Elimination of violence against women…Former battered woman offers source of strength
Stabroek News – November 25, 2005
By Oluatoyin Alleyne
As the world recognises today as the day designated for the ‘Elimination of Violence against Women’ many women will still be finding excuses for bruises on their bodies while some others will be trying to conceal them.
Some will think of the many times they packed up and left home in an attempt to escape the brutality of their partners. Some may be nostalgic about the short reprieve they gained and angry at themselves for being cleverly conned into returning.
They may also spare a fleeting thought for the numerous women now six feet under. Some may wonder if that could someday be their fate.
Guyana is one of the countries where violence against women is still largely viewed as a normal occurrence: where it seems okay for a man to slap, cuff, kick a woman to keep her in line. In many cases the women would leave but would return time after time for varying reasons, one famous one being “for the sake of the children”. Some are so totally dependent on the men for their daily bread they are unable to set off on their own and in many instances when they finally decide to do so it is too late as the men driven by some form of madness brutally end their lives.
But there is still hope. Marlene (not her real name), who hopes her story can be a source of strength to abused women who are yet too weak to make the break, is a beacon, having survived two abusive marriages.
Marlene, 43, could certainly say she has “lived through it all”. She ended her last abusive relationship eight years ago and now works with abused women giving them the strength and confidence to realise that they deserve better.
Marlene feels that early childhood tragedies set the platform for the abuse that was to come later in her life.
She recalled that her father died when she was ten years old and her secure life was suddenly thrown into jeopardy. Her mother was forced to look for a job and she was briefly separated from her two brothers.
“From that age things started going downhill,” Marlene recalled. “I was very close to my dad so therefore, I was going through my own trauma dealing with my dad not being there and my mom becoming very busyâ€¦ And because my mom was forced to go out and work to support us she sometimes took out her frustrations by hitting out at me and I felt I was a very bad person.”
As soon as she turned 18, Marlene got married to a man who was 24 years her senior. She said she found out his precise age only on the day of the marriage because, “he was short, he exercised a lot and he looked far younger than 42.
“I think it [the relationship] started where I was looking for that father figure I would have lost so abruptly. I could remember the first time my mom met the individual she said to me ‘You are worth much more than that.’ And my words to her were, ‘Since when you start caring to know that I am worth much more than that?'”
Marlene recalled that her involvement with the man was initially not one where she fell madly in love, but rather she saw him as the person who could protect her from the world. “Out of that need I never knew that there was this ugly face waiting in the form of domestic violence.”
But she recalled that she started to regret the decision to get married early, after she had her first child and saw her peers enjoying their youth.
When they were dating, she said, they went out a lot but once they got married that stopped completely and he became possessive which should have been a warning.
“I couldn’t go anywhere, my one very good friend he hated and she could not visit me. But my mom was always there even though we had problems and she assisted me in getting a job.”
But that created a problem as he did not want her to work and resorted to virtually stalking her at her place of employment. She was forced to leave the job because of his behaviour.
She still remembers the first slap she got shortly after they married when she did not get up in time to make his breakfast.
“It then moved to every weekend we would have fights, then every day, then I would move out of the home and he would come and beg, I would move back then move again and that is how it was for years.”
Marlene said she kept returning to the home because of her son but also because at times she felt she did not deserve anything better.
“I could remember one Christmas Eve Day we were having one of the many arguments and it was over money since he had gambled his out and wanted mine. He slapped me as I was making porridge and I threw it on him and ran away to my mom’s.”
She said she was away from him for about four months, had a new job and lived with her friend. She refused to go back to the home even though he begged constantly.
One day she was shopping at Bourda Market when he attacked her unexpectedly and she was forced to run for her life. “He caught me and started beating me on the road and someone came to my rescue and I ran to my mother’s home. My mom was standing in the yard and he rushed into the yard and I ran; he fired a stick which caught my mom on her hand and up to today my mom cannot fetch heavy objects with that hand.”
For old times sake
All this time Marlene never reported the constant abuse to the police.
