Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A terrifying story of domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 26 January 2011)

The fight against domestic violence is a global struggle – and that includes other parts of the Caribbean. I want to share a story from Trinidad and Tobago that is particularly disturbing in both brutality and the continued terrorism faced by the victim, even after she left her abuser and as she is attempting to build a new life for herself.

Shaliza Ali’s first violent encounter with her abuser came very early in the relationship when he tried to prevent her from coming to Guyana for a singing engagement. The physical altercation terrified her, but her situation left her vulnerable and she returned to him. The physical, verbal and psychological abuse continued.

In her own words from a written statement that will be read today in Trinidad and Tobago, Shaliza said, “I endured several episodes of physical violence. He would often enter into severe mood swings and abuse my teenage daughter and myself. On many occasions, my father would have to rescue me as I would either be thrown out of the house, or left stranded in the middle of the highway. My father counted 27 individual times he had to intervene and rescue me from his violent outburst. I faced several embarrassing public outbursts and humiliation in front of employees, clients, business associates and my lawyer and his staff.”

(Shaliza honoured me with an early copy of her statement to write this column.)

Shaliza was feeling broken and fearful. She said, “The final straw came when he placed his licenced firearm to my head and thumped me in my abdomen; I was recovering from surgery at the time. He locked me inside of the house leaving me trapped inside, wounded and suffering from internal bleeding.”

Shaliza discovered as she was leaving the relationship that the abuser had already transferred their business funds out of their joint account and into his account. The statement said, “I left penniless and flat broke. I walked out on assets which included lands, a fleet of high profile vehicles, a well furnished house in Lange Park, several heavy duty tractors, trucks, excavators, rollers and other earth works equipment.

I left all jewellery, books and personal belongings and walked away with the bare necessities.”
Shaliza went into hiding for a period of time, but when she finally re-emerged, the abuse continued. Her abuser continued to stalk her and make violent confrontations – even in public. Law enforcement offered little or no protection.

She also discovered her abuser was not honouring the contractual obligations with their business clients. “I left all assets to him and I expected that he would have done the honourable thing and complete infrastructure works to the outstanding land development projects,” Shaliza said.
She was wrong and yet when lawsuits were made, only she was held accountable. “I did not enjoy the proceeds of these sales nor did I use any of the funds, they were converted and invested by my abuser and he knows what he did with the funds.”

Even without enjoying the proceeds of the sales, Shaliza maintained, “Nevertheless, I … state that I do not intend to leave my obligations unattended. I have been struggling to get back up on my feet financially and I have promised as soon as [I can] I will honour the commitments to those clients who invested in developments where I was the recipient of proceeds from sales.”

However, her abuser continues to terrorise her and attempts to sabotage all her business ventures. Shaliza’s statement said this concerning a restaurant she started, “On two or more occasions, he placed a chain on the two aluminum doors of the restaurant, claiming that we were not opening the restaurant today unless I returned to him. During preparations for a Valentine Day dinner, he barged into the restaurant and started shouting obscenities at my employees. He took a chafing pan filled with hot water and threw it at my daughter. An employee had to restrain him as he brandished his firearm in the air.”

Shaliza walked away from the restaurant in fear of her life and started working in real estate again, but according to her statement, “This has been an uphill struggle, as I have had to face and endure his continuous stalking and predatory behaviour. He has contacted several of my new clients and discouraged them from doing any business with me, making up stories to produce doubt in the minds of several customers.”

However, Shaliza is a strong woman. She has written a book about her experience with domestic violence entitled, “Built by Brokenness.” It is an inspirational journey that would be particularly encouraging for Christian women who need to escape their abuse, as Shaliza uses biblical scripture throughout the book during each phase of her walk through and out of the abuse. I hope Austin’s Bookstore can get some copies.

In spite of Shaliza’s strength, or perhaps because of it, her abuser will not relent. He has used his connection with a Trinidad and Tobago television host to wage a smear campaign against Shaliza and call for a ban on her book from all the bookstores in her country.

The ironic part of this story is that the “offensive” material being used against her is that she did not live up to the contractual business obligations – the very same ventures for which her abuser took the money and never completed. Not a word is being said about his contractual responsibilities though.

Her abuser has done anything and everything to make her life a living hell. But Shaliza is a fighter and today she will be holding a press conference to respond to the ban on her book and the accusations made against her. Will Trinidad and Tobago continue to allow her abuser to inflict harm on Shaliza or will they finally hold him responsible for his abuse? Time will tell…

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