If he beats you, he does not love you
I am no Pollyanna, and I am not even sure whether that is good or bad. I just prefer every day to confront difficult realities head-on. It is an attitude premised on the belief that solutions are not found in denial, and like popular Brazilian philosopher, Paul Coelho, I believe that truth, whether good or bad, is ultimately liberating.
I did not see it coming, but the common reality of domestic violence I found hard to process. It was difficult to look at the statistics and re-examine stories where women lost their lives to spousal abuse. It is hard, because our homes should be our first line of defence against a world that is often unkind, and our familial relationships are our softest place to fall. Men and women living together and sleeping in the same beds ought to find support and comfort in each other, and the children of such unions sheltered by the strength that that represents. Partners should protect each other physically, as they should each other's dignity and vulnerabilities as human beings.
But what happens when the biggest threat to your sense of safety and well-being is the same person you depend on to protect you? What happens when a little girl's worst nightmare is not the boys down the block, but her father or stepfather who is determined to violate her to exact "payments" for providing for her, or just for his part in bringing her into the world?
In the rural community where I grew up, the first murder I can recall was a mentally disturbed man beheading his mother. In a neighbouring community, shortly after, a former inmate of a rehabilitation centre killed a woman and the two children she bore him. For our community, innocence was quickly and irrevocably lost. Years later, I was confounded further when a young girl told me of her ongoing struggles to keep her father at bay. The man later told me (with a laugh) that he did not see why another man should "pick the cherry" before him. It dawned on me that he was a sociopath — conscienceless, lacking any sense of moral responsibility and unable to feel shame or guilt. I know now that a lot of Jamaican men suffer these same kinds of personality disorders and this accounts for many of the horrific crimes that bedevil us.
Domestic violence is multifaceted. We most readily think in terms of men beating their spouses, but it includes violence between other family members as well, and it includes passive-aggressive behaviour. To a lesser degree, women also abuse their husbands. Overall, domestic violence includes verbal abuse, sexual coercion, neglect, economic deprivation, and withdrawal of affection. Open infidelity, because of the emotional toll it takes on the victim, qualifies as a form of aggression. Experts say one of the most critical predictors of whether men will become violent is early exposure to any form of violence.
The recent beheading of a pregnant woman in Mountain View once again jolted our consciousness and highlighted the need for multiple levels of intervention if the society is to be rid of this scourge. It is part of an overall trend that has Kingston averaging more than 900, or 109 deaths per 100,000 people annually over the past decade. This compares with 67 per 100,000 in Washington, DC, one of America's most violent cities, and establishes it as the murder capital of the world. Domestic violence accounts for approximately 17 per cent of these from 2001 to 2006. In 2002, half of the women who died violently were victims of domestic violence. Global Scripture Impact (2012), in a study of domestic violence in the Caribbean, quotes a WHO study two years earlier, identifying pregnant women as a special needs group, since men with a history of abusive behaviour are more likely to display those behaviours during the partner's pregnancy or in the immediate post-natal period.
Attorney-at-law and women's rights advocate Margarette Macaulay, in an article in this newspaper, cited the need for anti-domestic violence campaigns to help families break the silence. "Domestic violence destroys families because you lose all sense of balance. It is not good to stay in these relationships. Women need to learn how to protect themselves," she said.
Come March 26-28, the Caribbean Conference on Domestic Violence and Gender Equality (CCDVGE), to be held at the Montego Bay Conference Centre, will address the relative dearth of action on the subject. A distinguished line-up of experts from the Caribbean and the Diaspora, under the leadership of Trinidadian-American social scientist Dr Donna Baird, will share findings from their research as well as provide expertise on treatment and care for both perpetrators and victims. Prominent local psychiatrist Dr Freddy Hickling and psychologist Dr Peter Weller will be among the speakers. Baird, who hosted the conference in Trinidad and Tobago last year, says it is a labour of great concern. The conference has no reliable source of funding and, in a difficult economy, sponsorship is hard to come by. She persists because she is deeply aware of the negative impact of domestic violence on the victims, on the children exposed to it, and on the society as a whole.
The WHO cites as most at-risk, women in lower socio-economic groups, women in relationships with partners who were exposed to violence in childhood, and those accepting of violence and gender inequality. Perpetrators likely suffer some form of antisocial personality disorder, have multiple partners, and are accepting of violence as normal interaction.
Overall, the study says, domestic violence is rooted in notions of women's subordination. Some women even believe physical violence is an expression of manhood and absence of it means he no longer loves or desires her. The CCDVGE and this column argue the contrary — if he beats you, he does not love you. Furthermore, as the nexus to other forms of violence, domestic violence needs to be addressed with greater urgency.
Washington, DC-based scholar, Dr Grace Virtue is a public affairs practitioner, analyses social policy and advocates social justice. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org