Violence of all sorts must be condemned, but none is as bad and has as much harmful effect on the human psyche as the one occurring on the home front.
Maureen’s heart raced frantically as she walked towards her house on one cold December night. She was unsure of what to expect as her home had become a battlefield of sorts some days before. She had earlier sought refuge at her classmate’s house before she decided to brave the odds by making tracks homewards afterschool.
In a world where even the usual stress at the workplace or school can seem excessive at times and outside influences are in constant flux, home, hearth and family are expected to remain serene. As the adage goes, “home is where the heart is.” But quite unfortunately, that is not the case for many people for whom home can be anything but a safe haven. Men and women alike may find that their home is a fierce battleground; while for children, it may be where they are most vulnerable to assault, misuse or deprivation – ironically, at the very hands of those whose duty it is to safeguard and nourish them.
“Humans are very social beings,” observes Nnamaka Chijioke, a clinical psychologist. “Hence, all essential human needs are dependent in some way on relationships, especially with those who nurture them from birth. The human brain develops in such a way that our stress-response systems are intimately connected to systems that interpret the moods and actions of those around s.
When social cues tell us others are calm and safe to be around, our own physiological state is regulated accordingly and we relax our vigilance. On the other hand, when we sense threats or negative emotions, we respond by going on the alert.” According to er, a stressed state cannot be maintained indefinitely without serious mental and physical consequences, which often result in
tension in the home. “Extended or repeated periods of so-called hyperarousal can cause changes in the neural system that is very difficult to reverse. It is therefore incomprehensible enough that any human being would feel compelled to abuse and distress another; but it is particularly difficult to understand such inhumanity when it occurs among those who would logically share similar needs, goals and values within the most fundamental group in society – the family.”
Meanwhile, domestic violence is not at all uncommon, possibly because families spend so much time together and have so many emotional ties, and therefore potential emotional stressors. But for these same reasons,
and because the family impacts the potential of its members as human beings so fundamentally, domestic violence may be the most harmful form of violence humans can encounter.
“The inhuman treatment of family members by their closest relatives is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an uncommon one. No society is immune to it,” explains Taiwo Tijani, a parent. “Mostly, hidden and historically non-criminalised family
violence may take the form of intimate-partner violence, child abuse, sibling bullying or elder abuse,” she adds. Besides physical brutality, researchers often extend the term to cover non-physical forms of maltreatment such as neglect and psychological abuse; although there are some debates over just how far the definition can be effectively applied.
For example, Peter Bankole, a sociologist, points out that nearly all children have occasionally pushed, hit or shoved a sibling. herefore, if all such aggression is defined as family violence, the term would become almost meaningless. On the other hand, ome forms of psychological abuse that do not cause overt physical injury may have severe and pervasive human consequences. “In the and then” concludes Bankole, “we need a definition of family violence that is narrow enough to avoid labelling every family potentially violent and broad enough to include the concept of non-physical violence.”
As difficult as it may be to define the term, measuring the prevalence of family violence as a social problem has proven no less difficult. The most obvious reason is that the majority of family violence takes place in the privacy of the home, and only a small percentage of occurrences are reported. These tend to be the most tragic incidents – those that result in serious injury or death.
Even then, some fatalities may be classified in official records under criminal categories that are not considered when national and international family violence statistics are compiled. Further complicating the issue is the fact that
in some countries, many violent acts between family members are still not considered crimes. For instance, a United Nations study released in 2006, reported that “at least 102 of the 192 Member States have no specific legal sanctions against domestic violence, and marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in 53 countries.”
Even in the United States, criminologists began to categorise certain acts of intra-familial violence such as marital rape as crimes nly as recently as the 1970s. In Nigeria, there are no clear figures regarding domestic violence, but some critics argue that in lmost
every home across the country, there is one form of domestic violence or the other. Although it may be tempting to believe that the detrimental effects of family violence are limited to its target victim, this is certainly not the case. For instance, a study shows that children who frequently witness violence between their parents have increased risk of mental health problems
such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Also more prevalent are addictions and suicide attempts, and behavioural problems including truancy. Some children end up fleeing the home,” adds Bankole. Not only does the aggressive behaviour witnessed by children place them at
greater risk of committing violence, but Maryrose Ini, a professor of psychology, explains that it also
increases the risk of their becoming victims of sibling violence.
Ini adds that the rates of physical abuse and neglect among children exposed to parental violence are very high. However, children’s individual capacity for resilience affects how they will react to the violence they observe and experience, although not all children exposed to violence become violent themselves. But just as the extended family can strengthen protective factors leading to resilience in children exposed to family violence, so the tolerance of violence by the surrounding community
plays a role in how negatively children are affected by violence in the home.
However, socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment and unmarried teen pregnancy are also associated with family iolence. But these issues are also very complex and have defied sincere efforts for generations.