Sexual and gender-based violence: Who will believe my story?

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I could not tell anybody in my family because they would have blamed me. It took a lot of time for me to summon the courage to tell my uncle and as I had earlier thought, he blamed me.

“He said I brought the problem on myself by having a child for a man I was not married to.

“My pastor and some church members I spoke to told me to keep praying about it; that he will eventually change,’’ narrated Susan Nsubong (not real name) as she prepared porridge to feed her son.

The soft-spoken mother of one said that she decided to start a fishery business which Lawrence, her son’s father agreed to and promised to buy the fish tank for her.

“I travelled to Cross River to see his family and from there I went to see my siblings in Delta because I had not seen them since my mother died.

“When I came back to Abuja in January, I asked him about the fish tank but he said I should not disturb him because he was planning to build his house. I then decided to buy the tank,’’ she said.

According to Nsubong, the day I wanted to buy it, I told him that I will go to the market after work. I pleaded with him to take care of our baby since would not go to work.

“I closed from work at some minutes past five pm and I asked my colleague to follow me to Suleja market so that I can buy the tank. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it there and I had to go to Dei-Dei pantaker to buy it, yet I did find it there,” she said.

Nsubong said since the day was already far spent, she decided to go home and continue the search for the tank the next day.

“When I got home at about 7:40, I did not meet Lawrence or my baby at home, my neighbour saw me and told me that he has been looking for me and has been calling my phone.

“I told her that my phone battery was remaining only one per cent so I put it on flight mode to avoid calls.

“When he came back with my baby, he was really angry. I tried to play with him but he ignored me so I just followed him into the house,’’ Nsubong said.

According to her, before I knew it, he poured cold water on me, locked the door and started beating me with a belt in the presence of my child and accused me of being an ‘’ashawo’’ (prostitute).

“He flogged me mercilessly while my neighbour kept shouting and begging him to open the door.

“One of my legs got stuck under the chair but he kept dragging me. I got hold of a broom and hit his hand just to free myself,’’ she told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

Nsubong said that this action further angered Peter who reached for a bottle, broke it and stabbed her on the buttocks.

“I also did not know that he had put water on the stove just because of me.

“Later he dragged me out of the house, he used his leg to kick the water on the stove and the water poured on me and burnt my private part.

With bleeding buttocks and a scarred vagina, joy said she struggled and got herself to a nearby pharmacy to seek help.

“I was shocked at how my body and private part had peeled when I removed my clothes. I took pictures of the wounds and sent to my family. My younger brother threatened to hurt him.

Nsubong said that Lawrence ran away after inflicting the injury on her but was eventually arrested by the police.

She further said that several calls from his family members pleading on his behalf as well as her being emotionally and financially drained made her plead for his release and she decided to drop the case.

She said she was sad that Lawrence never cared to check up on her while she was receiving treatment, adding that it was only after he was arrested that his family gave her N120,000 for her treatment.

In spite of the pain inflicted on her by her spouse, Nsubong said she would have taken him back if he becomes a better person.

She said after waiting for about five years with no sign of change, she had to move on with her life saying “marriage is not by force and not for everybody”.

Nsubong said she was 17 when she got pregnant, now 23 years old and a single mother she is happy that she is alive to take care of her son.

On the flip side, Francis Keji, almost in tears but struggling to hold it all in, told the NAN how his wife Nancy, ‘redesigned his body with her teeth’ over an argument regarding buying items for her soap making business.

“We travelled to Gboko to see a relative and decided to use the opportunity to buy the items there.

“On getting to the market, my wife said the items were expensive; that she would buy them at Katsina Ala where we usually buy from.

“Unfortunately, on getting to Katsina Ala, the items were even more expensive so she said we should leave it and send money to one of my friends to buy from Gboko and waybill them to us.’’

“On getting home, we were having a conversation about it. I cannot remember who started the conversation and before you know it, we became physical.

Keji said that he tried to restrain himself, as he usually did each time this happened but his patience ran thin.

“The fight progressed rapidly. I could feel pain on my arms, my back and my side because I was not wearing a shirt so she was biting me all over my body.

“I also bit on her hand when she held my left thumb in her mouth and in spite of efforts from my brother to separate the fight, she refused to let go.

“I was afraid that I will lose my thumb if I do nothing so I had to also bite her hand. The pain forced her to release my thumb which at this time was already bleeding.

He said the areas that were bitten were swollen in the morning by the time he went to a chemist for treatment.

“She packed her things and left before I came back from the chemist and although friends and relatives have been asking me to bring her back the horror of that night keeps coming back to me.

“We have been married for 15 years, we fight sometimes and most of the time, I refused to use my strength as a man because if I do, it will not end well.

“Our fights have however, never been this brutal so I do not know what has gotten into her,’’ he said.

Stories of Gender Based Violence (GBV) abound and not restricted to any gender as in the case of Keji, although women and girls are mostly vulnerable.

Globally, according to UNWOMEN, it is estimated that 736 million women, almost one in three women, have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life.

According to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018, 33 per cent of women in Nigeria between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexual abuse.

Similarly, 24 per cent have experienced only physical violence, 2 per cent have experienced only sexual assault, and 7 per cent have experienced both types of violence.

As part of efforts to eliminate GBV, several non-governmental and non-profit organisations have engaged stakeholders and some victims towards the path of healing as well as curbing the menace.

One of such organisations is the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation (LTLF), which has started the training of stakeholders on the harmful effects of sexual and gender-based violence.

The Executive Director of the foundation, Rev. Fr. George Ehusani said the training aims at producing intervention strategies and mechanisms to achieve attitudinal, behavioral and cultural change towards eliminating the vice.

Rev. Fr. Ehusani said that LTLF was committed to positively transforming the society through research, documentation, training, and advocacy.

The cleric said the foundation would train and equip 360 advocates for the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria over the next three years.

Rev. Fr. Dennis Ujah blamed the menace on some cultural and societal prejudices.

“Culturally, there is silence from the victims as a result of shame and stigma, but we try to build their confidence so that they can speak up and get the support they need.

Amb. James Ojaide, President, Continuing Professional Development, in a paper presented at a recent two-day training for judiciary correspondents said victims of crime should be encouraged to get justice for their ordeal.

According to him, “because crime hurts, justice must heal’’.

As Susan and Francis hurt will they find the justice that will make them heal? Will the society believe their stories?

 

CREDITED: Wandoo Sombo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)