By Dame Julie Okah Donli
Sexual abuse against men and women by their partners sounds like the joke of the century to many. They wonder at how a woman would claim to be raped by her husband because she refused his advances and he in turn decides to take his “property” by force after all he paid her bride price.
This is a very controversial topic because the Nigerian legislature is yet to officially acknowledge this form of abuse. However, in other countries the reverse is the case. The fact is that we can choosec to ignore or turn deaf ears to this ugly trend but that doesn’t change the fact that it happens. We cannot claim ignorance concerning the fact that men and women are physically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally abused by their intimate partners and that the mere fact that it is done within the confines of marriage does not make it less of a crime. If we frown at young girls and boys being abused, why should we not do same when such abuse happens in marriage?
Research has shown that several married men and women have at some point in their lives been sexually abused by their partners but would rather not speak up because the society does not consider such as abuse.
The long-term effect of this is that if there are no sufficient grassroots advocacy campaigns, many married people would be forced to believe that sexual abuse is a vice that cannot happen within the confines of marriage.
Except for few exceptional cases, sexual abuse is usually accompanied with physical and emotional abuse. Therefore most women who are victims of sexual abuse are also victims of domestic violence.
Addressing the issue of abuse between intimate partners requires a holistic approach because entrenched in most African cultures is the tradition of objectifying women, a catalyst for the promotion of abuse against married women. There should be a reorientation on the place of married women in the home. A married woman is not just a wife and mother created to always satisfy her husband but an adult that is capable of withdrawing sexual consent at any time and one whose decision should be respected by her husband regardless of how much he spent on her dowry.
It is also important to note that the concept of abuse by an intimate partner goes beyond physical and sexual abuse to include psychological abuse such as excessive jealousy, verbal aggression, harassment or stalking, etc.
Other forms of abuse against married women include use of economics, such as withdrawing funds, where in most cases, a man refuses to cater for the needs of his family as a way of “punishing” his wife. spending of family funds is another common form of abuse in marriage. Mrs A toiled day and night to cater for her family because she has a husband who would rather spend his resources on drinks and pleasure than to provide for the family. After several years of saving to build a house for herself and children, she discovered that her husband had withdrawn all the funds in their joint account, sold off their investments without her knowledge and had squandered the money. When she confronted him, he turned her into a punching bag and emotionally and psychologically abused her reminding her of the fact that in their culture everything a woman owns belongs to her husband who has the right to do with it whatever he wanted without consulting the wife. That same night while nursing the pain of losing the proceeds of several years of labour, her husband forcefully has his way with her even though she refused to give consent and once again he reminded her that everything she owned including her body belongs to him and forbade her from making any investment in her name except in his name.
There is also the use of children to control and manipulate women into remaining in marriages. Personally, I have lost count of women who confided in me and told me they were undergoing various degrees of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their partners but have no option than to remain with him because of the love they have for their children. At this stage, they cannot walk out of an abusive marriage because of lack of funds to cater for their children and even when offered business empowerment or employment, the fear of what will befall their children should their husbands come after them keeps them glued in the marriage.
Globally, almost all physically abused women also experience emotional abuse, the implication of this is that youths and children, the future of the society are exposed to emotional abuse from emotionally unstable mothers and the cycle goes on and on.