It was two weeks ago – a casual Friday night. My friends and I exited a restaurant where we were having a meal to head to our next destination where a few meters away a young woman is screaming and crying as the man accompanying her attempts to drag her fallen body. She yells continuously between sobs “I don’t want to go” in Amharic. He holds a small plastic bag and her purse in one hand and drags her forward with another as she continues yelling. A few people gather and we park right beside the commotion and I inquire with her what’s wrong. Neither she nor the man with her gives an explanation as she continues her wails. We park the car and step out as more people gather. The man with her is soft spoken and all he says slowly to her in a soft voice is, “you’re embarrassing me, get up and let’s go.” To which she continues wailing louder and getting hysterical. The other men that have gathered are now cornering him and asking what’s going on yet he does not respond. He sways and staggers a little which indicates he is under the influence of alcohol. As he pulls for her again, she screams, “I don’t want to go. He’ll kill me.”
I ask her if she wants us to call anyone for her as the others around her continue asking, “do you know him, do you know him?” She gives me a phone number to dial and tells me it’s her brother. Her brother picks up and I tell him the location of where she is and the situation and he informs me he is close-by and will come for her. To the barrage of “do you know him” questions that fly towards her from the others around, she replies she does and two of the men around mutter “well, if you know him…” and walk away. As the gathering attracts others, the man accompanying her proceeds to walk away carrying her purse with him.
The remaining ones ask her in what capacity she knows him. She replies that he is her husband and that they have been living together for nine years. To this, the murmurs of those that have gathered increase. In chorus, most of them chime in, “well if he is your husband, go home with him.”
She tells us he is a heavy drinker and that he beats her up when he drinks. I ask her why she stays in an abusive relationship, to which she replies that she kept hoping that he would change his behavior over the years. A server from the restaurant we were just having dinner at says to her, “don’t worry. Go home and have him advised by elders.” Others still continue grumpily, “Well he is your husband.” They almost sound irritated that they had to stop to find out that this case of aggression is ONLY happening between two people that know each other.
I am livid at this point and bark out to them, “and so, if he is her husband does she have to return and endure his violence?” They don’t answer. I didn’t expect them to. Domestic violence is a justified form of violence for many. In fact, the idea that two people know each other seems to be a justified mindset for many. I feel equally helpless because other than her brother, I don’t know whom to call. How will those who bear the responsibility of safeguarding such rights on the streets respond? My cynicism prevails in that moment as all too often, such cases are brushed off as just another “lover’s quarrel.”
Her brother arrives. I ask him what he is doing to ensure this does not happen again. He shares with me in frustration that he and other family members have repeatedly asked her to cease the relationship for her safety but she refuses. I turn to her and ask her why to which she tells me she has been holding on to the hope in the past few years that he would change. Yet this change has been elusive.
I share this story to stir a discussion on the following questions:
- What would you do if you find a similar scenario unfolding in front of you? If you intervene, what propels you? If you don’t, what stops you?
- What opinions do you hold with regards to intimate relationships and cases of violence?
- Is violence ever justifiable in intimate partnerships? If so, in what instances do you hold that to be true? Why?
I’m curious to learn from you.
I am of the strong opinion that we need to reword partner violence, moving away from the “intimate” labelling in the designation “Intimate Partner Violence”. There is really nothing intimate, cozy and warm in domestic violence and the words we use to address these issues already strips away the legitimacy of declaring it a violent act.
Love & Light