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Roxy’s Survivor Story

The advice of the uninformed is usually, “Just leave him.” “If he hits her, why doesn’t she leave?”

The reality is that worldwide 1 in 4 women who decide to leave an abusive relationship are murdered by the ex-spouse or partner after they have left. Experts on intimate partner violence have concluded that leaving an abusive partner puts women in potentially life-threatening danger, sometimes more than if they had stayed in the home. The intensity of the threat increases hundredfold when the victim leaves.

The old people say, ‘words are wind’ but to an already battered psyche, words can be weapons and can often contribute to the feelings of fear, guilt, and insecurity that already exist in an abusive situation.

When Roxy left her husband in 1991, they had been married for three years, and she was then five months pregnant. She resorted to subterfuge, engaging the assistance of a friend to squirrel away small packages of her clothes at a time. She closed her bank account, which her husband had access to, and opened a new one in her name only. Using the excuse that she would only be gone for one day to ‘air out’ her mother’s empty house, she left, never to return to her marital home in Morvant.  In the twenty months that followed, she was virtually under house arrest, terrified to step outside since her husband had vowed that if he could not have her, then nobody would. The old people say, ‘words are wind’ but to an already battered psyche, words can be weapons and can often contribute to the feelings of fear, guilt, and insecurity that already exist in an abusive situation.

Roxy almost gave birth at her new Trincity home in February of 1992, so fearful was she to leave the house. Then, she discharged herself and her newborn from Mt. Hope Maternity Hospital against doctor’s advice, before visiting hours, just for their safety. At home, she suffered the constant indignity of her husband cursing her for being a ‘slut’ who had left her marriage and threatening to burn down the house around her. Neighbors never intervened whilst the man was screaming in her yard. She supposed they feared him as much as she did, but they usually had plenty to contribute after he left. There in Trincity, her strait-laced middle-class neighbors, although they had known her since she was a child, felt that she should have known better than to bring that kind of ‘ghetto’ behavior into their midst.

For months afterward, Roxy would have to beg favors to secure a lift to attend clinics with her daughter. She went hungry many times because she could not work. Once, when she had left the baby with a sitter so that she could take up a job, her husband went to the sitter’s home and threatened her at gunpoint to hand over the baby. Needless to say, that was the last time Roxy could use her services.

There was one time she accepted a job at the Airport Authority specifically because it was for a night shift worker. Her daughter was placed in a wicker market basket, covered with a blanket and brought along to work. The job did not last too long, but at least she could have had her baby in her sights and still make a living at the odd hours when most people, including her husband, were in bed.

“You say your husband do this? What you do this man so that he can’t leave you alone?”

There were many instances when her abuser saw her on the road, and purposely tried to run her over with his car. And for those who might wonder if she ever spoke with the police, she took names and regimental numbers of the officers present at the times she made at least 18 of those reports. It was to no avail, though. One example of our stellar police service in action came when her husband tore the door of her house off at the hinges, trying to get in. The Arouca police were called, and they came in time to see him driving away, but they chose not to pursue. Instead, the jovial Corporal asked her, “You say your husband do this? What you do this man so that he can’t leave you alone? Hmm, Girl, you don’t have no big brother or somebody to put a cut tail on him? Nah, man. Young woman like you must have some friend to help you out.” At that point, Roxy thanked the officers and closed the door.

Those incidents are not peculiar to Roxy. Women in abusive situations the world over can identify, and unfortunately, COVID19 has served to exacerbate the horrific living conditions that thousands experience every day. Roxy was one of the lucky ones because she survived, mainly because she had somewhere to go. Many do not have that luxury, and even when they do, still must find a way to earn and live with the knowledge of a very real threat to their lives hanging over their heads.

Roxy’s story relayed by contributing writer, Andrea Browne

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Domestic Violence Awareness

October 7, 2020 By Rachel O.S. Edmund

October is the month that we as a collective recognize the debilitating effects of domestic violence. As I write this piece I reflect upon the events of this past year, the majority of which I have been affected by in some way. As a victim, survivor and advocate I am painfully aware of all of the intricacies that comprise the issue of domestic violence.

Covid-19 has been particularly lethal for some women and for others it has been a saving grace because it has allowed the country that somehow seems otherwise oblivious to their plight to truly see how limited the options available are to women in this country and even around the globe. Covid-19 has shone a spotlight and put domestic violence centre stage! For me it has brought naysayers and eternal optimists to the realization that leaving a toxic relationship is easier said than done.

