There is a misconception more so in Kenyan communities that women stay in violent marriages to protect their children. Deep down, they actually believe that they are doing it for the good of their children, that if they leave, what will happen to their children? Who will take care of them? That is a story I have heard often and they are so convinced of this notion that you cannot dissuade them otherwise.
Do they know that it’s never about the man and the woman? I wonder if they have ever looked at the bigger picture. What does staying do to the children? Picture this: growing up with your mother being beaten every night and being forced to sometimes spend the cold rainy nights in the bush. Imagine growing up in a family where peace is unknown vocabulary; a house where Dad and Mom shout at each other, all the time and running battles are the order of the day.
We are quick to focus on the physical scars, brushing aside the emotional pain suffered by children who may never be hit. But the pain of watching your parents fight, the devastation of never seeing your parents in love, lives longer and has far reaching effects that many dare to accept. While some may stay in a violent relationship out of fear of walking out and the society pointing fingers at ‘the lady who was unable to build her home’, children don’t have that choice.
It’s no secret that most victims of domestic violence are women. A survey conducted in 2003 by the Ministry of Planning in Kenya, noted about half the women in the survey had come face to face with violence. Different research has shown that domestic violence is on the rise and the worst part is that it’s rarely reported since there are no strict laws protecting the abused and condemning the abusers. The Gender Violence Recovery Center (GVRC) in Nairobi Women's Hospital has seen an increase in the reported cases of women seeking treatment, from 299 patients in 2006 to over 400 in 2008. Today, the GVRC, incepted in March 2001, has offered services to approximately 27 000 victims.
Common forms of domestic violence
Physically you get beaten, a slap, one will raise a “panga” at you, your better half will shoot you with his licensed gun, while others will use knives and whatever weapon they lay their hands on.
Economical abuse is easily ignored, because after all, no scar was caused, there is no proof. Here, no financial help is offered and despite him having money, he will not help you but still will expect you to have the home in order, including, preparing meals, yet he left no money to buy the food.
Psychological Abuse: This can be through threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and other forms of non-physical abuse. He will abuse you, shout at you and hurl all sorts of insults at you. The man, who is supposed to love you and stand by you, will instead make you feel inferior, worthless and not deserving the love of anyone; that by them marrying you or being in a relationship with you they are doing you a favor. He will crush your self esteem and you become submissive to your fate and the supposed holder of that fate.
Common effects of Domestic Violence on Children
Depression:The pain of seeing your mother beaten almost daily, struggling to provide and or being shouted at is a very easy route to depression.
Nightmares: A child is likely to experience a lack of sleep and when they manage to sleep, they will have nightmares of the fights seen or heard.
Short Temper: You can’t blame them can you? If everything the mother does, the father disregards and is quick to insult and hit, how do you expect a child to be tolerant?
Drug Abuse: If the child is in their teens they can easily turn to drugs, looking for solace, hoping to erase whatever they saw or heard and hoping to find peace there.
Timidity and withdrawal symptoms: Think of their social life. Studies have shown that children who experience domestic violence tend to be withdrawn. They feel isolated and opt to keep to themselves for fear of stigmatization. They find it hard to make friends and they lose their trusting ability.
Future relationships: When children watch their parents stay in abusive relationships, what are the odds that they too will go through with it? Prolong it? Due to what they witnessed, some are likely to lose their feelings of love and empathy, in turn affecting their relations as they will find it hard to trust someone of the opposite sex.
For the boy child, what is the likelihood of them being abusive? They watched their father beat their mother and she stayed put, so they learn to think this behavior is acceptable and normal while some may be too afraid to commit, for fear of turning into their abusive fathers.
The girl child will probably grow up believing that it’s okay to be beaten, that one should stay and build the supposed home despite the abuse. What with some tribes holding onto the traditional belief that ‘a man needs to beat his wife to discipline her‘ while others promote the belief that husbands beating their wives is a sign of love? With such beliefs, it will be tough to try and get her out. She will never even report it to her parents or the authorities.
Death: Oh and ever thought of death? What happens when you are beaten or stabbed to death? What happens to the children you were trying to protect? How do they get over watching their parent killed by the other?
Ladies, as you choose to remain in that relationship and men, as you raise that fist to hit, think of the effects. Remember when children come into the picture, the parents should strive to give them the best; that all efforts should be to ensure they have the best lives. So dear ladies, today is the day to stop consoling yourself that you are staying for the sake of children. Quit holding onto an imaginary family. Summon your inner strength and walk away, before the internal scars are too deep. Walking away will not make you weak; it will make you strong.
Written by Mercy Njueh and published on 29-November-2015