Nobody goes on a second date if, on the first one, they got slapped around. The woman (it is more often a woman) does not realise that they are in an abusive relationship until it is late.
The abuser sets the honey trap, seducing the unsuspecting victim into believing that he or she is with the only person that cares for them. Then the violence begins, not randomly as when on the streets. You are in love, but ‘who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?’ Your partner’s goal? Total control!
Daily you are being watched, and gradually a sense of dread overcomes you. It is not just the random slap anymore. It is the constant terror of what can happen and what could take place. It is the perpetual state of fear triggered by the tightening noose robbing you of freedom. It is not knowing when or why the next outburst of rage would happen.
Your lover becomes the biggest threat to your existence. Every move is monitored and accompanied by intimidation since violence enforces control.
In public, you wear forced smiles and appear as the perfect couple. Nobody knows what happens behind closed doors. But those pictures of romantic bliss make you, even more, a prisoner of ‘love’.
The tragedy is that your country has long accepted intimate partner violence as a norm. Since 1895, the Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been established. Successive Heads of State have been its patrons.
On the other hand, in 1970, Sparrow’s Philosophy was ‘every now and then; you have to knock them down’.
Singing Francine found her voice in 1976, urging the sisters to run away. In the early 1980s, we got our first shelter for abused women. The Domestic Violence Act was first passed in 1991! Progress is tearfully slow.
Society places a set of impossible demands on the man. He is not supposed to cry but be strong; never show emotions. He must always be in charge.
This ‘macho man’ notion makes life sometimes deadly for women but dangerous to men themselves. If a woman abuses a man, would anyone believe him? Who wants to be a ‘soft’ man?
Why can’t we run away? Because we are choosing to ‘live’ even though some may die. Our local experience is that women try to leave many times before the final break.
Quitting the relationship is a most dangerous thing; you could die unless you have good support. Social expectations and unequal economic status are virtual chains. Even if you get a job, there is still no guarantee of freedom. The abuser would monitor your work schedule and stalk you.
The cell phone becomes a leash to keep tabs and to threaten you. It reinforces the control and power imbalance. The man can check the woman’s phone, but the reverse is not always true. He minimises the messages’ intent on his phone but gets angry and jealous for the most innocuous contact on her phone.
The man can ‘horn’, but the woman can lose her life because of a text message. God forbid that she should persist in further questioning.
The motivations for violence differ with the gender. When men use violence, it is a means of control or to invoke fear. Most often, a woman engages in violence to escape and protect herself from future acts of violence. When women perpetrate violence as an act of control, their family background and traumatic lives often resemble those of male perpetrators.
Because of these circumstances, the media must not act as a justifier of the violence. When the media focuses on the man’s occupation and makes no mention of the woman’s work, it attributes respectability and reaffirms his masculinity. When its pictures show differential in dress, it assigns power to the well-dressed.
They should be asking, who has the power in the relationship?
When the media raises no question about the man’s propensity to misogynistic violence, it is a party to the misleading narrative: ‘what she do?’
We cannot ‘fix bad individuals’; we have to fix the political systems that underfund the social safety net. We have to change the way we evaluate the stories of the survivors.
Even in the most private settings, survivors can find it hard to talk about their experiences. They have to overcome feelings of shame and denial. Separating themselves from the abuser is hard.
When facing the jury, how can they tell the story of inflicted terror? How can they be convincing when brutality has been their perpetual companion?
Tell me, what’s love got to do with this?