You may ask what is domestic violence? In a nutshell it is any type of violence or harm that is perpetrated against any individual usually within the confines of their homes by close familial relatives. Children can be abused, grandparents can be violated, husbands and wives can batter each other according to the definition. Domestic violence can take various forms but many times one type of violence can be accompanied by one or two or all the other forms.

It usually begins in the form of verbal abuse. Many times the individual is not aware that this constitutes to violence and so they allow the behaviour to continue because no “harm” is being done to them physically. Verbal abuse however erodes a person’s self worth and self confidence and it is quite an untrue statement as I learnt in my later years that words don’t hurt. They most certainly can and do hurt! Uttering hurtful, demeaning and derogatory words makes an abuser feel powerful whilst the abused feels powerless. Abuse is ALWAYS about power and control for the abuser.

When the perpetrator has lost his/her zeal or believes that his/her words are no longer inflicting enough pain they usually move on to other means of abuse such as physical abuse to exert their dominance and power over the abused and to assuage their sickeningly, overly-fragile egos. I’ve heard of many a case where the abusive husband/boyfriend/life partner would have stated words to the effect that his wife/girlfriend/life partner could not cook or was a lousy homemaker. When this was no longer able to satisfy his need to feel powerful he would hit her because she didn’t prepare a meal he liked or wanted. I am painfully reminded of my own story here.

As I ponder what I really want to say as we recognize this month as DV Awareness month I am confronted by two thoughts. First, domestic violence always has a genesis and it is not the fault of the abused. In Trinidad, the culture of victim blaming is so pervasive that many a member of society (both men and women) will articulate statements in and out of the public sphere like “She look fuh dat!”, “She shoulda never do dat!“, “Is she fault he do that to her!” “Woman mouth does get dem in trouble!” and so many other insensitive and obtuse sentiments. The second thought that keeps gnawing at me is that of Reshma Kanchan, the latest victim of this crime in our country.

Quite a few of those statements were expressed by many an online commentator at the news of her most gruesome death; death by beheading. Apparently they never read her online account. The two saddest things about this story is that she recognized the toxicity of the relationship and left with her children in tow. That is the saddest part of it all, that her children are now left to navigate this life without the love, guidance and support of their mother. My heart bleeds for them! I feel no feelings toward her abuser who attempted suicide by throat slitting.

I hope that her family gets justice but to be brutally honest, as a woman, survivor and taxpayer I don’t wish that he endures a lifetime of incarceration filled with all the atrocities of legal imprisonment; that is too good for him. As a pastor however, for me those thoughts are far from what God expects of me; they are far from Chist-like, thus, I must pray for his soul and hope that he finds God somewhere in his new journey. I have to forgive him because Reshma can’t. I have to extend the love of Christ when I think of him and his children. I know that many will not agree or understand but this is the cross I must carry.

I know that I said two thoughts but a third has entered my mind. It is a question that I ask myself consistently relative to domestic violence. Where are the men? I often ask this because I know with certainty that all men are not animalistic in nature. All men are not weak mama’s boys who lack self control. I know that there are men who will not tolerate that occurrence in their sister’s or female relative’s lives; they would literally kill for these women or so they have articulated. So where are they? What are they doing? What are they saying relative to this scourge that continues to plague our society? Why are their voices so few and far in between? Which male voices are amplified and why? Which male voice will categorically denounce the killing of our women and the abuse of our children?

People continue to theorize that it is because of the upbringing of children by single mothers that we are seeing the fruit of same in such horrendous crimes. I am yet to see statistics to support this anywhere; I could be wrong. I would offer though my thoughts as to the root causes of the proliferation of such men in our society and across the globe.

1. Spiritual wickedness and a morally bankrupt society. We continue to allow man-made ideals and principles to dictate how we live rather than recognizing and teaching the values that ought to be taught. I mean, we don’t allow prayer or religious instruction in non-denominational schools! With the pandemic occurring, churches were not seen as essential services and were forced closed.

2. Men no longer understand their role and function. They have forgotten that women are to be protected by them. They have no understanding of who they are or should be as MEN! Maybe, better role models are required.

3. Single motherhood? Yes, I recognize single motherhood may be quite the challenge for some even many women. But is it really the issue? I believe the issue really is an issue relative to absentee fathers. There is a lot that a single mother imparts into her charges however it is my belief that despite her best efforts some children can and will go astray from her counsel and teachings. Again, role models? Strong role models! Who is supporting the single mother and what is the quality of said support?

