Domestic violence a deadly virus

 

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Category: Relationships Date: 26 Nov 98


‘Whether you try to avoid it or not, domestic violence is one of the deadliest viruses around. Everywhere you go you can sniff it in the air, like the smell of sweet stale blood’

 

‘Most women are economically dependent on men and half the time they think they deserve the beating because men have conditioned them to think that’

 

I keep telling them, “I’ve done domestic violence to death.” I want to write about other things. Yet it’s inescapable. In this last week, I got an e-mail with a student wanting statistics. I redirected him. I got a phone call from another student wanting a case study. I redirected him.

 

I had forgotten about the girl I had spoken to five months ago on a mobile phone in a car. A friend told me about her on the way to a function, and then asked me if I could persuade her to seek help. She was married to a man who beat her up badly. Her husband had made her a prisoner in the house. He had taken away her passport and driver’s licence. He used to use her as a punching bag after he came home from drinking every night. He had broken her nose and punched her eyes till they were black. I urged her over the static phone to call the Rape Crisis Centre, the Community Police. I told her I could put her on to a good lawyer. She had two small children, a baby and a toddler, and stayed with him for their sake. Then I got a call from my friend. The girl was dead. She and her husband got into a car accident. He didn’t get a scratch on him. She went into a coma and died. He returned to his native country with the two children. A clean end. Except for her, because she lies in a cemetery in Preysal.

 

I thought of her children wanting their mummy in a strange country. It was then my friend asked me to write about her and it was then that I responded that I had done domestic violence to death. Then I was calmly cycling in the gym, minding my own business, when a horrifying burnt face appeared on the screen of the television ahead. The volume was muted so it was like watching a mime. The producers of the show flashed a photograph of her before her husband poured gasoline all over her. She used to be a pretty cheerful looking woman, who bore no resemblance to this freak with a charcoal and bright pink face and no ears in a woman’s suit.

 

The horror continued. Another deeply unhappy looking woman walked on to the set. The subtitles said: “She was shot in the head by her husband.” By the time the woman who was beaten with a log on her head came on, all the women in the gym were looking up to the TV. I looked at their expressions in the mirror. There was a look of helpless sympathy on their faces.

 

Whether you try to avoid it or not, domestic violence is one of the deadliest viruses around. Everywhere you go you can sniff it in the air, like the smell of sweet stale blood. One in four women in the UK and up to 50 per cent of women in Latin America are victims of domestic violence, and if the help lines are any indication it may be just as bad, or worse in the Caribbean.

 

That week, I heard all sorts of strange things which made me believe that men don’t know the definition of domestic violence. One man believes that outside women cause it. Another believes that a man who commits suicide is a victim of domestic violence. For a sex which spends so much time practising this crime, they seem to know nothing about it! (Ninety-five per cent of batterers are men.) And many women, too, feel responsible for it. They believe they deserve their lashings, and that if they only do better, the beating will stop. What most of them don’t know is that the violence has nothing to do with them. It has to do with the fact that most men are not taught how to communicate with words. In difficult or painful situations where they feel bad about themselves they lash out with violent language and deeds.

 

So I thought it time that I find a definition. I couldn’t get hold of the Domestic Violence Act because they’ve run out at the Government Printers and besides, I hear that it’s being revised. So I cobbled together a definition.

 

OK, it’s called DOMESTIC violence because it takes place in the home. Now violence has many definitions. It’s not just about hitting and setting women on fire and breaking their teeth, but it also takes many other forms, so ordinary that most women don’t know it’s happening to them. This includes verbal abuse, curtailment of freedom, and actions and words that destroy women’s self-esteem. So women, every time your spouse or boyfriend keeps up a tirade telling you how hideous you are, how stupid, what a bad cook, how useless, that is also a form of domestic violence.

 

The myth one hears the most often is, “If women didn’t nag, men wouldn’t have to shout, intimidate, threaten or beat them.” It’s so dumb that it isn’t worth addressing. But since so many men and women think like that, I feel it’s a duty and an obligation to write about it AGAIN. (I told you I’ve done this topic to death and I am sick of it.) My response is that, “If your four-year-old nagged, should you hit her over the head, break a couple of teeth and then blame her for nagging?” Or “if an old woman irritated you, is it ok to beat her and leave her for dead?” “Would you say then it was ok for a young mother to slap a baby about because she is cranky?”

 

The point is, and I’ve said this so many times that I am sick of it, that it is shameful and cowardly for anybody to raise their hand on anybody who is weaker. So women shouldn’t do it to a wheelchair-ridden man, men shouldn’t do it to women; bigger girls shouldn’t hit little boys. The other thing you keep hearing is, “If she was so scared why did she come back? Why did she not call the police? Why didn’t she leave?” The answer is most women are economically dependent on men and half the time they think they deserve the beating because men have conditioned them to think that.

 

Attorney Roberta Clarke has an answer to that: “For battered women, it’s more like slow burn before they respond. Battered women show symptoms of learned helplessness, an ambivalent attachment to the abuser, and a distorted sense of alternatives to their situation.” Victims of domestic violence must remember two rules. One is that it never gets better. Two, you always have options. Call friends, family, your church group, the Rape Crisis Centre, Community Police and get out while you can. Find out your legal rights. Educate yourself about it.

 

All of us, without exception, know either a victim or perpetrator and we have a duty to reach out and help, which is why I’m writing this yet again, but I tell you I am sick to death of it.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur