By now, most would have seen Nigeria’s first Netflix original limited series, “Blood Sisters,” but if you haven’t let me warn you that there are spoilers in this blog post. This series has been the talk of the town for about a week since it premiered, not just for its impeccable acting, but for the social issues it highlights. One of the major topics the show puts forward is domestic violence. Right from the start of the show, in episode one, you see Kola hit Sarah in two different instances. We later get to discover Kola’s pattern of abuse as the story unfolds.
There has been a significant rise in the number of domestic violence cases in Nigeria, and every day a new case pops up on social media. The most recent notable one is the death of popular gospel singer, Mrs Osinachi Nwachukwu, allegedly because of domestic violence. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most common violations of human rights was violence against women. At the height of the pandemic, all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, reached such unprecedented levels that the United Nations (UN) dubbed it “the Shadow Pandemic.”
Gender-based violence is still a serious public health concern that may be considered an epidemic worsened by several variables such as the culture of silence, poor law enforcement, and a lack of help for women and girls who have been victims of abuse. I want to break down each of these variables using Blood Sisters as a case study, so we can truly understand their negative impact on the menace that is domestic violence.
The Power of Silence
From the first episode of the show, we can deduce that the first time we see Kola beat Sarah, it’s not the first time it’s happened. From Sarah’s discussion with Kemi, we could see how reluctant she was to tell Kemi that Kola had beat her again. She was also very reluctant and scared to tell her mum what had been going on and how much Kola had been inflicting harm on her. Sarah, played by Nigerian actress Inidima Okojie, represents so many women out there who are finding it difficult to speak up against their abusers. Although it may seem easy to just say “speak up” when the shoe isn’t on your feet, a lot of times the situations and circumstances are not favourable for the victims. In Kemi’s case, Kola, her fiance and abuser, was from a powerful family who would have done anything to cover the truth. However, the reality, as was almost the case on the show, is that, in most cases, the victim dies in silence. Kola was going to strangle Sarah to death, if not for the timely intervention of her best friend, Kemi.
What are some of the reasons why victims of domestic violence find it difficult to speak up? I don’t mean tell one or two people; I mean make a big deal out of it.
- Shame: I believe the first reason is “Shame.” They are either ashamed of the situation they have found themselves in or they want to cover the shame of their abuser. Shame is a very powerful and sometimes destructive emotion. But the sad part is, it’s the wrong party that is shouldering the shame. The abuser is meant to be the one who is ashamed of their actions, but they seldom are. And when the abuser knows that the victim is ashamed of their actions getting out, they capitalize on that to do more harm. Why? Because they are assured of their silence.
- The Opinions of Others: AKA “What will people say?” This singular thought or question has kept so many in captivity. The fear of what society will say or think has influenced so many victims’ decisions to stay silent. The irony of this is that these same “people” will be the first ones to type on social media, “Why didn’t she speak up?” With issues such as domestic violence, the only person you should think about is you and what will be the best decision for you. And the best decision will be to speak out and get out of that situation. The only other outcome is usually death or severe maiming.
- Who will believe me: This is the next step in the decision-making process. Mostly, victims are always convinced that no one will believe their story. In episode 3 of the show, when Kemi called Kola’s best friend Akin while she was on the run and told him what Kola had been doing to Sarah and what transpired at the wedding that led to her shooting Kola in self-defence, Akin did not believe her. He was convinced that his friend was an upright guy. A major reason Kemi and Sarah didn’t choose the option of telling everyone what happened at the wedding and pleading self-defence was because Kola was a public figure from an influential family who had a good public image. It would have been difficult to get people to believe their story. Notwithstanding, the fear of whether people will believe you should not stop you from speaking out. There are ways of gathering evidence to show what has happened. Before Sarah opened up to Kemi about Kola beating her up at the dinner party, she was wincing in pain. They could have taken videos and pictures of her bruises to use as evidence (just a thought).
- There’s no protection and support: When Sarah turned to her mother in episode 1 of the show and told her she didn’t want to marry Kola anymore, she was shocked at her mother’s response. Her mum, who is the number one person in the world that should have supported and protected her, trivialised her pain and essentially told her to keep quiet and bear it! There are many mothers, like Sarah’s mom, who, for selfish reasons, would turn a blind eye to their daughter’s suffering. There is also law enforcement that is sold out to money rather than the truth. Kola’s mom, Uduak, bought over the police force with money, and rather than search for the truth, they handed Kemi and Sarah over to be killed. In most real-life cases of domestic violence, victims have reported that the police will ask them “wetin you do oga?”, which means “what did you do to your husband, boyfriend, or fiance to deserve the beating you got?” However, women and girls must know that they are legally protected against all forms of violence. There is a VAPP (violence against persons prohibition) Act that was signed into law in 2015 by then President Goodluck Jonathan. The act’s goal was to create a legal framework that would protect vulnerable people, particularly women and girls, from all forms of physical, sexual, psychological, domestic, and harmful traditional practices. Also in 2021, the Lagos State Government launched a 24/7 helpline to rapidly respond to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The virtual system provides uninterrupted access to trained service providers through a toll-free helpline at 08000333333. Depending on their needs, survivors will be provided with services such as counselling, and legal and medical advice via the telephone, and where physical contact is required, they will be referred to the relevant service providers. I called this help-line myself, and it connected me to a gender-based violence caseworker.
There are many reasons why a domestic violence victim would rather remain silent, but there is only one primary reason to speak up: “To live.” Sarah, the fictional character in Blood Sisters, was fortunate enough to escape her abuser and live to tell the tale, but many others are not. Speaking up is the first step toward breaking an abuser’s power over you. Walking away is the next step. I understand that walking away and starting over is easier said than done, but it can save you a lot of trouble. Nobody enjoys the thought of starting over, but would you rather start over in this life or the next? All of the tragedy and agony that followed could have been avoided if Sarah had simply walked away from the night of the dinner party in episode one. She could have explained it to her parents later, and Kola’s mother would have been relieved to be rid of her.
The point I’ve been trying to make is that silence is never the answer. We must end this culture of silence and encourage women to speak up by standing by them, supporting them, and assuring them that they will be protected. Law enforcement must also acknowledge their responsibilities and investigate and prosecute domestic violence perpetrators. As a society, we must continue to speak out against domestic violence and advocate for making violence against women unacceptable.
Side note: There are parents, such as Kola’s mother, who aid and abet their children’s atrocities. They believe they are protecting them, but Kola’s fate is most likely what awaits their children. So parents, do better.
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