4. We have consistently as a society accepted bad behaviour without applying the appropriate punishment for it rather, we consistently rewarded it. A bribe here and a kickback there is often overlooked so what’s a slap, kick or stab? Why not overlook those?

5. Archaic laws and institutions that treat with victims in a less than humane manner and perpetuate the abuse. I mean, when and if you have to leave your job because you need to feel safe or are afraid for the safety of your coworkers rather than institutions having robust policies to assist victims of abuse what do we really expect? When the law and lawmakers treat victims as outcasts, unimportant or perpetual crime reporters that will return to the abuse anyway how do we demand that men be better? When the legal and judicial system continues to allow the abuse through them who are we really fooling? When we are a reactive society rather than a proactive one how can we ask our men to be anything more?

6. The empty noisemaking barrels that continue to speak loudly on men’s issues. These noisemakers continue to advocate for men crying out that no one hears them when everything in society, whether we want to admit it or not, is founded on patriarchal principles. These empty vessels refuse to denounce this pestilence by not using their platforms to say that it is not ok. Many are reminiscent of the “All lives Matter/ Blue lives Matter‘ bandwagon positing that “it happens to men too” not understanding the pivotal difference between male to female violence and female to male violence. The fundamental difference is that women kill their children more often than they do their partners; men are more likely with more frequency to kill their partners.

I am not saying that men should not advocate for what they believe is right however I am saying that it is time for these voices to step up and do a few things: a) provide better role models for men and boys, b) introduce support and create programs that will deal with teaching boys what it means to be a man and build them holistically and c) stop perpetuating the divide between men and women with bitterness and victim blaming.

I am tired of the incessant noise surrounding domestic violence. I am tired of the murders of women who choose a better life for themselves and their children. I am tired of the silence of men and tired of the continual demand to remain silent on this issue because of the discomfort it causes the numb and the willfully blind and ignorant masses. I REFUSE TO REMAIN SILENT!

To survivors everywhere, there really are no words that I can say except that I understand and that I am glad that you mustered up the courage to escape the grip of your abuser. To the victims, those that remain in toxic situations… I feel your pain, I know what it is like and I am praying that you will save yourself and your children before it it too late!

I’m adding a few resources that are important for you to have as a victim or someone who may want to assist (I borrowed it from The Shelter’s Facebook page (I know they wouldn’t mind me sharing):

Get Help Now!

  • 1 (868) 800-SAVE – Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline
  • Police – 999
  • Rape Crisis Hotline – 1 (868) 627-7273
  • Legal Aid – 1 (868) 625-0454
  • Family Court – 1 (868) 627-8716/623-2631/624-1307
  • The Children’s Authority Hotline Numbers – 996 / 1 (868) 800-2014
  • Victim and Witness Support – 1 (868) 624-8853
  • The Shelter http://www.trinidadshelter.com/ : 1- 868 – 628-1116 or 728-0861 Email: admin@trinidadshelter.com Donations to The Shelter are welcome : at any Republic Bank : RBL acct# 18024564700

Domestic Violence Act 1999 as amended in 2006

Domestic Violence Amendment Bill 2020

(C) 2020 Keeping Hope Alive Womens Foundation. All Rights Reserved

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Hello and Welcome! You are a SURVIVOR!

Thank you for coming to our blog. We are grateful that you could join with us on what has translated into our voice in Trinidad and Tobago. This blog was created as a reflective index of what it means to be a survivor of domestic violence, intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

Statistics are clear when it comes to these three categories of crime in our nation and across the world. One in three women will face the fallout of being a victim of domestic abuse or IPV (https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures) and that means that even if you yourself have not fallen prey to domestic violence you certainly know someone who is or was.

Though our focus is mainly the victims and survivors of these insidious crimes we will reflect on many a topic because we are not narrow minded or one dimensional individuals. We don’t see the world through the discoloured lens of pain, rather we see the world through the eyes of hope!

Here we will tell the painful stories that so many have deemed us as brave to tell. Here we will share the silence and pain of those for whom it is an insurmountable task to relive the ordeal much less speak about it. Here we will give of ourselves as we tell our truths, no story here will be fictional.

We envision that this blog will bring healing and even transformation for our readers because we know that many will identify with what is said here. As a result of what we have endured we know the demons that you, our readers, may wrestle with at times, maybe even every day that you live. We hold you here as safe and protected, heal through us! We value your feedback and comments and we value you too.

