Last month, I found the Blue Shield of California Foundation Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign that allows interested persons to put their name and picture on an awareness poster that reads, “I’m NAME, and I’m helping to #EndTheSilence about domestic violence.” I made one such poster. As a health educator, I chose my picture deliberately. I chose a picture in which I was wearing a traditional Nigerian outfit. The campaign was here in the United States but I felt it was important to signify somehow, that this was a conversation that was needed in diverse communities – the Nigerian-American community included. Although I have pictures with me dressed in simply traditional attires, I chose one with a ceremonial outfit. It was also a way of saying the domestic violence conversation in the Nigerian-American community needed to be at various levels.

Recently, the picture began to trend on my Facebook page. During that time, I got this message in my inbox:

Attorney friend: “Did you post the wrong picture or what? That didn’t resemble an abused face – it’s an embraced woman’s face.”

Me: “It’s not the wrong picture. It’s the “we all need to get involved” picture.” Attorney friend: “I just never seen this unblemished face in the posters of abused women I have seen in the family violence courts.”

Me: “Picture doesn’t say I’m a victim. Says I’m helping to end the silence. You bothered to read what it said, no?”

Attorney friend: “I read it every single word and my observation is to the extent that picture they say ‘is more that (than) a thousand words’. There is a reason why picture on walls of for campaign against family violence is that of an abused person not that of somebody at an Owambe party.”

(An “Owambe party” is a ceremonial celebration.)

As I re-read our exchange, I was confronted again and again with the challenges we face in ending domestic violence. Physical violence is only one form of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV.) The absence of bruises and scars is not indicative of an abuse free relationship. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four main types of IPV – physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression. The notion that abused persons must show physical scars is wrong. Surviving physical abuse cannot be guaranteed, and should not be a requirement for domestic violence.

It is also incorrect to expect victims of abuse to be the only persons to end IPV. Abusers have a role to play too. Their motivation to modify behavior cannot come exclusively from their victims. If this was all that was required, we may not even get to hear of IPV cases. Once the victim tells the abuser their behavior is about to compromise their relationship, the abuser modifies behavior and all is well. But this is rarely the case. For some, despite interventions from family, friends, religious and community leaders, nothing changes and the relationship ends. For some less fortunate, their lives end with the relationship as does the lives of other loved ones or perfect strangers. No; motivation for the abuser to modify behavior should come from the society they live in. A society that does not excuse abusive behavior under the banner of drug or alcohol abuse, religious or cultural values. We know that abusive behavior is a choice the abuser makes because these same factors that “explain” why they are abusive towards their victims are also present in their lives when they interact with other people. Yet, they manage to function well – sometimes with extraordinary level of courtesy that the victims story of abuse sound incredible. The society – all of us in our diversities should be “creating” communities in which it is neither conducive to practice or tolerate abuse.

Although I made the poster as an advocate, I am an IPV survivor. And no, I don’t have pictures to show of me battered and bruised, no police report. I survived psychological aggression, which unfortunately isn’t abuse as far as many people are concerned. So, yes, I have had my abuse experience “questioned.” I have had a friend laugh in my face – “nobody would believe that anyone can intimidate YOU, let allow do so over a period of time,” I was told. If anyone reduced you to a shadow of yourself, it was because “I allowed it” I have been told. Well, we have blamed the victim for a long time. We have excused abusive behavior. We have looked the other way and left the campaign to end domestic violence to “those people.” Domestic violence has not ended. It continues to wreak havoc in our communities with social, economic and health consequences. Many of us suffer close up – it is someone we know, someone we love. And even those who don’t know victims directly still get troubled and ask “why” when there is a domestic violence murder, murder-suicide or domestic violence related death of innocent others. Why? You kept quiet, that’s why.

Today, sign up to be on C.A.L.L. to end domestic violence.

Challenge abusive behavior

Advocate for policy changes to end domestic violence

Listen attentively to domestic violence cases

Lend support to a survivor

I am Lillian Agbeyegbe. I’m helping to #EndTheSilence against domestic violence.


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