Battered woman syndrome makes it difficult to breaking chains of Violence
She lies on the bed struggling to narrate what happened to her. Her voice comes out hoarse and obviously painfully from a swollen neck a result of strangulation at the hands of her husband of seven years.
For Alice* it has been six and a half years of psychological and physical torture, caught up in a never ending cycle of violence meted on her even during pregnancy.
On this day, she is rushed to the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital by a community based organization. She cannot see through her swollen eye that is slowly blackening, a sharp contrast to her fair complexion.
As a woman, Alice is suffering physical pains but as a mother, the pains run deeper. With throbbing pains originating in her sodden breasts filled with milk for her five month old twins that she had to abandon as she fled for dear life, to the consistent pain in her heart for being separated from her infants and incessant worry over where her children are, who they are with and what is their source of nourishment is.
This is not the first time Alice is experiencing such violence but narrates how severe the violent episodes have grown over the years. The 28 year old has not only gone through physical and psychological abuse, she has also experienced acute economic neglect by a man who does not want her to get employed, become self-employed or join any table banking schemes that would empower her financially.
As a lactating mother, Alice has had to go hungry the previous night and when her husband came the next morning
all hell broke loose when she requested for KSh5 to buy an accompaniment — mandazi (bun) — to take with black sugarless tea. Her request angered her husband who beat her thoroughly and she had to flee to save her life.
Alice and her children represent millions of women and children affected worldwide directly and indirectly by gender based violence perpetrated by intimate partners who in essence should be the protectors of the family unit.
Cases of gender based violence in Kenya are escalating by the day. In the quarter ending April to July 2016, GVRC treated a total of 1,239 female adults and children for new and follow up cases of both physical and sexual violence on an inpatient and outpatient basis. Compared to the January to April 2016 quarter, this translates to 18 percent increase. Of these cases, six percent required specialised care which included admission in hospital for a minimum of three days, theatre procedures and regular psycho-social support. In the quarter ending January to April 2016, only three percent of women and children supported required specialized care at GVRC.
Most women, who like Alice* have no income and lack of empowerment, end up in a cycle of violence where they are dependent on the perpetrator for all their needs and do not see life beyond their situation. This may be attributed to various psychological reasons.
They may develop the ‘battered woman syndrome’ leading to ‘learned helplessness’ where women may give up on fighting for better lives, feeling that there is no alternative. They may become indifferent to all forms of abuse to the point of death at the hands of the perpetrator.
Society also does not look kindly at single mothers hence discouraging women from walking away from abusive situations. This judgmental attitude by society encourages the cycle of violence that eventually ends up in death.
In Kenya, shelters for women undergoing physical violence are scarce with limited resources hence with nowhere to go, women decide to stay on in the abusive environment to their own and their children’s detriment.
Another need for psychological intervention for women who are caught up in the cycle of violence is the woman’s previous experience with violence. If a woman grew up in a violent home, they may view violence as acceptable by those who love them. They may expect that to feel loved, they also need to ‘pay’ by being hurt emotionally, psychologically and physically. Through therapy, their self-esteem can improve and they can realize that loved ones do not hurt others to show love.
The Protection against Domestic Violence (PADV) Act 2015 recognizes the effect of exposing children to sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Such children, therefore, also need psychological support to ensure they do not get into a cycle of violence in later stages of life to prevent them from either becoming perpetrators themselves or to be embroiled in a never ending cycle of violence.
The Writer is a Counselor at Gender Violence Recovery Centre of The Nairobi Women’s Hospital.