#ishoutsilently isn’t just a hashtag for us but a statement of our commitment to those who are silently dying in their prisons of self loathing and self hating, crying out silently for someone to reach out and touch them, see them. We see YOU! You are strong even though you feel weak, you are loved, forgiven, worthy, beautiful, unbroken!

YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!

Gaslighting: The Subtle Bane in Relations:

(– A critique based on a true story as told by *Jacqui Osmond.)

“My husband was a repeat offender in the cheating department. Whenever I confronted him about his philandering, he would gaslight me. I got tired of trying to be reasonable with him. My career involved a lot of traveling. One day I left for a job far away and never returned. I drove away and never looked back”. -Jacqui

Definition

Gaslighting is psychological manipulation. It causes you to doubt what you see, hear or understand. It happens in relationships and social setups. A gaslighting victim becomes confused, withdrawn, anxious, or defensive. Sometimes, Victims lose their sanity.

Red Flags

Gaslighters will blame you for their mistakes. Every disagreement is your fault. They insist you are overreacting, and overly sensitive. They constantly put you down. They deny the truth or twist information. They become violent when confronted with evidence.

Markers of Jacqui’s Husband’s Gaslighting Tendencies:

-Becoming violent when confronted with evidence of his infidelity.

-Turning conversations around to justify why men cheat.

-Validated the other woman’s attempts to create a rift between him and Jacqui.

– Giving Jacqui ostensible control of family income, spending most of it, and accusing her of mismanagement.

-Accusing Jacqui of overreacting about his use of sexual enhancers.

Dangers

Gaslighters are wounded people. Wounded people wound others. They do not have a strong sense of self. They must feel right or else they feel threatened.

Gaslighting is emotional abuse. Sociopaths use it to control, manipulate and create mindless automatons. Abuse does not have to be physical to be lethal. It wears you down. You begin to doubt what your gut tells you is true and real. It erodes your sanity, as you doubt your assessment of reality.

Gaslighters are pathological liars. They manipulate your mind. They twist information into what they would like you to believe. You lose self-confidence and self-esteem. You become someone you can hardly recognize.

A gaslighter becomes violent when threatened.

Gaslighting renders you impotent in a relationship. Attempts to defend yourself become the sword by which you fall. Constant putdowns erode your confidence in your decision-making ability. Often, gaslighters become violent when threatened.

What to Do

If possible, let your partner know his is unacceptable behavior. State that you will not stay in the relationship if it continues. If the red flags become a pattern, understand that your partner is unhealthy. An abusive relationship is an unhealthy one. Avoid explanations and tiresome conversations. Gaslighters do not accept responsibility. They do not like to relinquish control. Be definitive and clear in explaining that you want to end the relationship. Focus on your well-being. Get out as fast and as safely as you can. Most gaslighters are a lost cause. Get support and therapy. Repair your diminished self-confidence and self-worth.

Crystal’s Story

When I first sat down with Crystal it was with a view to get some information with respect to her level of education and what she wanted to do with her life at the age of 30. She is the mother of 3 children by three different fathers, and she is at the battered women’s shelter because of the most recent domestic violence relationship.

Currently, she is HIV positive and has no family members to assist in any way. I needed to know a little bit of her background, and I felt that my own life experiences put me in a place where I couldn’t be surprised anymore. I was wrong.


Crystal claims that at age 6 weeks, her mother gave her into the custody of her grandmother. At the onset of puberty, however, her biological father came and took her to live with him and his new wife. He introduced her almost immediately to pornography, and in short order, regular videotaped sex sessions with him and his wife. Crystal says her father openly expressed his desire to get her pregnant so he could “see what she could make”. Crystal says she never saw anything wrong with this because she knew of nothing different in her family. It was only when he introduced her to anal sex, and she ended up in the hospital, that everything became public knowledge and the police got involved.

The high court matter stretched out over nine years, and at the end of it all, her father was released due to insufficient evidence.

During this period, Crystal had one daughter, but the relationship with the child’s father had not worked out, and she was seeing someone else—a much older man in his forties who wanted to marry her. She took this proposal as an opportunity to have a fresh start, and she jumped at it. In less than three months, she was pregnant and happily shared the news with her family. However, her happiness was short-lived; her grandmother informed her that her husband was, in fact, her father’s younger brother, and therefore, her biological uncle.

