Notes On Domestic Violence and Sexual Exploitation in Nigeria

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary; domestic violence is defined as violence between members of the same family. It can also be defined as violence that/which occurs in the home or can be referred to as a pattern of abusive behaviour between intimate partners. In Lagos, acts that constitute domestic violence include; physical abuse, emotional verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse and exploitation, sexual exploitation including rape, incest and sexual assault, denial of basic education, intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, deprivation, entry into complainants residence without consent where parties do share the same residence.

Domestic violence and abuse in its entirety is viewed somewhat as a controversial issue in Nigeria; not brought to the fore or talked about in the public domain. No thanks to the culture of pretense in the society. This piece would not tow that line or thinking of pretense which has permeated this society.

Now, domestic violence and abuse in Nigeria tends to be accompanied with the “it is a family affair and it is not my business or your business” rhetoric until the abused or abuser is fatally incapacitated or killed; as several reports tend to reveal. When one picks up some dailies with a social section or read some popular blogs; known for gossip news items; usually it is not out of place to come across domestic violence news items. When the “it is a family affair” rhetoric comes up; you tend to find that family members of the abused or abuser tend to hush-hush the crime, given the society we live in. For those who know domestic violence is now a crime. And known as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act.

At a gathering on Thursday, the 27th of November 2014, organised by ACTS Generation (a gender based violence and abuse advocate, counseling, and restoration organization); which was tagged International Conference on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Trafficking. The issue of domestic violence is quite an alarming problem which is tearing at the delicate fabric of society through the home but it would appear it is not given the needed attention. But we can not deny the fact that it is easy to spot individuals (especially women) who are physically abused in their homes; the same can not be said for those suffering emotional domestic violence etc.

During the event, the executive director of ACTS Generation; Laila Jean St Matthew-Daniel in her speech stated that, " physical and sexual violence are two main forms of violence that women and young girls are often subjected to, both in the public and private spheres. While physical violence is the use of physical force with weapons that are visible (eg hand, knife, gun stick etc); sexual violence is any form of non-consensual or forced sexual activity which includes rape, incest etc. Both forms of violence are carried out with the intent to cause bodily harm, suffering and psychological trauma to women and young girls."

On human trafficking; Mrs. Laila Jean St Matthew-Daniel said that, "human trafficking is estimated to be a $32billion annual industry and is a type of slavery that involves the transport or trade of people for the purpose of work. According to the United Nations, about 2.5million people around the world are ensnared in the web of human trafficking at any given time. Human trafficking impacts people of all backgrounds and people are trafficked for a variety of purposes. Men are often trafficked into hard labour jobs, while children are trafficked into labour positions in textile, agriculture and fishing industries. Women and girls are typically trafficked into commercial sex industry."

Mrs. Laila Jean St Matthew-Daniel further posited that "sex trafficking or slavery is the exploitation of women and children, within national or across international borders, for the purposes of forced sex work. Commercial sexual exploitation includes pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking. Each year, it is estimated that 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders."

Also, she posited that “some sex trafficking is highly visible, such as street prostitution. But many trafficking victims remain unseen, operating out of unmarked brothels in unsuspecting and sometimes suburban neighbourhoods. Sex traffickers may also operate out of public and private locations such as massage parlours, spas and strip clubs.”

My knowledge of the severity of the scourge called domestic violence was further illuminated when other female speakers spoke. A lot chorused that women’s rights should not be trampled upon by religious doctrines or using religion to violate women. A lady opined that views have been globalised and the downside of this is that a lot of these global values are detrimental. A lot of elements in global culture have dehumanised women’s bodies. Some global values have made a lot of young women believe they need to dress indecently. Global culture professes the glorification of indecently dressed ladies which is a ready excuse for some men to violate and harass them.

Other speakers opined that gender-based violence “are mostly perpetuated against women and young girls by people that they know, love and trust.” A speaker reported that some years ago, a research in South West Nigeria; discovered that apart from rape; South West women fear verbal abuse. And that cultural values and norms in Nigeria serve to condone the impunities of a lot of people. One of the revealing facts that shocked me was the fact that when gender/domestic violence occur; a lot of Nigerians are guilty of secondary victimization by differentiating between “what happened” and asking the “what did you do?” question.

Another revelation was of a female police officer who was the officer in charge of a special unit called the Family Support Unit at the Adeniji Adele Police Station in Lagos State. Reading through Lagos State Gender Advocacy Team (LASGAT)’s brochure handed to guests at the event; I came across some interesting statements and facts which are quite useful to all (if you can get a copy).

According to the brochure, these Special Police Units are model police stations in Lagos State where grieving parties’ complaints about domestic violence and sexual assaults can be lodged. These special units can be found in the Ilupeju, Isokoko and Adeniji Adele police stations. These units called the Family Support Units (FSU) allow victims or complainants to bypass the charge room and come directly to the unit. And from the Female police officer’s comments, one could deduce that a lot of cases were being handled by her unit.

Some of the speakers posited that for the minimization and eventual eradication of domestic violence (which can be inflicted on women and men), it is apparent that our society or rather Nigerians especially the men-folk need a new definition of masculinity.

They went further to state that there is no place for those who demean and abuse the place of girls and women. Men are not born violent but learn it. Also, the society should not hide behind religion and cultural beliefs to violate women. Real men don’t raise hands against women. Also, women in the corridors of the corporate and government worlds should begin to influence the decision making processes of the government in relation to the rights of women. Also, laws bordering on gender/domestic violence have to be strengthened-where found weak.

In East Africa (a region I am familiar with), the society empowers women (whether they are independent or not); ours doesn’t empower independent women (it must be frustrating for an independent lady who isn’t empowered.) We need to begin to have a shift in this regard. Also, the society should not hide behind religious and cultural beliefs to violate women. Those experiencing domestic violence and abuse should speak out and break the silence. Domestic violence and abuse is not a “family affair.” It is a crime against the state. As at 2014, there were over 109 organisations rendering support services in Lagos and their names can be gotten from Lagos State Gender Advocacy Team’s email.

On a final note; pertaining to sexual slavery and exploitation (prostitution, adult movies and strip bars etc), which Laila Jean St Matthew-Daniel talked about in her speech at the event; my understanding of this aspect was broadened by some recent findings. My observations concur with that of the executive director of ACTS Generation; Laila Jean St Matthew-Daniel, about such places (synonymous with ladies and silver poles) being abodes of sexual exploitation. With all candour, positing that such places are like sweat shops found in Bangladesh or India would still be putting it mildly.

Honestly, as a society, we have a simmering problem in our hands. Alas, this society pretends and in such matters would want to remain oblivious. We don’t want to believe there is a problem until it hits us in the face. The reality is that this problem of domestic violence and sexual exploitation are simmering and the society should not keep quiet. The society (the government, appropriate laws and citizens) should speak out. Answers to questions like what is the root problem; what are the underlying issues and what would happen if nothing is done; have to be proffered.  

This article was first published via  

Dolapo Aina. Lagos, Nigeria.

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