One of the most common questions people ask of women who endure domestic violence, is “why do they stay with their abusive husbands or partners?
Two recent cases in Sierra Leone provide answers to this question.
One woman is dead in Freetown, the other woman is economically stranded in Bo City. These are the fates of two women in Sierra Leone whose relationships with their abusive husbands ended.
Domestic Violence has no class
The stories of these two women are the stories of hundreds of women in Sierra Leone, from all educational background and social class. Educated women, illiterate women, poor women, rich women, are all impacted similarly by domestic violence, in all its various forms.
Women suffer various abuses that range from control (jealousy), emotional abuse (infidelity, philandering), intimidation, social isolation, verbal abuse, coercion, threats, blame, using financial, male and power privileges, economic abuse. Physical abuse usually follows after long periods of the other abuses, and ultimately, death.
Men RULE in Sierra Leone society
Not only are men dominating politics and other leadership arenas, but they rule the society in the sense that they are the protected gender. Be he a husband, brother, uncle, neighbor or stranger, whenever a man is involved in conflict with a woman in our society, the man automatically enjoys preferential treatment, by the family, community, law enforcement and the courts; regardless of the harm he may have inflicted on the woman.
This male privilege culture is why men may be punished when they commit other crimes and crimes against other men, but seldom are they held accountable or punished for crimes against women.
This is the main reason also why no one hears the cries of a woman undergoing domestic violence in Sierra Leone, until it is too late. And even when it results in such a gruesome consequence, as has recently happened in Freetown, our society shows no outrage and is mute; because the violence has been perpetrated against a woman not a man.
Rampant Domestic Violence
Even in this modern era of greater awareness globally, about domestic violence and its devastating consequences on victims, who are most frequently women, the Sierra Leone society still does not seem to pay much attention to the cries of domestic violence victims.
Hundreds of women in Sierra Leone silently endure domestic violence in all its various forms daily. There are laws on the books to protect women and girls, but these laws and all the institutions that have been put in place over the years, are not working in favor of women.
In a recent case, which occurred about October 28, 2018, a young lady was allegedly killed by her husband, who is described as a former Principal of a teacher’s college in the capital Freetown.
The brother and a female friend of the victim explain to a reporter that the victim had endured abuse by the husband for a long period of time. She sought redress from various agencies, including the Ministry of Social Welfare, which has the responsibility to protect women and children, but got no help.
She had also made several reports to the police, since her husband had threatened to kill her. She finally found help with a women’s group called LAWYERS; she moved out of her marital home and tried to make a living for herself and her two children by selling in the market.
Going home from the market on that day, the husband followed her, ran her over with his car and fled the scene. It happened in the presence of her brother and many other witnesses. She suffered fatal injuries and died in the hospital shortly after.
Not surprising, the family and LAWYERS group still cannot verify the arrest of the husband, even though the police were called immediately after the incident and obtained witness accounts. When it comes to violence against women, men do not face punishment.
The second case involves a cabinet minister (deputy), whose wife has written a detailed letter to the Chief Minister of Sierra Leone about her case, as a desperate last cry for help.
Her letter illustrates the nonphysical forms of domestic violence endured by women, abuses that are usually overlooked by society, but could have devastating emotional, mental, social and economic consequences for the victims.
Reading the letter of the deputy minister’s impoverished wife and listening to the audio report about the college principal’s dead wife, a pattern emerges; the abuses suffered by women are not only perpetrated by the husbands, but also by the very institutions that are supposed to protect women from abusive men. Especially the Family Support Unit (FSU), which was established at every police precinct in Sierra Leone to handle domestic violence cases. The FSUs seem to be operating now more as tools for abusive men, who often re-victimize abused women by having them arrested and jailed by FSUs.
She talks about being thrown out of her marital home, which is the norm in Sierra Leone. Even though the woman is the primary caregiver for the children, when there is a break in the marriage, she is the one who must find another place to live; sometimes with the children in tow. Often, she is forced to leave the children behind, as a form of punishment, especially since most often the husband would already have another woman in the house to take care of the children.
The woman in Freetown is dead. The woman in Bo City is suffering economic hardship; she has been kicked out of her home. Her personal belongings and business inventory have been confiscated by her husband. Even though she is educated and qualified, she cannot find a job because her estranged husband is a powerful cabinet minister, who has blocked all prospects.
Who is going to hear her cry? Who is going to help her? Is she physically safe?
These are two women who knew their rights and knew where to go for help, but got no help. We can only imagine the plight of the majority of women who are illiterate, who may not know their rights nor where to go for help.