I saw the photo on the left yesterday, and I was enraged. The accompanying story that identified the woman in the picture as a victim of domestic violence. I sat in my office and thought, “Certainly, I have to publicise this picture.” No woman deserves that, and any man who does that deserves only death in the darkest dungeons.
The picture went viral on BlackBerries with this message, “The lady on my DP I don’t know. But she is Nigerian and in Lagos. I got the pix from a friend’s DP (with permission): they are trying to spread this to say no and make the victim speak up in case she is planning to hide the brutality. If she is in the know of this pictorial protest, I can’t say a categorical yes to. Any other details I get I will broadcast. Thanks.” It has been inspiring to see the passion across the internet to help this woman; I am heartened that enough of us know that it is unacceptable that this should happen. Still, I gave it some pause—because it suddenly occurred to me that sometimes it is possible—just like Rwandans complained about Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 campaign—that an uncritical viral campaign can do more harm than good.
As it turns out, according to the Imo State Blog, it is an elaborate hoax and the woman was in fact not a victim of domestic violence (http://www.imostateblog.com/2012/03/29/follow-up-the-real-identity-of-the-woman-allegedly-beaten-by-her-husband/). She wasn’t even a Nigerian at all, but that is even largely beside the point. The fact is even if this was a woman that had gone through such savagery; still there are some things folks should have considered before circulating. Below are my thoughts on some things folks should have considered before acting, in case this happens again.
Have we thought of her and her peculiar situation?
Is it possible that these pictures will make her situation worse? The story was that her friends “smuggled” out the picture to force her to speak out, and I say what gives them that right? What if she was holed up in the house with this brute of a husband and this would only put her further in harm’s way? What if she stays in a part of the country where the men believe a woman should not speak out and decide to ‘punish’ her with more violence? What if we further endangered her by the publicity?
Does this woman have kids? What about them?
Yes, no woman should go through this, and the man must be punished, but, at what cost? Isn’t there another way we could have done this without ensuring that, if she has children, they would see a picture of their battered mum splashed across the internet, especially without her permission?
Is this the best way?
I am yet to be convinced that this was the best way to solve this – apart from satisfying latent voyeurism. Wouldn’t it be better to reach the police and where they cannot be trusted, reach the various groups working on violence against women – say BAOBAB for women’s rights or Project Alert? Since this campaign was online based, these resources, that will actually get justice for this woman, without exhibiting her pain, are readily available on the web. Wouldn’t that be the more productive option?
Have we considered someone might be trying to be devious?
Seriously, with friends like that, who would need enemies? Could we ask ourselves first – what kind of ‘friends’ would have done violated her privacy at this level? What would be the goal, what would be the motivation, what could have been the expected outcome of trying to shame your friend into “speaking out”? Speaking out to who, by the way? To her family who could be reached in person? To the police who inspire little confidence in domestic violence victims, indeed any crime victims? To the press? Considering this point actually leads one into a big blurry mess.
How about investigating the story first?
We didn’t even know the woman’s name! How do you begin to campaign based on a story that doesn’t have any details to hold on? No media had actually confirmed via an investigation, and all we had was speculation for an event that, as it turns out, did not even occur. Why didn’t we, as discerning members of the public, ask about the who, what, when, where, and why?
We must remember that ultimately, after all the attention we all brought to the ABSU rape case, including the Sahara Reporters “expose” on the so-called identity of the rapists; it is tragically possible we might have done her more harm than good, especially since no one now knows where she is./span>
Domestic violence is wrong, but for the woman it’s complicated!
Everyone says a woman should immediately leave an abusive marriage – but what no one talks about is how complicated this really is to disentangle oneself from a contractual relationship as intertwining as marriage, especially in our country. No, it’s not that simple! It’s not as simple as ‘Show the world her picture – so that the husband will suffer!’ No, it’s not that simple! There are children involved, there is security, there are emotions, there is fear, and there is uncertainty. Women in these situations need love, counsel, and patience – not a name-and-shame shock therapy.
Have we considered all the possible scenarios?
Did we even stop to think – what if this was a spoof, what if it was a still shot taken from a movie, what if the injuries were not from domestic violence? What if she was beaten up by thugs? A victim of a brutal rape? Or involved in an unfortunate motor accident? What if … as it turned out, in this case, we can see that it is wise to always explore the possibility of other scenarios.
The responsibility of the media (even blogs)
Far be it from fallible me to play media critic, but have we thought about the propriety as media of circulating this against the woman’s wishes – because of circumstances and situations we do not know about? Is it really proper for the media to have gone to town with this without stopping to confirm the true circumstances of the woman in the picture, at the very least?
Have we scarred this woman for life?
There is a reason why courts routinely hide the identities of victims of certain crimes. If this was really a battery, we should have asked ourselves: putting this woman’s good picture besides one showing her badly battered meant we had identified her, without her consent, with such a sad time in her life. She would be identified as “that women whose husband beat her”. Is that really the best way we could have helped her?
It’s the same with a now extremely popular “Letter from the Grave”. It was such a heart-breaking story, said to be written by someone close to a lady who is purported to be writing the letter from the grave to her husband. But, I began to panicked when people began to out the husband’s work address and Facebook page. The man has since suspended his Facebook account becaust of the cyber harassment that had ensued.
I know that many may read this piece, miss the point of it, and begin to express rage and disgust that someone would even decide to question our holy rage – but this is a call for pause.
It is important for us to understand that sometimes the easiest solution isn’t always the wisest, or the best.