Law enforcement agencies may have a share of the blame in silencing victims of domestic abuse

He beats me consistently. I stayed because I loved him and because everytime he beats me, he begs and gets family and friends to beg me. He promised regularly to change but he never did. When my husband gets angry, he gets physical, not only to me but to anyone. He has done that with my house help who reported him to the Police years ago” – Mercy Aigbe

Over the last few days, domestic violence has been the subject of discussions across various platforms in the country. The tragic story of the South African lady, Karabo Mokoena who was murdered and burnt by her former lover was the basis of the conversations that are currently brewing all over social media. Not like we haven’t talked enough about this enough before now. Not like we were not already overwhelmed by the sordid details of Nollywood actress, Mercy Aigbe’s own disheartening abuse story. Not like the daily reports of abuse and violent attacks on the news have not shattered our souls already. But with each new, grueling revelation, we revisit the topic and attempt to …

One of the salient talking points that should be addressed in this discourse is the role of law enforcement agencies in investigating domestic violence cases, assisting victims and ultimately, combating the scourge. Recently, the Lagos state government set up an intervention agency,Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, DSVRT to provide assistance to abuse victims and help them get fair judgement in court.

But what did we have before this agency became a thing? What do we have now that it’s a thing in Lagos? What is the fate of victims in other states in the country where ministries are yet to realise the need for safe havens such as this? A typical victim in these parts is wired to run to the police before anyone else. Family is not easily an option because shame, friends are not so much an option for the same reason too – shame. The police come to mind; a bunch of strangers who are capable of taking quick action but are they ever really up to the task?

We have heard stories of policemen dismissing victims’ stories and sending them back to deal with their “personal/family issues”. For the police, domestic violence is not perceived as criminal behaviour. At least, a man is allowed and free to do whatsoever he deems right within the confines of his home so beating up his wife may not necessarily warrant an arrest. If an arrest is eventually made, there is hardly any assurance of a prosecution.

Additionally, the law itself places restrictions on victims. Insert the statutes of limitation. A law which forbids prosecutors from charging someone with a crime after a specified number of years. A victim who is not quick to report a case may be unable to file a lawsuit after some years and thereby loses the opportunity to get justice.

Is this the point where we begin to apportion some of the blame to the law? And is the law ready to take the blame, retrace its steps and focus on reducing domestic violence in the community?

 

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