Her son from that marriage, now 8 years old, has never been told about his parentage and Crystal fears the repercussions of letting him know. How do you tell your son that his father is also his great-uncle by blood?

Six years after that revelation, Crystal finds herself in yet another relationship, and once again pregnant. She realizes that her live in boyfriend is cheating on her with none other than her own mother. Furthermore, her mother has shared this Side Chick/Mother-in-Law romance on Facebook for John public to admire.

If I were to buckle down for days with pen and paper, I could not have come up with a more dramatic plot for a soap opera. Sad to say though, this is Crystal’s story, and it is the absolute truth.

DAUGHTER OF EVE

I CAN SAVE HIM

I CAN BRING HIM TO A PLACE… BE THE SPACE

HE NEEDS TO FACE HIS DEMONS

HIS TORMENT

AND GLADIATOR, DEFEAT THEM ALL

I KNOW THIS

I CAN DO THIS

I CAN BE HIS SHIELD

HIS BREASTPLATE

BE IT MY FATE, TO TAKE THE BLOWS SOMETIMES

BE THE IMAGE OF HIS FOES

AS FISTS CONNECT WITH SOFT FLESH

IN ME

I CAN SAVE HIM!

HE HAS HONOURED ME WITH HIS DREAMS

HIS DEEPEST FEARS

HE HAS DEVOURED MY LIFE AND MADE ME PART OF HIS

OF IDENTITY? MINE IS NO MORE

INSTEAD, I SAVE HIM

I AM HIS REDEMPTION

THE BLACK EYES

THE BROKEN RIBS

THE LOST TEETH

ONLY STRENGTHEN MY BELIEF

THAT HE WILL DO MOST ANYTHING TO KEEP ME

IS THAT NOT THE GREATEST LOVE?

THE ESSENCE OF PASSION?

NO ONE UNDERSTANDS… THIS IS MY DESTINY!

WHAT I WAS CREATED FOR!

WHERE ELSE SHOULD I GO?

HE IS MY BEGINNING AND MY END.

HE KNOWS MY SOUL

LIKE I ONCE KNEW MY SPIRIT

BUT IT IS ALIEN NOW

IT LEFT WITH THE AMBULANCE

KNOWING FULL WELL I COULD NOT SUSTAIN IT

IT ABANDONED ME

IN THE MANNER THAT FLESH IS WONT TO DO

MY SPIRIT HAS ENTERED NO MAN’S LAND

TO BEAR THE SHAME OF MY SUBMISSION

SPIRIT SLEEPS IN “THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES” NOW

DEMORALISED

INCOHERENT

BUT I CHOSE THIS…DID I NOT?

I NEEDED TO FEEL THAT I BELONGED TO SOMEONE

SO, I CHOSE SACRIFICE

FOR THE GREATER GOOD…HIS GOOD

I STAND IN THE GAP

LEST HIS DOPPELGANGER WIN

AND DEVOUR THE GOOD MAN

I KNOW HE IS

INSIDE.

Rising Above Grief

When tragedy strikes, it is virtually impossible to feel anything but intense grief, anger, and hopelessness. How can we rationalise or make sense of the brutal and violent end to a young person’s life? The family of Ashanti Riley is grappling with such questions after her untimely and horrific end. It is alleged that Ms Riley, aged 18, was raped, murdered and left naked. Her attacker, a seemingly known predator from within her community, was found to have other similar charges levelled against him. Her parents, friends, and family are probably lamenting what could have or should have happened differently, but sadly, this will not change anything but rather trap them in their pain.

In the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, author Harold Kushner explores this theme, provides some reasons, and suggests approaches to making acceptance of life’s tragedies easier to bear. The harsh reality of life is that bad things happen all of the time, often to those least deserving. The mystery of why this is so may never be known or fully understood by any of us.

Those of us who are left to carry on still have the gift of life and the choice to use it well or to expend it on prolonged grieving and/or blaming.

A similar theme is explored in the book and the movie The Shack, written by William P. Young, directed by Stuart Hazeldine, in which a young girl goes missing in the woods after her father briefly leaves her unattended to save his other two other children struggling after a canoeing accident. This split-second decision resulted in the abduction of the child who was never seen alive again. The siblings in the boat blamed themselves for goofing around and causing the canoe to capsize; the father blamed himself for leaving the young child alone, albeit just momentarily and for a very good reason. The mother probably harboured negativity towards all three of them. The end result was a family in crisis that was not the same. In the film the father ends up meeting ‘God’, reconciling the horrific death of his child, and making peace with the tragedy and his own history of abuse.

