How do we help?
Nnedim shared this story with me, and after reading, I decided to share (with permission) and also offer a few tips on how we can help our distraught sisters. Instead of listening to the beatings and screams, be proactive in helping these women. You may be their only hope for survival.
You need to choose: them or me. That’s the ultimatum my abuser gave me. You can either have your friends and your family, or you can have me. I was young and in love and I chose him. And said goodbye to the next two years of my life.
I was 21 when we met, and living with my mother and my two brothers. I had lots of friends, a decent job baking cakes for primary and secondary school students and I attended a polytechnic. Soon after I started dating him, my family told me they disapproved. They saw something in him that I couldn’t see. But I had this stubborn type of attitude. You guys just don’t like him because I love him, I thought. Get over it.
The first time he slapped me, I said: This is not going to be me. My mother had been a victim of domestic abuse, and I grew up in the east watching her being beaten by my dad. This is not my future, I swore.
He came back with apologies and gifts. I accepted the apology. I thought it meant he wasn’t going to do it again. I was wrong. Over the next month, he became more violent, punching and slapping me in private. I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. I didn’t want them to know they were right.
One day, he got in an altercation with my brother and other family members were called. This was the moment he asked me to choose between my family or him. I felt like he loved me and he was the only person who was on my side. Everyone else was against us. So I picked him. I moved out of my family’s home and became temporarily homeless.
We lived in a motel for a week, and when the money ran out, we lived in his father’s house. He warned me not to call my family. He said if I reached out, they would come get me and we would be separated. He said if I contacted them, it would be the end of our relationship. On top of that, I was ashamed to call my family. I felt I would be judged. Everyone warned me [about him] and I didn’t listen.
For about a month, I was like a servant. I will do different chores for his relations. I was masking all of this like it was normal. Finally I was able to save up enough money to rent a small apartment. He would stay most days and nights there.
Once we had our own space, the abuse accelerated. Punching, kicking, strangling. Often for hours. He would say: You know how much I love you, right? Your family doesn’t love you like I love you. Where are they right now? They aren’t looking after you like I am. In my mind, I thought I could handle the abuse, I’d be fine. Mentally, you become so messed up that you start to think you are part of the problem.
We stayed together for two years, and I fell out of contact with everyone who was important to me. I wasn’t on speaking terms with my family. I lost touch with my friends. I dropped out of school because it caused too many problems for me to be around other people. He used to pick me up from class. If I was standing near a man — even a security guard — when he arrived, there would be trouble. It was easier not to go.
Work was the only time I was allowed to be out of his sight, but even then, he would constantly call me or show up randomly at the school I was selling my cakes. If he called and I didn’t answer the phone, he would go crazy. He’d question the length of my dresses when I got dressed for work. Why I was wearing a particular pair of underwear that day. The accusations were never-ending.
One night he beat me so bad I thought I might die. He held a knife over my neck and threatened to kill me. He pummeled me for five hours, punching and kicking and strangling me. He would stop and then start again. Then he just fell asleep, because he was tired.
I felt like something had been broken inside, physically and emotionally. As he slept, I crawled out of bed and crawled to my neighbour’s and begged to use a phone. I called the headmistress of the school I sold some of my cakes. It was the first time I’d ever sought help.
She took me to the hospital, and that’s when I hit my breaking point. I realized I could have died in that apartment and no one would have known, because I had no contact with my mother or my brothers, or even my best friend. I was completely isolated.
After I was released from the hospital, I went home and had my locks changed. I didn’t hear from him for two weeks. He eventually called me asking to see me. I said no, that we were done for good. He didn’t like that.
One night, he tried to break into my apartment. He was banging and I could feel his body pressing on my door. He was attempting to pry it open with a crowbar. My hands shook as I used my phone to call the headmistress again. Once he heard me talking to her, he took off. When she arrived with the police, I was too scared to open the door.
Once he was out of my life, I was ready to restart it. The first person I told about the abuse was my best friend. She was dumbfounded, and she encouraged me to tell my mom. That was a difficult call.
Two years had passed. I was so far removed. I thought I was going to be shamed and judged. She had been worried about me for so long. It was hard to open up about what I had experienced. But together, we started the work of rebuilding our relationship. Over time, my extended family found out what happened. They never asked me about it — they just understood. I was welcomed back without question. I was no longer alone.
Re-entering public life took some getting used to, after such extreme isolation. For a long time, I didn’t trust myself to look guys in the eye, especially men who were talking to me. I would hear his voice. No one is going to love you how I love you, he’d say. No one is going to want you like I want you.
