Victims of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) usually encounter all manner of difficulties in their quest for justice against their violators and abusers. In this report, CHIKA MEFOR-NWACHUKWU examines how the families of these victims undermine their efforts in accessing justice.
For 18 years, Georgina, a petty trader in Emene, Enugu State, has suffered domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Every time he physically abuses her, she runs back to her father’s house, but returns to her abusive husband after being persuaded by her in-laws and family members.
“It started immediately after we got married. Whenever he beat me, his brother would intervene and try to talk some sense into him, but it seemed like the more his brother talked, the worse he became,” she lamented.
After enduring the dehumanizing treatment for years, Georgina decided five years ago, to seek the help of a non-governmental organization (NGO), Women Aid Collective, in New Haven, Enugu State. The NGO quickly summoned her husband and mediated their disputes, and after which she was urged to go home with him. But the assaults did not stop. Time and time again, he threatened to kill her despite her pleas for mercy. Her brother-in-law who was an EFCC staff, discouraged her from going to the police, claiming that it was a family issue that ought to be resolved within.
The mother of five said she could not return to the NGO to complain again because she had lost confidence in them, owing to how they had earlier handled her case.
Georgina who is now 45, lamented that the violence in her house did not only affect her but that it affected her children who she said were performing very poorly in school.
“One of my children told me that he was always losing concentration because of his father’s actions. My children are not doing well academically. Secondly, my first son, Chinedu, is nowhere to be found. Before he ran away, he said he would not continue to watch his father beat his mother. I cannot explain to you what my eyes have seen in the last 18 years,” she said as she struggled to hold back the tears.
She said she has resigned to fate as she prays fervently for her abusive husband not to beat her to death one day. “I leave it to God for His intervention,” she concluded.
According to UNICEF, an estimated one in three women worldwide will experience physical or gender abuse in her lifetime. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) refers to any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and based on gender norms and unequal power.
Georgina’s story is typical of how families hinder victims of sexual and gender-based violence from accessing justice. Her in-laws and members of her immediate family did dissuade her from speaking up and reporting her predicament to relevant authorities. She was told to stay back in the abusive marriage and continue to endure the inhuman treatment that was being meted out to her by her husband. She was told to consider her children and remain in the marriage.
Then, a major reason why most of the women who find themselves in a similar situation as Georgina’s are forced to remain in their abusive marriages is that they lack the means to survive independently. They are usually totally dependent on their partners for financial support and upkeep.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), up to 99% of domestic violence victims experience economic challenges during an abusive relationship, and finances are often cited as the biggest barrier to leaving such relationships.
Marriage as a bondage
Chidimma was deceived into a shammed marriage when she got unwantedly pregnant at the age of 17, in 2016. The woman who deceived her came with the tale that her brother who lived in Onitsha had assigned her to organize the marriage rites on his behalf, as he was too busy to come back and do it himself.
Chidimma, a native of Nsukka in Enugu State, was encouraged by her family to accept the marriage proposal. So, she ended up marrying a man she didn’t know. Two years after the marriage and with the birth of her baby girl, Chidimma still continued to wait for her supposed husband to show up. She eventually got a hold of his contact and then got the shock of her life.
“The man told me he knew nothing about me and the baby, and that he was already married. That was how we found out that the said man had been married for years with no issue and that his sister, the one who approached my family, wanted desperately to help him have children,” she narrated.
Chidimma who is now 23, wants out of the marriage, but Ifeyinwa Okeke, who paid her supposed bride price, is insisting that her family must pay back the whole money she spent on the marriage.
“She told my family that we will have to pay her N273,000. Where will I get such money? I am in bondage right now, and I don’t know how to free myself from it,” she lamented.
Chidimma had approached an NGO, Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center (CIRDDOC), to help her out of the quagmire, but her family had kicked against it. For them, the matter was a case of tradition and should be handled as such, and the only way to do that was to pay back the pride price to Ifeyinwa.
Payment of bride price is proof that a marriage has been sealed between a couple. Without bride price, a marriage cannot be said to be valid. This is according to the Igbo customs and traditions. So, the refund of the bride price signifies the dissolution of the marriage.
Because of their belief in the consequences of violating tradition, Chidimma who wants to start up a new life for herself is now stuck.
“No man will marry me with all these hanging on my neck,” she lamented.
Unreported rape cases due to stigmatization
Many SGBV victims rarely speak up, report their experiences or seek justice due majorly to the fear of stigmatization.
These were the cases of Oluchi and Esther. Oluchi was raped by a ‘pastor’ whom she had been friends with for years.
He had invited her to his church’s anniversary celebration and the event proceeded into the wee hours of the night. She then decided to pass the night outside her home instead of taking any risks. She narrated her story thus:
“He offered to pay my hotel bills. So, while I was checking in, he escorted me to the room to ensure that I settled in properly, and as soon as we had entered the room, he pinned me down on the bed and carried out the wicked act.”
Oluchi who is today the founder of an NGO that caters to SGBV survivors, refused to report the case due to the stigma that is usually borne by victims of rape cases.
“I couldn’t do anything with myself after that awful experience. And whenever I considered my position in the society, I was even more pained. I was dying inside, yet I couldn’t speak to anyone about my ordeal. The culprit has been apologizing over the years because he’s scared I would speak up, but I have said nothing all this while,” she explained.
Esther, on the other hand, was raped by a member of Enugu State House of Assembly whom she has refused to call out, not just for fear of societal stigma, but also because she feared for her life as the man in question was a top politician and had strong ‘connections.’
The sad incident had occurred at a popular hotel in Trans-Ekulu, Enugu State. Esther was then a student and needed money for her clearance fees, and the politician whom she said she had a lot of respect for, had offered to help.
“He told me to come to a hotel where he was having a meeting. The meeting lasted till 1:00am. He called and apologized for keeping me waiting for too long and taking all my time, and then offered to pay for my lodging,” she narrated.
Esther, who was unsuspecting, went to sleep and was awakened by a knock on her door. On enquiring, the politician announced his presence and then she went to open the door. While still at the door, he informed her that he had only come to check on her, that they would talk more in the morning.
“I said okay and was about to close the door when he swiftly and forcefully entered the room, locked the door behind him and pinned me down. He tore my dress and forced himself on me,” she explained.
Sometimes, the families of rape victims, mostly minors, chose to accept money from the abusers of their relatives and quash the cases, instead of suing for justice. This consequently hinders the victims’ access to justice.
Speaking on one such incidences, head of the legal department of CIRDDOC, Mazi Jerry Udochu, narrated the case of a 13-year-old girl who was defiled severally by a 53-year-old security guard at a United Bank of Africa (UBA) branch in Abakpa, Enugu State.