I remember this one time; my friend and I were talking to some guy who was telling us his version of how to take care of a woman. It started off quite well, he told us how a man should treat a woman with kindness, offer gifts every so often. How it is important to keep a woman happy for in return she will keep him happy, then he adds, but when she does wrong you need to discipline her so that she does not repeat it. We were curious and asked exactly what he meant by discipline. He elaborated by saying that women are like children, you reward them when they do well and punish them when they do wrong by beating them. This will make for a healthy relationship he said. As you would imagine, we were still in shock. We went further to ask, if he loved her as much as he said he did, then is not he afraid she will leave when beaten. His nonchalant response was “that is why on the days that she is good, you treat her like a queen, she will never leave you because no one will treat her as well as you do”.
As annoying as this conversation was, what gets me all twisted up is that this is not a single man’s mentality. Too many men think like this and too many women have grown up to think of this as normal. There is a community in Kenya that brings up its women to believe that if your husband does not beat you every now and then, he does not love you. These women will purposely go out of their way to annoy their husbands in the hope of getting a beating. A man will sit with his friends lamenting about a behavior they find out of place by their spouse and outcries of “who is the man in that house?”, “I would never allow such a thing to happen in my house” and “You need to put that woman in her place” will echo. They will encourage the beating of the wife to make her less unruly. If you think that is annoying wait until you hear women whispering to each other of how so and so left her home because of a small beating and how they cannot believe she ended her marriage over something so trivial. What is so wrong with us that we have somehow managed to normalize domestic violence?
It is disheartening that a great number of people are living through domestic violence. Neighbors will probably hear noises and ignore because its “none of their business”. The abuser normally goes out of their way to alienate his victim from family, friends, and any kind of support system they may have. He may explicitly ban her from socialization or deeply implant fear in her that she will be afraid to socialize. To everyone, he will paint the victim as a horrible human being and for all intents and purposes, he will be the victim. They are so cunning, so believable that you will believe them and some people even unwittingly become contributors in the abuse by defending this ‘victim’. These are the same people who will probably shout of the abuser’s innocence from the rooftops when his shadiness becomes known claiming that they know him and that he is not that kind of person.
Then there are those of us, (for quite some time I fell in this bracket) who recognize that domestic violence is wrong but fail to understand why the victim does not leave. We get angry at the victim for staying especially if we have offered them an avenue to get out. We forget that regardless of our relationship to them we are on the outside looking in. That this is their life. They have probably undergone mental and psychological abuse before the physical abuse. The abuser may have implanted into them a sense of belonging and dependency that has led them to believe that they need them to survive. Breaking that mental state takes time. It is not always a quick fix that works by you stretching out your helping hand. Patience must be key in offering support. Be there for them in whatever capacity they need you to be until they are ready to leave.
I encourage us to check on our loved ones, talk to them as often as you can. Some of the people you deem the strongest could be going through the worst ordeal of their lives all the while keeping up a brave front. When someone says they are victims of abuse, listen. Even if you think you know the abuser, listen, and try to see how best you can help without dismissing their cries. It is better to listen and have it turn out to be a false accusation than to dismiss and have it end up in death. Let us teach our sons that they can dialogue without resulting in abuse and our daughters not to expect domestic violence from their spouses. Let us bring abusers to book for their actions and help victims/survivors find the help they require. Above all, we need to make a conscious effort to de-normalize domestic violence