Shortly after that incident he visited her friend’s home and told her he understood that she did not want him anymore”. He then begged her to go for a drink with him for “old times sake” and naively she consented. He then cajoled her to visit the home they once shared just for a short while.
“I remember I was taking off my shoes at the door and I barely saw him raising this metal cane to hit me. I raised my hand but I was hit in my head and I remember seeing stars then blood before I passed out.”
She said that a neighbour later told her that she saw them entering the home and after not hearing any sounds she sent her son to investigate as she knew of the constant abuse. The neighbour’s son told her when he knocked on the door her husband pushed his head out and said all was well but as he pushed the door, the neighbour’s son saw blood on the walls and on the floor.
“They said to me that I was in the bedroom lying naked on the bed. Now the last thing I remembered was sitting at the door taking off my shoes. I am not sure what happened after I passed out.”
She was taken to the hospital and she regained consciousness two weeks later.
The matter was taken to court and he was charged with assault. Finally, just about three years after she was married she separated from her husband.
At 21, she was a divorcee with a young son.
After leaving him, Marlene said, to deal with the separation she found herself becoming involved with a number of men before meeting the second man she married who was just one year her senior. He had also been married before.
She said this relationship was also very abusive but she remained with him for 17 years. She bore him two children in the process. During this time, she said, he got an opportunity to leave the country and later sent for her. “He was very controlling and demanding, but he was a very good provider. We had no friends it was like just me and the children in our own little world and a part of me wanted more than just that.” This created more problems, she said as he would beat her, “if I smiled, if I did not smile. I could not visit my relatives; I could not go to church because he felt I would have met a man in church. It started to get worse when I found a job, he did not want me to work. One morning I was going to work and he grabbed me on the road and I fell to the ground and he was kicking me until someone stopped him.”
At that point they were not yet married.
She said the abuse worsened when she left Guyana, but he allowed her to get a job. For a while he did not beat her because from work she went straight home and stayed there all the time, but as soon as she started to going to church he started to beat her again.
Proposal with a slap
“I could still remember the day he asked me to marry him. I told him I did not think I was ready for it and he out his hand and gave me one slap. Within the same second I said, ‘yes, yes!’ I really feared him. And soon after we got married.”
The abuse continued and he stalked her at her workplace and at church. “Sometimes he would leave for work then he would come back to see if anyone was visiting. He would do things like check me physically to see if I had any sexual intercourse.”
After a time, with the help of her church members and her husband’s sister, she contacted an organisation that dealt with domestic violence. But though she tried to get him to join the counselling sessions he refused, as according to him, she was the problem. She continued to be counselled and started going to conferences and telling her story anonymously to the media.
The final straw came when one day after he had beaten her for hours, he went to bed and fell asleep. As she watched him, she said, something inside her snapped and she picked up her son’s cricket bat. She was about to bash in his head when a voice in her head told her not to do it.
She said she started to scream and immediately contacted her church pastor and she told her she had to get away.
That day she started to plan to leave him and a few weeks later she and her children left one day while he was at work. She got a restraining order, but he soon found out where she was living and set about verbally abusing her, visiting her home, her job and on many occasions embarrassing her.
“It was ridiculous, the separation was worse than when I was at home. But I had very good support and I just decided I was not going back. I filed for divorce. I worked but my mom who was in the US by then paid my rent and everything.”
She said after a while, because he was living in the area where the children were going to school he took them and would take care of them and send them to school hoping that would make her return to him.
About a year after she left her husband, Marlene said, her relatives in Guyana had a crisis which required her presence. It was at that point that she decided to return to Guyana for good. She said her mother agreed to pay someone to look after the children while they lived with her husband.
On her arrival home she decided to complete her education at the University of Guyana, at the same time joining in the fight to stop violence against women.
It has been some years since she returned to Guyana and her daughter has since joined her, while both of her sons still live overseas with her ex-husband.
“I have seen both of my ex-husbands more than once and I no longer fear them. For now I am just concentrating on making a difference, I don’t see myself ever getting married again and for now I don’t want any relationship.”