Running head-first into domestic violence


Running head-first into domestic violence


Friday, January 17, 2020

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This week, the nation once again came head-first with the issue of domestic or intimate partner violence with two different cases of women reportedly losing their lives to men who claimed to love them. The reactions I heard on the road were the standard ones — victim blaming (What did she do?); and abuser shaming (What a wicked brute!)

Stories of deadly abuse are far too common in our society. We have a long history of violence being perpetrated against each other; from our ancestors were taken to these shores we have been battered and have battered. Parents have abused children, children have abused parents, and lovers have abused each other.

Now we talk more frequently about domestic violence and child abuse. As a society we have begun to make steps to change. There have been improvements in attitudes towards domestic violence. More reports are being made to the relevant authorities. Dismissing the situation as “man and woman business” is not the only response any more. But we still have a long, long way to go.

A few years ago I was in conversation with a young woman who told me about an incident. Her son came to her and told her something awful: “Mummy, I could hear it. I could hear him hit her, and I heard when she stopped herself from crying out.”

Her teenaged son had witnessed their neighbour's man-and-woman business. The mother wasn't sure what to do at first. She confided in me that, initially, she wanted to tell her son that it was none of their business, especially as this was a neighbour she was not particularly friendly with. She didn't know the woman, but she knew the man. She spoke to a friend of the man, asking him to intervene and talk with the male neighbour.

She also found the courage to talk to her son. Thankfully, that was the sort of relationship they had. She told me, “I am not going to raise an abuser. I am not going to have some woman's daughter cry.” She didn't find the courage to tell him, though, that she had suffered at the hands of a lover in her younger days.

There is still an amount of shame in being a victim. There are still too many occasions in which the victim is blamed. It doesn't matter what was done, no one deserves to be belittled, battered, bruised, or buried. We are getting better at believing the victim. I don't think we are doing as well in figuring out what to do about the abuser.

One of the deadly incidents of this week gave us chilling insight to the warning signs. A friend of both victim and perpetrator spoke out. The friend said for about two years she would sit and talk with the couple. The relationship was rocky, but they always seemed to reconcile. On more than one occasion she related that the man would say “Mi will kill her.” She had heard it so often, that it had the “Chicken Little effect”.

Chicken Little warned that the “sky is falling, the sky is falling”. Sadly, on Monday of this week the man carried out the threat.

Quite a number of domestic violence cases have ended up as a murder-suicide. Some looking on will say, “I glad him dead.” They want to be rid of the problem. If the abuser is still alive then the usual response is for brutal treatment to be meted out to him. Of note, yes, there are female abusers too.

Very often when friends and family come across a troubled relationship they are told to seek counselling, try and work it out. Several organisations and groups have worked to help victims gain the courage and strength to walk away and hopefully start a new life as a survivor. The harder question is: What can be done for the abuser? There would be no victim without the abuser. What happens when we know the abuser and it is someone we care about? Can an abuser change?

In 2006 the Anglican Church in England produced a guideline titled 'Responding Well to Domestic Abuse: Policy and Practice Guidelines'. There is a section dealing with the perpetrator. Here are a few of the tips:

• Do not allow them to use religious excuses for their behaviour.

• Do name the abuse as their problem, not the victims/survivors. Tell them that only they can stop it and seek assistance.

• Do assure them of your support in this endeavour.

There is more to the document and it is worthy reading. While that document puts the issue within a religious context, and for an individual who would have gone through some training in mediation and conflict resolution there are steps that family members and friends can take when they suspect or know of an abusive relationship.

An article I found online suggests the following:

• Tell the abuser that their behaviour is their responsibility. Don't be judgemental.

• Never argue with an abuser about their abusive actions. Recognise that confrontational and argumentative approaches may make the situation worse and put an abused woman at higher risk.

• Call the police if the woman or children's safety is in jeopardy.

The Jamaican police have said that a bystander can make a report. They will do the follow-up. Be brave. Taking action can save a life.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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