How amid such pain can we keep hope alive? One coping mechanism is to find something, anything good that can come out of the situation, as difficult as it may be to find. This requires diving deep and thinking beyond the pain at the moment.

The case of Ashanti Riley’s death sparked outrage, yet it ignited a lot of very positive debate followed by calls for fixing the ills that plague our society and providing a higher level of protection for women. These included:

  1. Closer scrutiny of the “PH” drivers who use their private vehicles to provide an “unofficial maxi taxi service” to travellers. The driver who picked up Ms Riley was a known predator suspected of using the ruse of transportation to lure the young woman into a situation, which ultimately cost her her life.
  2. Extensive debate and elevated action from advocates calling for more support in the fight against gender based violence perpetrated against females of all ages in our society.
  3. A call for the closer examination and implementation of solutions to address the root causes behind the high incidence of gender based violence (sexual, physical, and emotional) in this country.
  4. Consideration is being given to legalising Pepper Spray as a non-lethal, first line of defence for women to protect themselves and improve their odds of escape from predators.

While it is extremely critical to assist and protect women against the ills of gender-based violence, the majority of current or proposed remedies merely treat the symptoms of the problem, rather than solving the underlying problems. It is, therefore, imperative that a better job be done regarding educating parents, using the education system to raise our boys, changing the prevailing narrative about women, and ensuring that boys grow up to be high-calibre men who respect, protect and value women while seeing and treating them as equals. It is said that hurt people, hurt people, so we must examine what is giving rise to the plethora of men causing harm to women.

Another suggestion for keeping hope alive in the wake of tragedy is to consider what our lost loved one would want for us. While loss can be crippling, permanently altering one’s happiness and sense of wellbeing, it is important to remember that you are still alive. Those of us who are left to carry on still have the gift of life and the choice to use it well or to expend it on prolonged grieving and/or blaming. None of us can change the past and continuing to carry guilt and sorrow, and damaging our remaining relationships serve no one. Many marriages have fallen apart after the loss of a child, where one parent blames the other. Often parents resent a child who lived, mourning the favoured child who died, effectively losing both relationships—one to death and the other to the death of affection. Would your deceased loved one want you to wallow in sadness and grief for the rest of your life or to live and experience a joyous life big enough for the both of you?

The greatest gift that we can give to honour the life of a lost loved one is to live what is left of our lives fully, purposefully, and with gratitude for the opportunity our loved one was denied. Natalie Sabga is an excellent example of this as she used the tragic death of her husband, John Sabga, who died at the young age of 56, to launch a foundation to raise funds to assist persons battling pancreatic cancer, to find more effective treatments and a cure. Her grief and loss were turned into a powerful mission, which celebrates the legacy of her husband while working for an important cause.

There is power in the words of Michael Crichton who said: “No one escapes from life alive.” To the extent that none of us knows when or how we will meet our end, we owe it to ourselves and to those we lost too soon, to make every day count, ideally leaving the world a better place for having passed through it.

Why My Mother Stayed

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As I sat to recount the story of our lives, my mother and me, and how we have come to be, the anxiety that followed became almost unbearable. For weeks I toiled, paragraph over paragraph, trying to account for my father’s actions, tell my mother’s story, and to understand my life more clearly through this tale. I sat in our gallery, aghast, as truths  revealed themselves to be more and more incredulous. My father had consciously and without remorse left my mother in a vat of emotional distress for years. I knew what I had endured being his child, but I was finally getting a look behind the veil at what my mother had suffered through.

I had asked her about the years gone by before, and she had shrugged it off, but this time, it was almost too much for her to hold in, and in one sitting, she overflowed. Yet she passed it off with just a nod; a little laugh inevitably concludes the typical refrain, her favourite line—well he dead already—a closed door to the past.  I now assume that perhaps it is because I’m no longer the little girl she describes in these stories that she has become more open. Or perhaps it’s her age. The older she gets, the more of her life she feels the need to share. She has always been a mystery to me, much like my father was, and I have found that her tales offered more to see.

No one confronted my father about his actions; they simply made polite pleas at arm’s length, while my mother continued to suffer.

