Sunday, October 17, 2010

Are you a victim of domestic violence?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 17 October 2010)

There are so many people – men, women and children – who do not want to admit they are in a domestically violent relationship. The myriad of reasons for not wanting to face the truth could include low self-esteem (feeling as if one does not deserve better), feelings of affection toward the abuser, fear of retaliation from the abuser, social expectations to stay within the abusive relationship, financial reliance on the abuser, social expectations to accept the abuse as part of life – and the list goes on.

I am not an expert on domestic violence, but since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in light of the many cases of women who continue to be brutally beaten and murdered, I have been focusing on this topic in hopes of shining a light on the evils of domestic violence.

Are you a victim of domestic violence? Do you think that you might be, but you are unsure? I have gone to Wikipedia to help define domestic violence. Wikipedia is not an authority on domestic violence either, but the following definition will provide the reader with a description adequate enough to help determine whether she/he is a victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse or intimate partner violence, can be broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviours by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation. Domestic violence has many forms including physical aggression (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.

Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm. Physical abuse includes hitting, slapping, punching, choking, pushing, and other types of contact that result in physical injury to the victim. Physical abuse can also include behaviors such as denying the victim of medical care when needed, depriving the victim of sleep or other functions necessary to live, or forcing the victim to engage in drug/alcohol use against his/her will.

Sexual abuse is any situation in which force is used to obtain participation in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity constitutes sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse or mental abuse) can include humiliating the victim privately or publicly, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, implicitly blackmailing the victim by harming others when the victim expresses independence or happiness, or denying the victim access to money or other basic resources and necessities. Emotional/verbal abuse is defined as any behavior that threatens, intimidates, undermines the victim’s self-worth or self-esteem, or controls the victim’s freedom.

Verbal abuse is a form of abusive behaviour involving the use of language. Abusers may ignore, ridicule, disrespect, and criticize others consistently; manipulate words; purposefully humiliate; falsely accuse; manipulate people to submit to undesirable behaviour; make others feel unwanted and unloved; threaten economically; place the blame and cause of the abuse on others; isolate victims from support systems; harass; demonstrate Jekyll and Hyde behaviours, either in terms of sudden rages or behavioural changes, or where there is a very different “face” shown to the outside world vs. with victim.

Economic abuse is when the abuser has control over the victim’s money and other economic resources. In its extreme (and usual) form, this involves putting the victim on a strict “allowance”, withholding money at will and forcing the victim to beg for the money until the abuser gives them some money. It is common for the victim to receive less money as the abuse continues. This also includes (but is not limited to) preventing the victim from finishing education or obtaining employment, or intentionally squandering or misusing communal resources.

If you read any portion of this passage defining domestic abuse and now recognize you are being abused, then it is time to start making some healthy choices concerning your physical and emotional well-being. Stop using excuses to diminish the reality of the abuse, like “He only hits me when he’s drunk,” or “I made him mad and deserved it,” or “He just had a hard day,” or whatever rationale you attempt to try to justify the abuse.

If possible, remove yourself from the situation. If you are not in a marriage or relationship with children, there is no reason other than emotional attachment to stay in an abusive relationship. Why would you? Trust me when I say the situation will not get better, it will only get worse – and possibly, far worse.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot leave the abusive relationship, find some help soon. Do not wait until the next abusive outburst, because the next one could be your last one. If the abuser appears to want to stop, get some counselling. There are organisations willing to help you escape the abuse and find a way to live a full and safe life.

Where to turn for help:

The Red Thread is the most recognized NGO dealing with Domestic Violence and a good support for women. The Red Thread is based in Georgetown and does a lot of outreach work. Contact numbers are: 227-7010 or 223-6254

IMRARC (The Irene Madray’s Recreational Arts and Resources Centre) is an NGO located in Cane Grove near the Mahaica/Unity area. Designed as an after-school program, but has been addressing many women’s issues and provide counseling and support. Contact number is: 257-0912

Kids First Fund which is recognized for much of its work with children has also added to the support for many women, and referrals have been made through this program. Located in Georgetown.

Help and Shelter is another group committed to ending gender-based violence and help victims of abuse. Contact numbers are: 227-3454 or 225-4731

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