But my own voice got louder the longer I was away from him, and in time I started to be myself again. The smiley-faced social butterfly I once was started to re-emerge. It was OK to make eye contact with strangers, to have fun with friends, to dress the way I saw fit, to not have to be on the clock constantly.
Looking back, I wish I had sought help — if not from family and friends, then from someone else. I now know that no matter how it feels, you are never alone. You can break free if you trust yourself.
Nice ending to a horrible story.
My point in sharing this is: we can all be like the headmistress. Look out for your neighbor, be your neighbour’s keeper. Please! It’s really sad, that Nnedim had neighbours who couldn’t intervene or offer help to her. I’m sure they were just staring at her when she arrived at their house and saying annoying words like ‘peleh’, ‘ndo’, ‘dohhoooo’ and the likes. Thank God she had the headmistress’ number. Thank God the headmistress heeded her call.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s latest report on Violence Against Women that was released in June 2013 indicated that in some regions of the world, over 35% of women suffer from partner violence. With these staggering numbers, it is a very real possibility that every one of us knows a woman is facing (or has faced) domestic violence. So, below are a few ways we can intervene and help our sisters. Feel free to add more in the comment section. God bless you.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #1: KNOCK on the door. If you are the neighbour of a family experiencing Domestic Violence, please take the time to knock on the door when you hear a violent situation happening. You could use the old neighbourly approach of asking to borrow cubes of sugar, some salt or sachets of purewater as an excuse. If you feel that it could get dangerous, bring another person with you so there will be more than one witness.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #2: Bring a back-up. Intervening with Domestic Violence situations can be dangerous especially if the abuser has a weapon (e.g. a gun) and is intoxicated by drink or drugs. If you are unable to get help from the local shelter or police, make sure to bring another friend or family member along with you when you respond to the victim/survivor’s call in person.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #3: BE the back-up. If your neighbour, friend, co-worker, classmate, mother, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, niece or cousin is facing Domestic Violence at home, let them know that you will be willing to be a witness or to intervene on their behalf while you are around. Also let them know that they are welcome to take refuge in your home should they need somewhere to go.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #4: Make the call, NOW. If the situation is beyond simple neighbourly intervention (e.g. the abuser has a gun or knife and uses it during the abuse), call the police or your local emergency services (such as 911 in the U.S.) IMMEDIATELY. Provide critical information, such as location, names, contact number, etc
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #5: Listen to empower. If a victim of domestic violence reaches out to you, listen. Let her know that you believe her and do not judge her choices. Victims often feel completely isolated and are often belittled by their partner; it is important to enable her to feel safe when confiding in you because eventually, she may well be able to gather enough courage to tell you exactly what is happening and to ask for help. This intervention tip may be particularly useful for hairdressers, nurses, human resource department personnel and anyone working in professions that involve having to listen to clients, customers and co-workers as part of the job.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #6: Be on standby If you suspect your friend, co-worker, staff, or family member of suffering from Domestic Violence, offer to be on standby for her text or call for emergencies. Have your phone on and fully charged at all times and keep it on you. If you have a car and need to intervene immediately, make sure that the gas/petrol tank is full so you can get in and drive to get the victim/survivor immediately if need be.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #7: Provide some relief. If you know a Domestic Violence victim/survivor who is being kept at home without relief, do a random act of kindness for her: Offer to babysit the children for a few hours while the abuser is out so she can have a breather; Offer to pick up groceries for her on your market run. Every small gesture helps provide relieve and also build the victim’s confidence in eventually reaching out to you for help (or accepting your help).
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #8: Check in regularly. If you fear for your friend, co-worker, classmate, or family member’s life, call or text her once a day at a random time to see if she is all right. If it’s your neighbour, keep an eye out on the house and your ears pricked for any signs or sounds of violence.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #9: Be a resource. Help her find the assistance she needs, whether it is legal information, local domestic violence programmes, or finding a safe place through a battered women’s shelter. The greatest danger women face in these situations is often the actual process of leaving, so finding a safe place may be key. Knowing this information beforehand may be helpful, but assisting her in the research and even making phone calls for her will also help speed things up.
Domestic Violence Intervention Tip #10: Document! Document! Document! Document any incidents that you witness. Take note of dates, times, injuries, pictures and any other observations. Your ongoing documentation can help bolster a victim’s courage and credibility when they are finally willing to pursue legal action against their partner.