Growing up, I understood without a doubt that our home wasn’t a happy one. No, my father didn’t hit my mother, he didn’t throw us out, but he often neglected us, leaving my mother and me to fend for ourselves. To me, he was a bully, shaming me for my weight in front of guests and relatives, forcing me to sit while he  laughed  at my expense. My mother would be demonized for demanding his attention. Her pleas went ignored. Pleas for support at home, in caring for me, which we wrestled endlessly, for faithfulness to our family that would never come. His commitment to us was non-existent. We lived near the extended family. Aunts and uncles. Grandma and grandaunt. All on one block. My mother often sought their assistance and support, only to be told to stay, whenever her frustrations with him led her to want to leave. “Stay”, despite my father making it difficult to maintain a suitable home. “Stay” and continue to remain dutiful. “Stay” and wait. No one confronted my father about his actions; they simply made polite pleas at arm’s length, while my mother continued to suffer. She was alone, and he could care less. It would be remiss of me not to be grateful for my aunt, who took up the responsibilities my father had to me. But as grateful as I am, she was content to step in, instead of confronting him. They all were content to let my father be, while they pressured my mother to comply.

Why Women? Why Mother?

“Why is it always the woman’s role to endure endless inquiry and be confronted by everyone, while men escape interrogation?” I wondered. When I was a little girl, one curious woman mustered up the nerve to ask my mother about us one morning, while my father was away. She’d seen the mysterious woman in his house and could not help herself, so she posed the question. This was not the woman she had known my father to be with at all their social events.

“This is my daughter,” my mother replied flatly.

The woman’s eyes widened again confused. “His daughter? I didn’t know he lived with anyone.” She replied, having no idea that my mother and I existed and absolutely content with absolving my father from her investigation. 

The toxic patriarchy of an old but relevant world is what shaped my household and coloured the ‘support’ the women in my father’s family gave to my mother.

I found it especially strange that my father stayed silent in my mother’s stories. In the tale of his first wife, she was blamed for his neglectful behaviour, for not performing “wifely duties” and yet my father constantly betrayed his duties to his family without repercussion. Through their silence and willful ignorance, his peers enabled his lack of accountability. But it’s only evidence of a wider issue in our society and culture. Cries of the patriarchy come to mind. My mother’s accounts, and my sisters’ words, reinforced my experience. The expectation of women to wait and submit to their husbands while they aren’t given the same liberties and freedoms remains universal. My father was allowed to live as he pleased and my mother never received support because it was assumed that her husband would fulfil his duty.

The toxic patriarchy of an old but relevant world is what shaped my household and coloured the ‘support’ the women in my father’s family gave to my mother. There was no real effort. No talk of independence or self-reliance. Financial freedom was not an option. Instead, they believed that it was her place as his common-law wife, later to be his lawfully wedded spouse and the mother of his child, to seek support from him alone. No other option would be appropriate. She was limited. Yet there is no way to know for certain what would have transpired had my mother left. I do think that in most cases, the advice given came with the best of intentions. Those who don’t know privilege rarely often seek it. But for my mother and me and by all her accounts, I wonder what would have been if the people around her would have tried a little harder than simply telling her the only option was to stay.    

For Better or for Worse?

Our survivor, Jenny, does not like to dwell on her past, and so she favours word economy in the telling of her story. Here is a concise account of her abusive experience.

On our wedding day

When he broke my arm                                                                         

I should have walked away

However, at the hospital, in his crisp suit, tears in his eyes

He got on his knees and blamed the alcohol

And I forgave him

But that was the beginning of the cycle

The beatings continued

In the privacy of our home

And out in the public eye

In front of our children, family, friends, strangers

And along the way he offered other reasons to justify his abuse

He thought I’d looked at someone else a little too long

I was a horrible cook and deserved to be taught a lesson

I was his wife and had no right to resist his sexual advances

I should have protected myself; he did not want another child

He’d gotten fired from his job and was stressed

He could not find a new job and was stressed

I stayed for 12 years

I shouldered the blame

Forgave him every time

I made excuses                                                                     

I hid my scars and bruises

But in the 13th year

I saved my own life

I left and never looked back

The Domestic Abuse Trap

What makes a woman stay in an abusive situation? What stops a woman from running and rejecting being another person’s punching bag?

A January 2020 article in Psychology Today, suggests 8 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships. These include distorted thoughts; damaged self-worth; fear; wanting to be a saviour; children; family expectations and experiences; financial constraints and isolation.

This blog addresses the experience of Paula and her abusive relationship with John. (Names have been changed to protect her identity).

