Domestic violence (DV), also known as domestic abuse or family violence is violence or a form of abuse that takes place in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. Domestic violence is often used as a synonym for intimate partner violence, which is committed by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner. In its broadest sense, domestic violence also involves violence against children, parents, or the elderly i.e. the vulnerable. According to scholars, DV, as it is called, takes a number of forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive, and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms, to rape and to violent physical abuse such as choking, beating, female genital mutilation, and acid throwing that results in disfigurement or death. Globally, the victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly women, and they (women) tend to experience more severe forms of violence.
Regrettably, in some countries, domestic violence is often seen as justified, particularly in cases of actual or suspected infidelity on the part of the woman, and is legally permitted. Research has established that there exists a direct and significant correlation between a country’s level of gender equality and rates of domestic violence, where countries with less gender equality experience higher rates of domestic violence. Unfortunately, domestic violence is among the most underreported crimes worldwide for both men and women, due to social stigmas and other factors regarding this crime More often than not, domestic violence occurs in relationships where the abuser believes that the abused is an entitlement, and the act is seen as acceptable, justified, or unlikely to be reported
. One big risk factor of this kind of relationship is that it produces an intergenerational cycle of abuse in children and other family members, who may feel that such violence is acceptable or condoned. Many people who are in these relationships, unfortunately, do not recognize themselves as abusers or victims because they may consider their experiences as family conflicts that got out of control. This is usually due to the fact that awareness, perception, definition and documentation of domestic violence differs widely from country to country. According to reports, it is common in these relationships that there may be a cycle of abuse during which tensions rise and an act of violence is committed, followed by a period of reconciliation and calm.
According to experts, victims of domestic violence are often trapped in their situations through isolation,power and control, traumatic bonding to the abuser, cultural acceptance, lack of financial resources, fear, shame, or to protect children. As a result of abuse, victims may experience physical disabilities, dysregulated aggression, chronic health problems, mental illness, limited finances, and a poor ability to create healthy relationships. Victims may experience severe psychological disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder. Children who live in a household with violence are often reported to show psychological problems from an early age, such as avoidance, hypervigilance to threats, and dysregulated aggression, which may contribute to vicarious traumatization.
Experts, including scholars in the secular and religious sectors of society have continued to seek ways of tackling domestic and sexual violence against women, children and the vulnerable, especially in areas where such acts are seen as taboos for discussion, owing to the things attached to it. Literatures have been done, NGO’s set up for this purpose, conferences and meetings set, all these and other methods all aimed at bringing all forms of violence to a stop. The Catholic Church; priests, religious and lay faithful in the past and in recent times, have devised ways of bringing this worrisome act to the front burner of the Church’s activities, as awareness of DV is created regularly, giving victims opportunity and courage to come forward and speak on their experiences in their homes or whatever place they have encountered DV. This in turn, aids the Church and its relevant authorities to fish out perpetrators who are accorded the due sanctions for engaging in this heinous crime.
The female folks in the Church were not left out in the quest of tackling the DV menace, as the Catholic Women Organization of Nigeria, Lagos Archdiocese, CWONLA, in a recent Webinar brought together women and girls of Catholic extraction, among others, to be educated by scholars who dissected the act of domestic and sexual violence, and other issues surrounding it. Speaking on domestic violence and sex abuse challenges faced by victims, one of the Speakers, Mrs. Bridget Itsueli, Coordinator, Marriage and Family Life Unit, Catholic Lagos Archdiocese, explained that domestic violence usually comes with force and control; fear, intimidation with force and violence, threats and verbal abuse, molestation and threats. She said: “The biggest fattest lie is to say that what people call DV is when a woman does wrong and her husband just disciplines her. It is very wrong, it’s not true. Quoting Kofi Annan, former United Nation, UN Secretary General, Itsueli said: “Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions.
At least, one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her. Noting that at least, 45 percent of Nigerian women are abused, she said women also abuse men, although the numbers are significantly lower. She added that this could be because more women are vulnerable. She said: “DV thrives on dependency. When we add sex abuse, the figures are horrendous. A guess estimate suggests about 65 percent. The girl child is sexually abused from as early as two years or less. “Rape is growing at an unprecedented rate. In many gathering, it is usual to find that three in four women report sex abuse and rape.
It is not the stranger that abuses or rapes. It is usually a husband, boyfriend, neighbour, domestic staff, relatives, and sometimes, parents.” Speaking on the many faces of abuse, Itsueli said:“Possessiveness and jealousy, deprivation, isolation; no friends or family, disgracing and name calling, belittling and heaping guilt, unwanted sexual acts, collecting partner’s salary and depriving partner of money, beating and kicking, slapping, twisting arms and limbs, pulling hair, pushing and shoving, using weapons, damaging and throwing things; and still they stay! Why? “If you do not understand the cycle of abuse, you would say the women are enjoying it.
