Miseducation of Obiba: Why Ghanaians Stay In Abusive Relationships

obi 2Sex is not a reason why women stay in abusive relationships. The research on domestic violence shows that sex is often traumatic and painful for women suffering abuse. In Ghana, women in abusive relationships often suffer vaginal and anal tears, urine leakages, miscarriages, are at risk of unwanted pregnancy, and are more likely to contract STIs including HIV. It is rather obvious, that sex with a person who beats you, humiliates you, disrespects you, and violates you would not be pleasurable. While it may be difficult to understand why women stay in abusive relationships, speculation often perpetuates myths that isolate victims even further. Rather than assuming, it would be in every person’s interest to seek out well-informed, researched answers. The evidence shows that sex is not pleasurable for women who are in abusive relationships, as abusive relationships often include verbal, emotional, physical and sexual violence. Pleasurable sex can rarely occur in an abusive context, not only because the victim is afraid of the abuser, but also because abusive relationships lack mutual love and respect. 

Re-Shifting Focus

obiRarely would anyone say “My major concern is not why thieves steal from people, it is why people allow themselves to be stolen from” in cases of theft. Crimes against women are treated differently than general crimes because of a culture of victim blaming. Victim blaming is the phenomenon in which victims of a crime are scrutinized, blamed, mocked, and treated badly. When sexual crimes or domestic violence crimes occur, focus is shifted from the perpetrator to the victim. To hold perpetrators accountable, it is instrumental that we as a society stop doing that. It is in our best interest to focus on the person actually committing the crime so we can hold them accountable for their wrongdoing.

So NO, your major concern should not be why women stay. It should be why abusive people abuse.

Why Do People Stay In Abusive Relationships

Choosing to leave an abusive relationship is a process and not one event. It can alter one’s life significantly. There are a number of reasons why people stay in abusive relationships.

1. Lack of Financial Security

Financial abuse is a tactic of creating dependency and ensuring that people who are abused cannot survive on their own. Abusers often control money and income even if the person being abused has a job. Nonetheless, many women who leave abusive relationships often end up homeless, and must depend on friends and family for basic necessities such as food, water, shelter etc.

It is why the Domestic Violence Act of 2007 in Ghana sought to provide funds for people who left their abusive partners.

2. Psychological Dominance

Persistent emotional, physical and sexual abuse impacts the psyche of those abused. Battered Persons Syndrome is a phenomenon that describes some of the effects that occur when a person is abused. Low-self esteem, attachment to one’s abuser, blaming oneself for the abuse, even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are some of the things that occur when a person is abused repeatedly. The psychological anguish that abused people face presents an additional obstacle that prevents people from leaving.

3. Religious/Cultural Stigma

Screenshot_2015-03-25-16-02-24Additionally, “Till death do us part” and the stigma of divorce make it especially difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. Because Ghanaian society often frowns upon leaving a marriage, women who decide to leave abusive relationships are shamed and ostracized from the community.

Furthermore, because patriarchal masculinity theorize that men cannot be victims of abuse, men who discuss abuse are shamed, mocked, and ignored. Masculinity’s “hard guy” requirement does not allow for men to show and discuss pain. Thus leaving male victims of abuse without any recourse.

4. Cycle Of Abuse


Vicious cycle of abuse include perpetrators apologizing, making amends and promising not to abuse anymore if forgiven. Cultural tropes in Ghana that teach people (especially women) to forgive, often allow abusers to regain entry back into the lives of those they abuse, only to do it again.

5. Fear

Abusers often use a wide variety of tactics that threaten the safety of the victims. Abusers throw acid, threaten children and even kill victims.  In 2012, a report by the Human Rights Advocacy Centre discussed spousal killings. In 53 cases where an abuser killed a spouse, 42 cases involved a husband killing a wife, 5 cases involved a wife killing a husband, and the remaining cases involved suicide or murder suicide.

Victims of abuse are legitimately afraid and concerned for their safety, and will do anything to protect and preserve their lives.

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