A home should be a safe haven where one runs to after a hard day in the office. It is where you go to reconnect, to get love and reassurance and appreciation from loved ones. It becomes a problem if one no longer feels safe in the confines of their home. Domestic violence is described as the act of violence against a person living in one’s household especially from an immediate member of the family. In Kenya today, it is still a taboo to talk about domestic violence. Victims who speak out are stigmatized for airing their ‘dirty linen’ in public.
A 2014 demographic and health survey conducted in Kenya showed that 38% of women respondents between the ages 15-49 have suffered domestic violence from their spouse or partner. However, this does not portray the actual picture on the ground. Recently, Ruth Gakii used social media to expose the father of her three year old son, Alphonse Kambu a UN employee for allegedly battering her. The man went ahead to cite that diplomatic immunity would protect him from the law. However, his claims have since been dismissed by UNEP through a press statement to media houses. As she recounted the incident, Gakii stated that this is was not the first time her lover had been abusive adding that it had been going on for the last three years. This, author and relationship coach, Jennifer Karina, attributes to the fact that the woman usually hopes that it will get better with time and that is why they choose to stay and fight for their relationship. Research shows that a woman will leave an abusive home 8-10 times before permanently leaving or dying due to injuries incurred from a violent incident. Wanjiru Muiruri, a domestic violence survivor through a local interview stated that she left her marital home countless times only to return after the dust had settled.
Ken Ouko, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi says that the African woman has been socialized to stick it out in a marriage. This is the reason many choose to stay in abusive relationships. He also adds that domestic violence happens between two people who actually love and care for each other. This then leads to the vicious cycle where an argument ensues and it escalates from verbal and emotional abuse to physical abuse. Some like Fatuma Ibrahim have suffered extreme injuries after her husband lodged a knife that protruded through her cheeks among other injuries to her body. Her suffering was worsened when the doctors at Wajir County Refferal hospital could not remove the knife. She has since been released from Kenyatta National Hospital(KNH) after successfully undergoing surgery. Such incidents of violence are followed by a honeymoon phase where the abuser will remorsefully try to win the victim’s forgiveness by showering them with gifts as simple as flowers, gadgets to grand gestures like expensive cars and holidaying in exotic destinations. In this period the trust is reinstated only to be lost in the next incident.
What are the causes?
So what would make a man beat up a woman that he supposedly loves? Karina poses the argument that violence is a form of communication for some men. She further elaborates that in most cases women will use sarcasm and snide comments to express themselves. The man will usually take the verbal abuse till it reaches a tipping point and he resorts to physical violence. Another caliber of men have unaddressed issues from growing up in abusive homes where they saw their mothers endure abuse for ages which they will drag into their marriages. The need to be in control is also another reason why men will be abusive. Ken Ouko says that some men will want to keep their wives on a short leash as a way of disciplining them. Ironically, some women will justify a man’s abuse of them as proof of love.
Gradually the effects of an abusive relationship will take a toll on the victim and she will lose her self-worth and esteem. This further deepens her need to stay as the victim believes that she deserves the violence. Many women will stay for economic reasons as they do not have the financial ability to single-handedly support the lifestyle that the children are accustomed to. Others will stay because they cannot bear to deal with the stigma that comes from leaving a marriage as many a times the blame falls on the woman. Sometimes the man is a respected figure in the society and this will intimidate a victim from speaking out as this means that it will be their word against that of the abuser. An abuser will more often than not, demand that the woman stay away from friends and family who are the ‘cause’ of the problems. This is a way to protect themselves by ensuring that the woman is isolated and there is no chance of her blowing the whistle on the abuser.
Beverlyn Ongaro a lawyer who works on democracy, governance and gender issues adds that some of the women stay because of a lack of an understanding of the law. Previously, domestic violence was under the Penal Code. This meant that an act of assault was a criminal case to be reported at the police station and was often dismissed as domestic issues to be dealt with privately. Victims need not worry anymore following the signing into law of the Protection Against Domestic Violence bill, 2015. The bill acknowledges numerous types of violence including, verbal abuse, harassment, sexual violence in a marriage, incest, intimidation, stalking, emotional and physical abuse even traditional activities like ‘cleansing’ of widows and forceful wife inheritance. The bill also protects victims from economic abuse where one is prevented from seeking employment. Anyone who has been abused or feels likely to be abused should apply for a protection order which will prevent the abuser from contacting the victim. If after an abuser has been served and received an explanation then breaches it, they will have committed an offence that attracts a fine of Kshs.100,000 or imprisonment for not more than 12 months and if the judge deems it fit, both.
Damage to property will now be compensated at the rates that the courts decide. The abuser will also cover the cost of treatment, loss of earnings as result of the injuries. If the victim can no longer live with the abuser , the latter will foot any costs incurred while the victim sets up in another house and will continue to rent and any other expenses. The law also protects children who suffer psychological trauma in abusive homes. Abuse against children in this case includes them watching or hearing their parents fight or see their mother being beaten up. Even as law makers celebrate this huge step in dealing with domestic violence, the fight to encourage victims of abuse to speak out still lingers. Ongaro advises that the government should complement the bill by having safe houses where women from abusive homes can be protected as they await the legal process to take its course. Counseling is also key in order to begin the healing process. What you and I can do when to help is report cases of domestic violence to the authorities. One is converted as an accomplice to the violence if they fail to do so.
There are also toll-free hotlines that are available round the clock that victims or those around them can can call. One of them is 1195 which is operated by Healthcare Assistance Kenya (HAK) with support of telecom agents such as Safaricom and Airtel. One can also reach out to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at Nairobi Women’s Hospital specifically the Adam’s Branch through the numbers Mobile : +254 721 696 214 / +254 721 760 146 or email at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or their social media platforms on Facebook and twitter.