Then, you are very much deceived. They stay because they believe the abuser will change. Sometimes, Violence is followed by a honeymoon short stage that deceives. Dependent, no money, isolated, nowhere to run to. Shame. Abuser will take the children. It is my fault. I made him beat me. I annoyed him. I am a Catholic, I can’t leave my marriage. It is for better and for worse. There is nothing I can do.” The Lagos Archdiocesan Coordinator, Marriage and Family Life Unit, said that families in domestic violence produce children who live in fear and suspicion, adding that they (children) could end up being violent themselves and the cycle continues.
Quoting Genesis 1:26-28 and Pope John Paul II, she said that domestic violence contradicts the plan of God, adding that God affirms the ‘true genius of women’. “Domestic violence dishonours the marriage vow, ‘Will you love each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives? Yes, I will, but in domestic violence, this vow is broken. “Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 states that there is a serious indictment for those who do not keep vows made before God. 1 Peter 3 affirms that God does not answer the prayers of men who treat their wives badly. 1 Peter 3:7 states, In the same way you, husbands live with your wives…Treat them with respect because they will receive with you, God’s gift of life. Do this so that nothing will interfere with your prayers”, Itsueli said. She proffered some solutions, which include creating awareness that the victim is not guilty or to be blamed, sensitizing people about the hidden dangers and fatalities of domestic violence, supporting legislation, among others.
Itsueli said: “Create awareness. Sensitize people. Free legal services is available with Lagos State Government. Prevention watching for signs. Protection – Shelters and financial support. Rehabilitation. Trauma counselling. Ministry of Women’s Affairs.” She reminded victims that violence in the home is never okay, and it’s not victim’s fault, so they should seek for help. Speaking on the position of the Church on Molestation, Rape and Domestic violence, Rev. Sr. Joy-Gertrude Okonkwo, Our Lady of Apostles, OLA, said stories of abuse have emerged in every corner of the world and the Church has been accused of covering up crimes committed by Priests and religious, leaving its moral authority in doubt. This she said, gave birth to what today, the Church calls ‘Child Protection and Safeguarding’.
According to her, “This whole thing of abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership or influence to further the interests of someone perpetuating the crime other than the individual who needs help.” Commenting on safeguarding, which she describes as creating safe environments for children and those who work with them, the Reverend Sister said safeguarding is the process the Church has taken to protect children from abuse or neglect, and to prevent impairment of their health and development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care. “Therefore, the key message of safeguarding children is that it is a human and Christian responsibility of everyone involved with children and families, and applies to all children, without exception”, she said. On children being the greatest asset, Sr. Okonkwo quoted a statement made by Archbishop Michael Neary in 2010: “Children’s innocence and vulnerability have the capacity to draw so much goodness and love from concerned adults. As our greatest asset, our children and young people are deserving of the very best, which we have to offer in terms of resources and education, but also in terms of care and support.” She noted that the Church in no small measure abhors neglect and emotional abuse of children. “Though, we are looking at the Church’s stand on Molestation, Rape and Domestic violence, the Church also sees child abuse to include neglect and emotional abuses, and frowns at them.
“The core Child Safeguarding and Protection Principles for all ministerial and pastoral activities of the Church, which is to uphold Dignity of the Child that is to respect the child, nurture the child, and protect the child, are rooted in gospel values, Church statutory (constitutional or legal) guidelines, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in the case of Nigeria, the Child Right Act of Nigeria, 2003”, she said. Giving biblical instances of Jesus expressing his love for children, she said: “Children have a key place in the heart of Jesus who showed how much he valued them when he said whoever receives a little child like this in my name receives me (Matthew 18:5). “Following Christ’s example, we strive to ensure that in all our apostolate, children are welcomed, cherished and protected.
The fact that Jesus had strong warnings for anyone who would undermine the faith of little ones, is a reminder to all of us that we have an obligation to do our utmost to ensure children are not at risk of any harm or abuse while in our care. “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Luke 18:15-16).” She said that each child is to be affirmed as a gift of God, and has a right to dignity of life and bodily integrity, which must be respected, nurtured and protected. These rights she noted are undisputable by the very fact of their human dignity. “Children have their right to care and support, and to be raised in environments free from abuse or neglect, with good role models, whom they can fully trust will care for and nurture their spiritual and physical maturity.
“The Church has come to accept the fact that children are people now, and their childhood is valuable in its own right. This is why the whole process of Child Safeguarding and Protection operates under what we call Seven Standards, which are creating and maintaining safe environments, procedures for responding to child protection allegations, concerns and suspicions, care and support for the complainant, care and management of the respondent, training and support for keeping children safe, communicating the Church’s safeguarding message, quality assuring compliance with the standards”, she said. On policy statement, she stated: “All Church organizations that work with children must have a written Child Protection Policy, which states that the Church is committed to keeping children safe, makes clear to everyone that children must be protected, helps to create a safe and positive environment for children, shows that the Church is taking its duty of care seriously.
