The hidden effects of domestic violence

The hidden effects of domestic violence

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THE news that the popular gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, who died recently might have died from injuries inflicted on her by her husband has brought to the fore again the issue of domestic violence. Some people who knew the late musician vowed that her husband had been abusing her. Curiously they all kept quiet until the worst happened to her. The cop-out is that “you can’t help a person who’s not ready to be helped.” According to reports, she had trauma to the chest from a kick from him. But it might not be the only serious injury the woman suffered!

People have kept wondering why she could have covered up all this. Why did she not leave the marriage? Why didn’t she go to the police? But she said it was because of her faith she stuck to the relationship. The husband has been arrested and we hope that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and justice be allowed to take its full course. Domestic violence should be condemned.

According to the United Nations, domestic abuse, also called “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence,” “can be defined as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.”  It is not a Nigerian problem. It’s found all over the world. It is said that almost one in three, or 30 per cent of women, have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence or both.

Abuse could be physical, emotional, sexual, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. It also involves any behaviours that intimidate, frighten, terrorise, manipulate, hurt, blame, humiliate, injure or wound someone. And whenever the victim tries to run away the maltreatment worsens.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, gender, sexual orientation or religion. It could occur between those who are married to each other, living together or dating. This malaise affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Incidents are rarely isolated and usually escalate in frequency and severity.

Domestic abuse may lead to serious physical injury or death. But even with the awareness of domestic violence, few relate the experiences of these women with traumatic brain injuries. In some minds, the victim only suffered “a small push” or just a “small smack to the head.” Unfortunately too for the victims, they may not be able to recollect what happened and, worse, the assaults may not even be reported to the police.

Brain injuries are said to be like earthquakes. A severe brain injury is like a major earthquake: we find fractures, haemorrhages or penetrating wounds (bridges fall and there are collapsed buildings): There is devastation to the city. But it’s not so for mild brain injuries or small earthquakes: we see cupboards overturned; cracked glasses. It’s more difficult to make sense of the damage and we can easily miss things that are broken, but no doubt something is wrong.

It was a British doctor, Gareth Roberts, who first alerted the world to domestic-violence brain injuries specifically, in a brief letter to the editor of The Lancet. Then he was teaching neuroanatomy at Imperial College London while studying Alzheimer’s disease with one of the world’s leading groups on the subject. One of his colleagues asked him to evaluate the autopsy of a 76-year-old woman who died after years of suffering domestic violence from her husband. In that letter, he described bruises, abrasions and rib fractures. The woman had a history of stroke and was reported as “demented” (majorly memory loss and confusion) in later years.

Interestingly, Robert also found that the brain of the woman had similar features to that of the brain with Alzheimer’s, what scientists call tangles of tau and beta-amyloid proteins which are associated with neurodegeneration or deterioration of brain cells. Her brain was akin to those of boxers suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or C.T.E., which was formerly known as “punch-drunk syndrome.” This was the first time the literature had linked abused women with neurodegenerative disease.

In another study of 26 women, a majority of them had been punched in the head. One was smacked in the head with the handle of a broom; another got a stab in the head; for another, it was the door of a car that knocked her out, while another was run over. All nine of the victims complained of dizziness, impaired hearing and blurring of vision.

It’s not only trauma to the brain that can lead to brain injury of victims. They also suffer strangulation even if momentarily. Strangulation can choke off oxygen supply leading to what is known as anoxic and hypoxic injuries which come about because brain cells have been starved of oxygen. This could lead to fatigue, confusion, and loss of memory.

In addition, traumatic brain injury can also result in irritability, social anxiety, depression, anger, feelings of overwhelm, general anxiety, mood swings or emotional lability (teariness). It is instructive to say that many survivors of head injury suffer chronic personality changes, such as increased impulsivity, lack of insight and poor judgement. Insight has to do with a person’s understanding of their illness but also in terms of understanding how the illness affects the person’s interactions with the world. These changes are well-known and likely to affect the ability to make decisions.

Mrs Nwachukwu might have decided to cover all she was experiencing because of her religious belief. It could also be because of fear. But it could also be because she might have suffered repeated concussions in the head leading to traumatic brain injury which then affected her thinking ability!

Osinachi Nwachukwu’s sonorous voice moved people to tears and joy while she was alive. With her death joy has died. That is why many are outraged with her demise. To know that a man could torture his wife in the most damaging and the most dehumanising way is heartbreaking. But as you are reading this piece know that somewhere, another woman is being punched in the face, in the head and kicked all over by a man who claims he loves her, and no amount of cues from her will save her. In the end, like Osinachi Nwachukwu, it’s not only her body—and brain—that fail her. Her society too fails her.

  • Dr Odoemena, a medical practitioner, writes from Lagos

Twitter: @cuzdetriumph

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