Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Let the healing process begin

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 24 November 2010)

I have written much on the issue of domestic violence in the last couple of months. It is a topic that needed to be highlighted because of the direct impact it is having on society. Tomorrow is the big event “Break the Silence, Say No to Violence” at the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC) ground, Bourda, and it feels to me like the start of a new era.

I walked in the Rights of the Child (ROC) march last Sunday and as we chanted our way from Bank of Guyana to the seawall, it felt as if there has been a definite shift in the way people are viewing domestic violence. And it felt good. It feels like the healing is about to begin.

We chanted through the streets, “Real men don’t hit!” and “Stop the abuse, there’s no excuse!” There was a solidarity in that group, comprised of both women and men, that was extraordinarily powerful. It was a large group and it was encouraging to see so many young people taking a stand for this cause. It was obvious that they are in this fight to see a safer life for themselves and their neighbours, too.

To be sure, healing is needed. Years of domestic abuse and victimisation have altered the psyche of the people as a whole so that even if a person has not been exposed directly to domestic abuse, the indirect results will still touch that person. Yes, healing needs to happen, not just for individual victims and survivors, but for the entire country as well.

Imagine the change that can be brought about when so many people in the country start to heal and are able to shed the anger, fear, vengeance and intimidation. Once upon a time, I was told this struggle against domestic violence was in vain. I was told this is the way it is and it will not change. Now I am being told there is hope for change.

One of the questions I am often asked is how does one define “domestic violence.” As such, I am restating the following definition from a previous column.
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 behaviours 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.

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 behaviour 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.

Come to the rally tomorrow and be a part of history as Guyana takes a stand together in unity against domestic violence. It is my hope that we can fill the renowned cricket ground with as many voices as possible to Break the Silence and Say No to Violence.

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