Paula became a single parent when her daughter was 11 years old. Her marriage was not working for her yet she found the motivation to leave and create a life she wanted. Post-divorce, she had other relationships, and though none of them had been perfect, nothing in her past prepared her for her future relationship with John. Never did she imagine that she would be a victim of domestic violence, a serious and growing problem not just in Trinidad and Tobago, but globally. The experience has left her a shadow of her former self: afraid, emaciated, isolated and confused.

When Paula first met John, they had a platonic relationship. He was younger and came from lower socio-economic circumstances. Wanting to help him achieve his full potential, she provided him with guidance and counsel as she saw good in him. Ironically, their discussions often included his relationship with his girlfriend at the time and Paula’s admonishment and disapproval of the abuse he evidently metered out to her.

Gradually, John’s attention and “affections” shifted to Paula, and they started a relationship. For the first three years, things seemed to be going well, and Paula continued to be supportive and share her resources to help him, often giving him money and the use of her car.

The first of nine episodes of violence over the next two years commenced one Valentine’s night.

She said that things changed in the relationship when John had become comfortable and sufficiently confident that she was invested. The first of nine episodes of violence over the next two years commenced one Valentine’s night. She had prepared dinner for them and expected a romantic evening, but instead, when John got home, for no apparent rhyme or reason, he chose to beat her. Why did she stay? Perhaps Paula felt that if she loved him enough, she could be his saviour and change his behaviour.

Over time, Paula learned that John’s childhood had been dysfunctional. He initially lived with his mother, who had picked up a boyfriend who disliked John and beat him. But his mother did nothing. John was passed around from pillar to post eventually ending up with his father who misguidedly arranged a sexual encounter for his son with the same woman with whom he was sleeping – a father’s warped way of showing love? The point is that John came to the table as an abused individual with unaddressed psychological scars.

Too often, the discourse on domestic violence focuses on the abused, not the abuser and perhaps breaking the cycle of abuse needs a much greater focus on healing the perpetrators and raising boys to be men who respect, not abuse women. Author Yehuda Berg is well known for the quote “Hurt people hurt people. That’s how pain patterns get passed on, generation after generation.”

Abusive men are master manipulators who also use their words and their actions, not just their fists to abuse and control women to the point where the women consumed with fear and self-doubt, lose their capacity to think rationally.

When a man beats a woman and repents, says that he is sorry, begs for forgiveness and promises that he will never do it again, a woman who loves him may believe him, stay and give him another chance. Abusive men are master manipulators who also use their words and their actions, not just their fists to abuse and control women to the point where the women consumed with fear and self-doubt, lose their capacity to think rationally.

John would accuse Paula of not loving him, not supporting him and wanting to abandon him to be with every man with whom she had a conversation, professional or superficial relationship. His manipulation alienated Paula from her friends, got her further entrenched, and gave him more control over her. Paula even encouraged her then adult daughter to move out so as not to bear witness to what was happening.

Despite her best efforts to please and support him, the beatings continued. While at first Paula’s friends were empathetic and supportive, her persistent failure to leave John eventually made them turn their backs on her, as they could not comprehend her decision to stay. In their minds, she should have left the first time he struck her, and she was foolish to have stayed.

Paula still struggles with her feelings of shame, resentment, anger and frustration. How could John question her love and support when she had done so much for him? It was not up for discussion between them as that just triggered more violence. His threats and accusations ultimately created a psychological trap, from which Paula felt powerless to escape.

The takeaway here is that they are always signs that a potential mate may be trouble in the making. Learning to identify red flags will save women trauma, grief or worse being a victim of femicide.

A 2018 article in the Business Insider, purports 8 Red Flags to Look out for when you start dating someone:

1. You justify their bad behaviour.

2. They don’t talk through issues.

3. They’re constantly testing your boundaries.

4. They have a massive sense of entitlement.

5. Something in your gut feels wrong.

6. Everything is about them.

7. They are overly critical about their previous partners.

8. They constantly deny, criticise, or dismiss you.

While we all crave love, acceptance and community, it is important as women to fill our cups, create a life we love and to be comfortable in our skin. When we lack self-esteem and self-love, we seek validation and approval from others and give our power away, often with dire consequences.

Paula may have seen the signs and in retrospect can now admit that she chose to ignore some of them. Fortunately, earlier this year, she finally and permanently walked away from John and is rebuilding her life.

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