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Rise of intimate partner violence against young women

By Sharon Wangui

Tanah Njeri got teary-eyed. Suddenly, she bursts out crying. Seated at the Technical University of Mombasa, she remembers the day her boyfriend raped her.

“I begged him to stop. His once familiar hands scared me that day. I drifted in and out of consciousness every time, hoping it was just a nightmare, “she says.

Before the ordeal, they had been together for two months. Her boyfriend took her on dates, evening walks, and drives to the park. “Nothing was alarming. He had mastered the art of deception.” Tanah explains.

Tanah’s story is not uncommon. Intimate partner violence is shrouded in shame and silence. It includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and controlling behaviors by intimate partners.

Insensitive statements about morality terrify women into silence, as they suffer the psychological effects of being raped by a loved one.

Psychologist Dr. Collins Bolo acknowledges that “intimate partner violence is occurring at staggering rates across institutions of higher learning.”

He posits that the Covid-19 pandemic presented conditions ripe for perpetrators to thrive. “Many parents lost jobs, barely being able to cover basic needs. University students were left stranded, parents reasoning they can fend for themselves.” He adds that “University girls seeking his help, confess they were forced to trade sex for money to survive. Constantly putting themselves in danger.”

UNHCR researchers found that one in three Kenyan women experiences intimate partner violence, at least once in their life. This puts them at risk of depression, anxiety disorders, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.

UNICEF found, shame and stigma caused women to avoid counseling, and reporting cases. Under 40% of victims seek professional help, preferring talking to friends and family, who often lack solutions. Further, those seeking help are victim-shamed and ostracized by society.

What are the signs of an abusive partner?

Experts at UN Women list them as;

  1. Micromanaging and keeping track of every detail about their spouse.
  2. Sudden bursts of anger and violence. Often with accusations of infidelity.
  3. Controlling personal choice and opinions such as regarding birth control or what to wear.
  4. Constantly demeaning their partner through insults

“They are sexually abusive assuming that consent in the past means interest to participate in the sexual activity in the future,” says UN Women.


How should we help victims and survivors?

UN Women advises we listen to, and believe them because opening up is a step toward the light. We should create safe spaces for survivors to share their experiences without suppressing emotions.

“Help them understand what happened was in no way their fault, and assault cannot be justified. This allows them to understand the importance of healthy relationships.” UN Women explains.

Also, using evidence-based interventions helps with recovery. They no longer feel alone, and despite the uniqueness of each situation, meeting other survivors builds a sense of community. They learn coping mechanisms, offering glimpses of hope.

Referring survivors to violence advocacy organizations, and community health centers allow them professional patient-centered care. There are hotlines and shelters for those in need.

A conversation on the awareness of violence against girls needs to be had. Silence allows its perpetration. Therefore, we should stand with survivors to avoid the repetition of cases.

Lastly, let us call out perpetrators. Allowing them to get away with acts like catcalling, sexist comments, and inappropriate sex talks is not right. Let us nudge each other toward being more aware of our thoughts and actions.

Tanah’s bravery is enviable. I only hope we will be more prepared to listen and understand other victims who may still be trapped and better ourselves to ensure we do not create havens for perpetrators.

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