We, the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA), Nigeria Province, commit ourselves by the vows of religion to follow Christ as the Apostles did. We are committed to the promotion and protection of authentic human values, which are an integral part of the proclamation of the Gospel. “Inspired by the example of Jesus in showing great love, respect and care for children, we believe that each child must be cherished and affirmed as a gift from God, and has an inherent right to dignity of life and bodily integrity. “We commit ourselves to do all in our power to ensure that the children who come in contact with us in any way, will be cared for in a safe and enabling environment, where their holistic development is facilitated and where they are safeguarded against any form of harm or abuse.
We do our utmost to ensure that the fundamental rights of these children are always respected and upheld.” Sr. Okonkwo revealed that in line with the guidelines of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria for processing cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, Lagos Archdiocese has come up with a Safeguarding Policy and Procedure (Safe Policy) with laid down principles and guidelines specifically for the protection of children, including minors. “Dioceses and Archdioceses have put in place official structures for dealing with child safeguarding concerns. For example, in Lagos Archdiocese, the official structures are Parish/Institutions Child Safeguarding Committee, Deanery Child Safeguarding Committee, Archdiocesan Designated Child Safeguarding Officer and Archdiocesan Child Safeguarding Review Board. “In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held its annual meeting, and developed a plan for combating clergy sex abuse. Out of that came the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young people, a multi-faceted document containing recommendations that was a roadmap for the dioceses”, she said. According to the Reverend Sister, the USCCB recommendations included establishing review boards composed of laity and clergy to look into allegations, outlining a process of documenting allegations, setting up victim assistance coordinators, putting in place safe environment coordinators, requiring background checks on those working with children, and requiring sex abuse awareness training for workers.
She also revealed that in 2019, Pope Francis held a summit at the Vatican with bishops, called the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church, which yielded a 21-point plan to combat clergy sex abuse. “Pope Francis, on March 19, sent out a decree on the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons which he says is an integral part of the gospel message that the Church and all its members are called to spread throughout the world”, she said. She said to achieve this, the need for policy statement and communicating the Church’s safeguarding message in various institutions and organizations are very important. “To minimize risk to children by church organizations, the Church, as part of the guiding principles, recommends safe recruitment and vetting practice, codes of behaviour such as adult to child behaviour, child to child behavior, physical contact with children, anti-bullying strategies and protocols, whistle blowing, operating safe activities for children”, she said. Speaking on sanctions for those erring in this regard, Sr. Okonkwo said: “The Diocese of Brooklyn has a ‘no tolerance’ policy. Members of the clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor are permanently removed from ministry.
In June 2018, the Vatican suspended Cardinal McCarrick, after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found a credible charge that he had sexually abused a teenager. He resigned from the College of Cardinals. In February 2019, he was laicized i.e. he lost the legal status of being a cleric. According to her, the McCarrick report was a milestone, being that it was a case of what went wrong, and what the Church did right. She said priests, religious, employees and voluntary workers are made to sign and abide to behavioural code of conduct of the Dioceses or Archdioceses in which they are working. On some Lagos Archdiocese general sanctions, she said: “If there is an allegation of the guidelines, policies or principle of the safe policy from a verifiable source, the individual may be suspended from the services of the Archdiocese pending the outcome of an independent investigation. “In the case of groups contracted to work in institutions, the disciplinary action envisaged includes termination of contract. In the case of priests, consecrated men or women, the disciplinary action envisaged includes removal from the Archdiocese, the handing over of the documentation of the case to the major superiors concerned, and the recommendation for further action.
In the case of a priest, it includes the withdrawal of the accused from sacred ministry or any other ecclesiastical office or function, and prohibit his participation in the Holy Eucharist by the Archbishop pending the outcome of the process.” Sr. Okonkwo noted that with the above policy on ground, priests, religious and others who default, are investigated and punished accordingly. She further noted that the overall responsibility for safeguarding children in any church organization remains with the relevant church authority, such as the Parish Priest. She said: “In a 2001 apology, John Paul II called sexual abuse within the Church ‘a profound contradiction of the teaching and witness of Jesus Christ.’ Benedict XVI also apologized, met with victims, and spoke of his ‘shame’ at the evil of abuse, calling for perpetrators to be brought to justice, and denouncing mishandling by church authorities.” Speaking on UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in1993, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, Coordinator of Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, defined Gender Based Violence as any act of violence that result in or likely to result in physical, sexual or psychosocial harm or suffering to women, including threats of such act, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty whether occurring in public or private life”
She said: “Gender-based violence (GBV) is a form of violence that is directed and inflicted upon a person (solely) for reasons of her/his gender. Although both women and men experience violence, evidences suggest that the risk factors, patterns and consequences of violence against women are different than violence against men. Many cultures and beliefs, norms and social institutions legitimize and therefore perpetuate GBV. On risk factors and consequences of domestic and sexual assault, Vivour-Adeniyi gave United State Department of Justice definition of sexual assault/violence as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient A sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. She listed forms of sexual assault to include attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body, penetration of the person’s body, also known as rape and forced exposure to pornography.
