'No excuse for abuse'


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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IN her presentation at the 75th anniversary conference of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Minister of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange gave a passionate speech in which she addressed the vexing issue of the abuse of females in the Jamaican society. Under the arresting theme 'No excuse for abuse', she spoke of the deteriorating relationship between men and women, the continued abuse of our girl children, and the urgency of protecting our women from abuse.

The issue of the abuse of our women is not new, but what Grange did was to give public voice to an issue which many would prefer to sweep under the proverbial carpet. By boldly speaking to it she has empowered a lot of those who have been so abused not to remain silent anymore and to place the Government of which she is a part squarely on the side of the abused. For too long too many of our womenfolk have suffered the indignity of mental and physical abuse in silence. They have endured terrible beatings at the hands of men who claim to love them, but who have regarded them as mere pawns in an unending game of lust and personal pleasure. And this is not only evident in the lower strata of society but is a plague that runs the whole gamut of society.

Many of the high-profile cases of physical abuse that come to public attention are just a tip of the iceberg of what actually takes place. This is not only true of casual relationships but is a feature of long-term relationships, including marriage. Many women make the calculated decision to stay with an abusive spouse for many reasons, chief among them being economic and staying in for the sake of the children. Some, especially in marriages, stay with an abusive partner out of fear or shame that their relationship could have taken such a vicious turn. Yet, it is precisely because the relationship has taken this path why they should respond to it. But fear and shame can be crippling emotions which keep a woman handcuffed to a man who should long have been exposed and removed and shown the exit.

However it is viewed, there can be no excuse for one partner to abuse another. So the theme 'No excuse for abuse', while very catchy, underlines a fundamental principle that there can be no justification or rationalisation for any person to physically or mentally abuse another, especially a person that one cares to love. Abusive behaviour is never to be tolerated, whatever the justification may be advanced for it.

One of the excuses that has often been given to explain why Jamaican and, by extension, Caribbean men, abuse their women is that the behaviour is part of the legacy of plantation society. The negative impact of slavery, the argument runs, has caused abuse to be hard-wired into the psyche of post-slavery society and has negatively affected our men. But this is an easy cop-out which certainly does not excuse abuse.

There are those who posit environmental factors as conduits of abuse. It is not much different from the argument that once you are from a poor or depressed area you are destined to a life of poverty. Some argue that men who have been abused are destined to repeat a cycle of abuse. While there is some merit to this argument from a psychological standpoint, there can be no excuse here. There is therapeutic help available for those who want to seek it. But many abusers, like alcoholics, never admit that they have a problem until it is too late. Still others use Scripture as a justification as they never see their partners as co-equals. A woman must know her place or be made to know it.

There is a great deal of work to be done. Poor parenting and abridged socialisation, coupled with a largely uncaring society, have compounded the problem of creating wholesome and life-enriching relationships. Our men — and the statistics show men as the greatest abusers — have to be helped to the recognition that when they are in a relationship they are not laws unto themselves. For a relationship to be healthy there has to be mutual reciprocity. There can be no dominance of one over the other. There has to be mutual respect for the dignity of each person in the relationship.

But too many men do not see their partners as equals, but as persons to be exploited largely for sexual gratification. In my practice of couples, family and marriage therapy, I have seen that one of the prominent reasons for the collapse of a relationship is that the female is not viewed as an equal in the relationship. This creates a lopsided situation in which she is not treated with respect. Her self-esteem and self-worth are likely to be degraded as she is not seen as a worthy contributor to the relationship. And when she has been so demeaned a man will expect robust sex from her. But sexual dysfunctionality starts long before the bedroom is reached.

There are men who suffer the misguided notion that when they are in a relationship with a woman they “own” the person. She belongs to him and he can have access to her whenever he wills, especially where sexual intercourse is concerned. But our men need to understand that a woman, even in marriage, has sovereignty over her own body. In matters of sexual encounter, when she says “no” that ought to be respected. But some men can never accept that; it is too great a blow to their ego. They must persist in enforcing compliance of their wishes and this is when tragedy often strikes.

There is a great deal of work to be done in furthering education and the conversation about building and sustaining viable relationships. Legislation alone will not do it, even though we recognise the importance of legislation in restraining the heartless among us. Minister Grange has done a good thing in publicly addressing it. We hope the ball will not be dropped.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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