Victim blaming is never the answer and asking victims why they do not leave rather than focusing on the abusers is exactly the culture that domestic violence thrives on.
This past week, a prominent gospel singer Osinachi Nwachukwu popularly known for her song, “Ekwueme” passed away. At first, it was reported by her husband that she had died of throat cancer. Inside sources later unearthed that the deceased had actually been suffering from domestic violence brought upon by her husband and that his troubling and abusive tendencies were well known not only to the people around her but also to the church. Since the husband himself, Peter Nwachukwu is a pastor, the details of their marriage had been privy to the other officers in the church. Following the news that Osinachi had died as a result of complications from her husband kicking her in the chest, some of the people who had known about their tumultuous relationship came out to speak on their experiences with the couple.
Another famous gospel singer, Frank Edwards who was meant to work with Osinachi on a song detailed that prior to moving on with their working relationship, he had to speak with her husband first and seek his permission. Also, there were reports of Pastor Peter routinely collecting his wife’s hard-earned money, selling her cars and making her live almost like someone who had no money despite working very hard for all she had and pulling a substantial financial weight in the family. The deceased complained often about their marriage, both to the church and to family members. These people would encourage her to stay in the marriage, saying that it was her cross to bear. “Marriage is not something one just comes out of” “If you leave, what will people say?” “Stay for the children” and so on. These were the people who were supposed to shield and protect the victim, failing her time and time again. Their first child, a boy, also recounted how often he would find his father beating their mother. The father conditioned his children to believe that beating women is good. The child also said that he (Peter) would seize their mother's personal vehicle and make her take public transportation instead.
I think about how she must have felt alone like there was no one to go to. The listening ears encouraged her to stay in her marriage. Even when pressured to leave, victims often feel that they cannot for different reasons. For some, the connection to their abuser is simply emotional. They have money of their own, in fact even more than their abuser. Their abuser is under their financial care. They do not leave because they often feel that the abuse is their lot in life. This sometimes happens when they’re a product of an abusive home. There’s a way that witnessing abuse growing can make it seem like the norm, something that “isn’t that bad”.
There is also a severe lack of safe shelters, therapeutic and other mental support for survivors. It is really hard to pick yourself up from that mental place when all you have known is suffering. At times, peace becomes foreign. You subconsciously begin to crave a toxic, anxiety-filled existence.
This situation exposed many Nigerians to a common reality that is kept very ‘hush-hush’. Usually, the assumption is that women are forced to stay in abusive homes because they have no money or life skill of their own. They have had children whom they are unable to feed by themselves and now have to suffer the consequences. Although situations like these do exist, we must, however, face the truth: abuse will always thrive in patriarchal societies like Nigeria regardless of the financial situation of women.
Being a single mother in this country is still very much abhorred. In many parts of the country, women still aren’t allowed to rent houses without pretending to be married. On the other hand, powerful or influential families can only do so much when the woman herself, in this case, the breadwinner is not being financially abused by her husband. The urge to be a good wife and not come across as disobedient means that married women are sometimes often encouraged to pay their salaries into their husbands’ accounts. They are asked to seek financial advice from their husband before taking any business or investment moves. They’re also enforced to obey their husbands, stating both moral and religious reasons. In fact, people believe that when a woman disobeys her husband, she sins against God. Men who love their wives and show it are collectively pitied because it is obvious that he is being controlled by their wife and that seems to be the worst thing in the world.
Growing up, I lived in a similar situation. I was born in a family where my father was quick to violent displays of anger and even quicker to demeaning words. My father conditioned us to believe that the Bible says men can discipline (read: beat) their wives. He also said that when my mother disobeyed him, she committed a grave sin against God and would be punished for it. When reported to the church, they would encourage and plead with my mother to stay and resolve the issues. They would ask us the children to tell our parents we did not want them separated when in reality it was everything we wanted. We feared for our mother’s life. Even the police were mostly useless in handling domestic violence matters, they would say it was out of their jurisdiction and was meant to be settled at home.
When my mother refused to adhere to his unreasonable and excessive demands, he flew off the rails and made sure to hurt every one of us for it. He tried firmly to turn us against our mother while enjoying her money and living off her hard-earned dime. It is why the narrative of “women cannot be abused when they earn their own money” amuses me. Nothing can stop a man from abusing any woman that they choose to, especially in a society where misogyny abounds. While class may shield you from abuse as a result of social structure, many women are one bad relationship away from being Osinachi. No matter how smart said woman may feel she is. Victims are not weak, stupid or simply asking for it. Victim blaming is never the answer and asking victims why they do not leave rather than focusing on the abusers is exactly the culture that domestic violence thrives on.