“I can’t tell anyone…” Dating Violence Among Adolescents
Authors: Adewale Adedamola, Adebayo Emmanuel, Olumide Adesola
Representing: Adolescent Health Unit, Institute of Child Health, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
Despite the various available and implemented interventions to prevent domestic violence against women, there has been little change in the reported statistics in Nigeria between 2008 and 2013,. The continuous perpetration of this form of violence has been blamed largely on acceptance of gender-based violence (GBV). There is robust evidence to show that women experience physical violence and sexual violence perpetrated by their partners or spouses, but very little is understood about dating violence among adolescents.
The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) is the body that reports domestic violence, which includes physical and sexual violence perpetrated by family members, friends, and other individuals. While the data reports spousal violence experienced by married women, the data does not give specifics on the violence experienced by adolescent girls in dating relationships. During early– to mid–adolescence, adolescents often become involved in romantic relationships. According to a UNICEF report in 2014, almost half of adolescent boys and girls worldwide agree that wife-beating was justified in some situations. In the 2013 NDHS report, only 23.8% of adolescent girls (15-19years) had ever sought for help to end violence. A recent qualitative study in Oyo state reported that women had said there were no legal help available. In the quest to gain insight into the dating violence situation among adolescents, we set out to map available resources for adolescent girls who experience dating violence and find out from those available sources if adolescents had been utilizing services.
We located some NGOs and youth-friendly facilities within our local government that provide services for girls who had experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). We also visited the police force to find out if they had special services for this group. We then decided to interview a few adolescents who had been victims of IPV to understand the adolescent perspective on dating violence.
Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images
The police force mentioned that they have the ‘Force Gender Unit’ and the ‘Family Support Unit’ that attends to cases of violence in relationships and families, if reported. They act on the VAPP (Violence Against the Persons Prohibition) law and Nigeria Criminal Code Act of 1990 which indicate that:
- Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults any male person is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years. The offender cannot be arrested without warrant.
- Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.
Non-governmental organizations such as Project Alert, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Legal Defense Assistance Project of Nigeria (LEDAP), and Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) were also identified as available sources of help for adolescents who have experienced IPV. Some of these NGOs have active public education programs to reduce Gender-Based Violence (GBV), including dating violence within the community. We also identified a youth-friendly centre (YFC) within a higher institution that also provide counseling and care for girls who have been exposed to intimate partner violence within the institution.
Despite the available resources, each of these bodies report that receive very few reports from adolescents who have been victims of violence perpetrated by their partners. The police described:
“We have record for things like that like rape but we can’t just say it is violence because most times they don’t tell us who did it, even when we suspect from the stories we get that it was the boyfriend…”—Police officer
Additionally, a counselor at a youth friendly centre within a higher institution mentioned that although, they have counseling sessions for victims of dating violence, they have noticed that victims never come out report they were raped or beaten by their boyfriends, when they do, they refuse to leave such abusive relationship.
Given the responses from these sources, we interviewed some adolescents who had experienced violence perpetrated by their partner. The interviews revealed that many adolescents do not recognize IPV in their relationships. All girls interviewed accepted violence in dating as normal.
“…most times they just don’t want to talk about it, you will have to keep asking questions to finally get information.” —Counselor YFC
“I have seen situations where I talk to a girl that was raped by her boyfriend and she will still be telling you she cannot break up with him.” —Counselor YFC
“…it is just when we fight and he gets angry, he then slaps me but not all the time.” —18-year-old female
When adolescents were asked if they would report cases of dating violence, the majority said they would not and the reasons they gave include: fear of stigma, adults’ beliefs, and breaking their relationships. Some mentioned that they had no idea where to go to report cases of dating violence even if they did wish to report their cases. An adolescent girl said she was afraid of what her parents will do if they realized she was in a relationship:
“I didn’t go anywhere. Who would I tell? I can’t tell anyone even if I wanted to, my father will even beat me if he knows that I have a boyfriend, so how can I now be telling him that somebody beat me?” —18-year-old female
Another was afraid of what people around would say:
“…in our shop here it is like this, they are always talking about other people. They are the ones that know what happen. You are in trouble if one person knows that your boyfriend beat you, because eventually the whole world will know.” —19-year-old female
This brief report begins to the challenges of GBV situation among adolescents. We believe that acceptance of violence, willingness to report and not recognizing resources are important challenges among adolescent victims of GBV. More research needs to be conducted to better understand the factors influencing the lack of willingness to report violence among adolescent girls and why some adolescent girls remain in abusive relationships. We believe this will help in planning and implementing effective interventions. Even though interventions such as the scale of Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) program in schools have been reported to improve the knowledge, awareness and perception of adolescents towards GBV, the practice in reality seems to still persist. We are missing something and we need to find out what it is through research to plan more effective interventions.
National Population Commission (NPC) [Nigeria] and ICF Macro. Nigeria demographic and health survey 2008. Abuja, Nigeria: 2009.
National Population Commission (NPC) [Nigeria] and ICF Macro. Nigeria demographic and health survey 2013. Abuja, Nigeria: 2014.
 UNICEF (2014). Hidden in plain sight: a statistical analysis of violence against children. New York, USA
 Balogun MO, John-Akinola YO. A Qualitative Study of Intimate Partner Violence Among Women in Nigeria. J Interpers Violence 2015;30:2410–27.
 Esiet AO, Esiet U, Philliber S, et al. Changes in Knowledge and Attitudes among Junior Secondary Students Exposed to the Family Life and HIV Education Curriculum in Lagos State, Nigeria. African J Reprod Heal African J Reprod Heal African J Reprod Heal 2009;13.