Intimate Partner Violence and Traumatic Brain Injuries
Updated: Dec 10, 2022
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
This blog post was originally posted on December 7th, 2020. I'm re-launching it on December 10th, 2022, with a YouTube video and Soundcloud audio. This week I watched an event put on my WomenatthecentrE called, "Shining a Light on the Unseen: The Intersections of Interpersonal Violence & Traumatic Brain Injuries." It reminded me of this blog post. I'll do a future post on Femicide, The Male Ego, and Shame.
Shaming someone and pinning them as bad and wrong is wounding to the ego so great that doing so is signified as an invitation to violence. Drawing from Margaret Atwood, Keely Weiss (2019) writes, “We have been taught that if a woman laughs at a man, she will be killed for it”. For Black West African women, this is all too often, our reality. This is the reality for a lot of people, regardless of race, age, gender, or ethnicity.
Globally, many Black children bear witness to their mothers being beaten by their intimate partners. According to violence against women researchers Dianne Lalonde, Jassamine Tabibi, and Linda Baker (2020), in Canada, 10% of adults shared that as a child, they had witnessed violence by a parent or guardian at the hands of another adult in their home. The researchers add, “45% of all substantiated investigations of child maltreatment in Ontario for 2018 involved exposure to intimate partner violence, an estimated 17,051 cases investigated”.
Intimate partner violence takes a toll on children and women alike. In, Black Women Can No Longer Afford to Save Broken Black Men Nigerian American writer Arah Iloabugichuku (2019) points to this devastating reality of intimate partner violence faced by Black women. Iloabugichuku shares staggering statistics of how in America 9 out of 10 Black women respondents were killed by Black men and that 91% of all Black female homicides were by men the victims knew. In comparison to their white counterparts, Iloabugichuku identifies that “Black women are killed by Black men at a rate 3 times higher” than white women and that “Black female homicide victims are most often killed during the course of an argument or disagreement”.
It is not only Black African American women who grapple with these horrific statistics, but Black women globally.
For Nicole Fisher (2019) intimate partner violence has to be framed in the context of a global public health epidemic. Fisher assesses that the minimization and negation of violence against women is a major contributing factor to why this epidemic goes untreated. In stating that intimate partner violence is a global epidemic, Fisher is speaking to the normalization of violence against women rooted in white supremacy that gets enacted through patriarchal structures such as the church and in everyday households.
I turn to a (2018) Nollywood film on Netflix, Seven and a Half Dates directed by Biodun Stephen, produced by Toyin Aimakha, and written by Joy Isi Bewaji.
In it, the main character Bisola, takes an offer from her traditional Nigerian father to date ten men of his choosing, after her younger sister gets engaged before she does. Bisola is described as a young single Yoruba businesswoman living in Lagos. She owns her own store and goes against the conventional grain by investing more in her career than in dating, marriage, or raising a family. One particular date she goes on illustrates what Black West African women are up against when it comes to the internalization of white supremacy, anti-blackness and misogynoir in Black men.
“My mum left my dad when I was 18, and I was very ashamed of that,” her date begins. After inquiring, Bisola is told some of the reasons why. “Well, he used to beat her sometimes, hit her head against the wall, and grabbed her by the neck,” he clarifies. When Bisola suggests that these are good reasons why a Black woman should leave her abusive husband, he is puzzled and confused by her reaction. “Is that enough reason for you to leave your husband?” he asks.
According to researchers Robert Nonomura, Linda Baker, and Dianne Lalonde, blows to the head during intimate partner violence are nothing to take lightly. Nonomura, Baker, and Lalonde touch on some of the “unseen effects” that intimate partner violence (IPV) can have on women, including neurological brain injuries. The three address the gap in research on traumatic brain injuries (TBI) as it applies to intimate partner violence. According to the researchers, in Canada, Statistics Canada has reported that “one-third of all police-reported violence involves intimate partners (95,705) and that nearly 8 out of 10 of these victims are women”. They add that 60-90% of women who experience IPV also receive blows to the head or neck that leave lasting damage. While TBI is often contextualized in relation to athletes and accident victims, Nonomura, Baker, and Lalonde ask that we not forget the seriousness of traumatic brain injuries as it pertains to intimate partner violence.
When Bisola's date says, “Is that enough reason for you to leave your husband?, this question and confusion points to arguments that are made by Africans who defend abusive men, whereby the church, the Bible, and scripture specifically, are used by men to justify male domination and violence against women.
Just as racial relations assume whiteness as the norm, here, gendered relations assume men and patriarchs as the norm (see, Ahmed, 2005). Bisola is adamant that his mother left her marriage in order to save her own life, speaking to the high mortality rate of Black women killed by intimate partner violence. Her date is relentless and continues, “Save her life from what, mere punches on the head? For better or for worse, remember?”
He references traditional marriage vows, where husband and wife proclaim to “take each other for better or for worse… until death do us part”. The harsh reality is that for Black women, marriages do end in death and at a much higher rate than for white women, and for 91%, at the hands of men they knew intimately, precisely what his mother chose to walk away from.
After leaving her marriage, she became a very successful businesswoman. What he describes as, “a failure”. He shames his mother for failing to perform normative societal gendered scripts. “A woman is defined by her marital status. She couldn’t keep a home. You know, women who die in marriage for love of husband and children are the true martyrs. I mean, it’s the West that has corrupted our women. I need a real woman. A proverbs 31 kind of woman,” he concludes. As most patriarchal traditional African men do, he blames the West (Western feminism to be exact). He recites Christian scripture in defense of his father’s domestic violence, suggesting that he too is looking for a “virtuous woman”.
Have you come across any men trying to make you their, "proverbs 31 kind of woman." Be aware, as Bisola suggests, he may just be looking for “someone to be his punching bag”. But, what do I know. I've been single and celibate for over 8 years. You should still take my word for it. I am after all, a Black West African woman raised in these very cultures that reward Black men for their literal and actual bad behaviour, then turn around and punish Black women for subpar imagined "bad behaviour". What can I say, patriarchy is insidious and everywhere.
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Until next time, in solidarity.
Image Description: A photo of an African woman with braids, carved into the wood. The carving was found at the Artists Alliance Gallery in Accra.