuse

By Bunmi Sofola

“You wake up every morning wondering what ‘crimes’ you’ll commit today —and how your husband will punish you,” a victim of a violent husband laments. “A punch in the face for asking him for money for the children’s school fees?

A slap in the face for saying hello to an old flame? A kick to the ribs for asking him to come home early for a change… .” With so much enlightenment on beating spousal abuse, going on today, you would have thought the wife-beaters would have faded into insignificance as we become a more civilized society—but the opposite has happened. And it has nothing to do with your status in the society.

Theresa has always been used to the perks attached to marrying a well-heeled husband. “I came from a middle-class family too,” she said, “so it wasn’t as if I was a starry-eyed pauper when we got married.

The problem is my husband’s anger—it has a very short fuse and anything could set him off. There was the night he came home, saw the maid in the kitchen and exploded: “I’ve told you I don’t want all these scruffy-looking servants you employed touching my meals,” he yelled.

“What exactly is your duty in this home? You don’t pay the rent, you have more money than you need, and your kids want for nothing….’ On and on, he went, without giving me the opportunity to utter a word.

When I eventually opened my mouth, his fist was in it. The sight of blood didn’t put him off as he flung the food across the dinning area—the fridge and freezer were splattered with gooey stuffs. The servants scampered. They’d learnt from past occurrences not to open their mouth in protest or they would be in for it.

“He’s verbally abusive too, forever telling me I was an ugly and horrible person and that if I left, he would replace me with a younger and prettier wife, and would prevent me from seeing the children. Both my parents are dead and I don’t really have anywhere to run to. The kids are doing very well and I thank my stars he doesn’t extend his violence to them.

Of course, they know what is going on and he said they didn’t protect me because they hated me. But that is not true. When he’s not there, they give me their support but I know things couldn’t go on this way indefinitely. A couple of nights ago, the violence got so bad that I ran out and drove to a friend’s house—in the nude! I was praying that she would be the one to open the gate as I hooted urgently. My shame was complete when her husband rushed out, took one look at me and ran back to fetch my friend… .”

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Why didn’t she leave? Surely, anything was better than the loss of her dignity? “I’d tried to leave before but he’d hunted me down and beat me up. Whoever it was that took me in would quickly ask me to leave as they didn’t want any trouble.”

“Abuse can take the form of violence, but it can also be psychological,” explains Theresa, a counsellor, who’d worked with abused women for years. “For example, constant criticism, verbal abuse or isolating the woman from her friends or family by telling her lies or not allowing her to call them. And it’s not just the woman who suffers. Domestic abuse taints the lives of children and destroys their ability to speak out. The parent might think the children don’t know, but they do. They feel responsible, but they don’t know what to do.”

So, why does abuse happen? “In my experience,” Theresa explains, “abusive men think they have the right to have absolute control over their families. I must stress though that it’s important to remember that not all men are abusive. Many women who have been abused go on to have wonderful relationships with other men. Tackling the epidemy of wife abuse isn’t an easy task. People need to be educated about healthy relationships and show them positive role models. Hopefully, this will reduce abuse in the future.

“In the meantime, victims must try to get help—even if it means leaving an abusive partner. The relief you will feel when you wake up in the morning and you’re free is incredible.”

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