(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 23 January 2011)
As you read the following news reports for January, try to find the common thread:
On January 3, a man hanged himself after murdering his estranged common-law wife in Zeelugt, East Bank Essequibo. On January 4, a Guyanese man beat his estranged Guyanese wife in Bom Fim, Brazil (close to the border with Guyana), resulting in her being hospitalised. Also on the 4th, a man was accused of going to his ex-girlfriend’s workplace and threatening to kill her.
On the 7th, a 20-year-old woman was attacked by a total stranger, who mercilessly banged upon her with what appeared to her to be a crowbar. She is now fearful for her life since she believes the beating she received was prompted by her ex-lover, who is a close relative of a senior government official.
On the 17th, a Bush Lot, West Coast Berbice man, who tried to save his sister during an attack by her estranged husband, ended up being stabbed. She was also injured. On January 20, a man’s body was found in a septic tank on the property where his reputed ex-wife still lived. The woman has been arrested.
Did you pick up on the common thread? Yes, all of these reports concern domestic violence, but they do not cover all of the domestic violence cases from the start of the year. There is yet another parallel in these reports – all of this violence was inflicted on women and men after the relationship was ended.
The month of January has not yet come to a close and already there are several cases of domestic violence for the New Year. However, what concerns me is the extremely high rate of those cases in which one or both of the partners left the relationship. According to the Guyana media reports I have been tracking since the start of the year, there have been ten cases of domestic violence.
Remember this is not the total sum of the domestic violence incidents in the country; it is only what has been reported by the media in Guyana. There are likely numerous more incidents that go unreported to the police and/or by the media.
Of the ten cases of domestic violence reported by the media, six involved relationships that had been severed. This is not an uncommon trait in abusive relationships. Once an abusive partner realises the other is going to end the connection, the violence often escalates.
According to Susan G. S. McGee’s article, “20 Reasons Why She Stays, A Guide for Those Who Want to Help Battered Women” on Violence.com, “For battered women who leave the violence is often just beginning. Batterers oftentimes escalate their violence when a woman tries to leave, shows signs of independence or has left.”
The article continued, “Assailants often stalk their partner both during the relationship and after it ends. The batterer’s pursuit rarely ends until he has found a new victim, the victim relocates or the consequences for the stalking are too great. However, some assailants return years later to re-assault or to kill their partners. Assailants are most likely to kill their victims when they believe that she is actually going to leave them.”
Indeed, two of the ten cases reported by the media in Guyana during January ended in death. Three of the ten cases resulted in hospitalisation. Both deaths and two of the three hospitalisations involved relationships that had already been severed. There were also beatings and threats, in which law enforcement and the judicial system were involved.
My point is not that anyone should stay in an abusive relationship, but one must be very smart and plan ahead. Make a safety plan that will arrange a way for a safe exit that does not involve more violence.
Here is a safety plan from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ncadv.com) located in the US:
If you are still in the relationship: Think of a safe place to go if an argument occurs – avoid rooms with no exits (bathroom) or rooms with weapons (kitchen). Think about and make a list of safe people to contact. Keep change with you at all times. Memorize all important numbers. Establish a “code word” or “sign” so that family, friends, teachers or co-workers know when to call for help. Think about what you will say to your partner if he\she becomes violent.
Remember, you have the right to live without fear and violence.
If you have left the relationship: Change your phone number. Screen calls. Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the batterer. Change locks, if the batterer has a key. Avoid staying alone. Plan how to get away if confronted by an abusive partner. If you have to meet your partner, do it in a public place. Vary your routine. Notify school and work contacts. Call a shelter for battered women.
If you leave the relationship or are thinking of leaving, you should take important papers and documents with you to enable you to apply for benefits or take legal action.
Key to the success of protecting those who are leaving abusive relationships is a system of shelters in which the victims can find safety. This is yet to be developed in Guyana, though the need for it is obviously overwhelming. Perhaps in revamping the Domestic Violence Act of 1996, we will see the introduction of more shelters.
Until then, victims should be ready to find a safe place on their own. The statistics in just the few short weeks of this year are too high to leave your safety to chance.