She further listed lack of consent; the use of physical force, coercion, deception or threat; and or the involvement of a victim that is mentally incapacitated or physically impaired, due to voluntary or involuntary alcohol or drug consumption, asleep or unconscious as forms of sexual assault. On rape and the law, Vivour-Adeniy said: “Although rape is traditionally between a man and woman, the Criminal Law in section 259 provides for ‘modern rape’, which is unlawful sexual assault by penetration. This section provides that any person who penetrates sexually, any opening in the body of another person with a part of his body or anything else, without the consent of the person is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for life. “This therefore contemplates a man being sexually assaulted by another man or even a woman being the perpetrator.
By virtue of section 259, penetration need not be done by the penis. Rather, it can be done by any part of the body or with an object, as far as the penetration is sexual in nature.” She said: “The Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015 makes provisions for the various sexual offences which includes, Section 137- Defilement- having sexual intercourse with a person below the age of 18- liable to life imprisonment Section 260- Rape, where a man has unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman or girl below the age of 18 without her consent- liable to life imprisonment Section 261-Unlawful sexual assault by penetration-liable to imprisonment for life. Section 262- attempt to commit rape or sexual assault by penetration – liable imprisonment for 14 years. Section 283 – sexually touches another without consent – liable to imprisonment for three years. Section 264 – sexual harassment – liable to imprisonment for three years. “Section 265 – Causing another to engage in sexual activity without consent – liable to imprisonment for five years, and for life where there was penetration. S 260- RAPE Any man who has unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman or girl, without her consent, is guilty of the offence of rape and liable to imprisonment for life.
A woman or girl does not consent to sexual intercourse if she submits to the act by reason of force, impersonation, threat or intimidation of any kind, fear of harm or false or fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act.” On sexual harassment, she said: “Any person who sexually harasses another is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years. Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favours, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which when submitted to or rejected implicitly or explicitly affects a person’s employment or educational opportunity or unreasonably interferes with the person’s work or educational performance; implicitly or explicitly suggests that submission to or rejection of the conduct will be a factor in academic or employment decisions; or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning or working environment.”
The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team Coordinator, defined domestic violence as an act of violence or abuse carried out by a person against another person in a cohabiting relationship, i.e. husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, domestic staff and employer, parents and children with the intention to control and dominate the other party. She said: “Domestic Violence as provided for by the Law can either be physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, economic/financial abuse stalking/harassment. Who is at risk of domestic and sexual assault? Everybody irrespective of their socio-economic status – Women, men, boys, girls, children and the physically challenged. Women, girls, children are at higher risk of being sexually assaulted.” On the rights of the victims, she said: “In Lagos State, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Law, 2007 was passed to provide protection for victims of domestic violence.
The law is made not only to protect women who are most times the target of domestic violence, but also to safeguard the interests of men, children, servants/maids, and everyone who may be a victim of domestic violence. The Prevention Against Domestic Violence Law, 2007 applies to persons that are in a domestic/cohabiting relationship, i.e. married which includes, but not limited to marriage under the law or Native Law and Custom, cohabiting or, domestic staff. The underlining word is the parties must be in a domestic/ cohabiting relationship. “The Law empowers a victim in a domestic violence relationship to approach the court for certain reliefs, namely; an order to stop the abuser from further committing any act of domestic violence, an order prohibiting the abuser from enlisting the help of another person to commit such act, an order restraining the abuser from entering the residence shared with the complainant, an order restraining the abuser from entering the complainant’s place of work, an order compelling a police officer to accompany the complainant to a specific place/home for the collection of personal properties.
The court can also grant certain maintenance orders, which include but not limited to; payment of house rent or mortgage, feeding allowance, school fees for the children, monthly expense allowance.” In cases, where the victim decides to walk away from an abusive relationship, Vivoir-Adeniyi advises on some safety plans. She said: “If you decide to walk away what should you do? Being prepared and having a set plan will help you successfully and safely escape the abusive relationship. To develop your safety plan, you should memorize these important phone numbers or keep a list in a safe place, or write them on the bottom of your shoe. police (0906-288- 7857), domestic violence hotline (0813- 796-0048/ *6820#). Tell a neighbour you trust about the abuse in your home. Ask them to call the police if they hear suspicious noises coming from your home or if they have not heard from you or seen you in a certain amount of time. If you still live with your abuser, find a safe room in your home where you and your children can hide. Then, if possible, install a deadbolt lock in that room that can only be locked from the inside.”