Domestic Violence in Barbados: Who will protect the victim?
Barbadians were in shock after the murder of another one of our women. She was killed in the most brutal manner, the details will forever bring a chill to all Barbadians. The pain felt by her family and close friends will most certainly remain for years to come. Worst yet that she suffered at the hands of her husband, a man who vowed to love, cherish and protect her.
I knew the perpetrator of this violence, as did many of those in my social circles. Though we were not close in recent times, I could not help but take to social media platforms to try to figure out one central question... How did it get to this? I made a call out for persons to act in any way they could. The following account was sent to me. The person asked to remain anonymous. It is written by the victim and this post only serves as a channel for her voice. It had been sitting, unpublished, for a long while... until now.
The Victim's Account
"I was motivated by a sympathetic friend to publicly agitate against critical and underpinning factors surrounding the domestic abuse I suffered, because, as my friend pointed out, who better than me to articulate these wrongs in hopes that my voice might lead to some positive change for women who tend not to ‘speak’ as loudly as I do.
While I continue to manage the effects of the abuse itself, this letter is one attempt at dealing with other elements of my abuse that compounded the damage on to me. I write then to diffuse and redirect the anger and humiliation I still feel eighteen months later over these factors into a positive force. It is my hope that my experience will highlight weaknesses in the system, that they might be addressed, in order that other women can still believe in the security and justice of the police force and the judicial system – especially at a time when they might not believe that anyone else can save them.
While the outline of my abuse is necessary in relating the incidences that have led to this letter, the details are not relevant to my objective and have therefore been largely omitted:
After months of progressively frequent and worsening emotional and verbal abuse, peppered with sporadic threats and physical abuse, my then husband came home intoxicated vandalized the house and my possessions and battered me in front of my two sons. It was this night, that I finally had the fortitude to end my marriage.
The police, at my request, visited my home that morning, in order that I may file a complaint. While I wanted to document the event, in preparation for the certain abuse that was to follow, I did not have the courage to file official charges. I was concerned about the impact having their father arrested would have on my sons, but more so, I was afraid of the further anticipated backlash I might suffer at the hands my husband. There is an expression I hold close, ‘you can’t keep the police in your back pocket’. I recalled the many accounts in the newspaper of men abusing women - the small fines or negligible jail terms they received and the months between filling a complaint and being convicted.
Who would protect me?
Living now alone (having packed his bags and put him out), in the middle of nowhere, with my two young boys, I was scared that if I did charge him with the offense, I would be opening up another avenue of anger and now retribution. My priority was to deal with the immediate issue at hand. Leaving my husband and being safe and ironically, from the onset, our legal system did not make me feel safe.
As anticipated, the terror began - from that July night till it crescendoed in February the following year and then eventually tapered off when he found a ‘new woman’ to direct his energies at. While the physical abuse during this period was occasional, this ‘occasionality’, in combination with the constant barrage of threats and verbal abuse, served as a clear and ongoing reminder that my life was always in jeopardy. I spent months of sleepless nights in absolute fear, with a knife under my pillow and a cutlass next to the bed – waiting.
The abuse climaxed a Friday night in February 2008. Minus the details that, to this day, make me uncomfortable in discussing, he returned to the home, intoxicated, physically assaulted me over a period of seven hours and finally raped me.
I called the police. As I recounted the events of the night, what I recall most of this dialogue, was that it seemed very important to the police that I understand that I was not ‘raped’. Rape, two officers, made clear for me that morning, could not take place between a man and a wife, and unless they were separated a period of one year (it was seven months) and therefore legally separated, rape did not exist. As it were, we were still man and wife. Admittedly, while it was as hard for me to be subjective that morning, as it is still now – the police were not offended by this cruel and violent act, rather they spent their efforts that morning in humiliating me - in diminishing the occurrences of that night to something insignificant and of little consequence, while to me, the events of that night had possibly more reverberations onto my life than any other event of my thirty-three years.
It was also the first time I had ever felt ashamed to be a woman.
I was in the same position as I had been previously – worried that a charge would simply result in a fine, worried that a charge would inflame my abuser. I attempted a different strategy. I went to the doctors. I documented my injuries. I went to court. I made an application for a restraining order. I brought it back to the police station in order that they would serve him.
And then, even while the swelling of my bruises were still subsiding, I was metaphorically struck again. The police officer on duty read the application. He volunteered at no prompting from anyone, to offer to me – and a room full of people, including neighbours and even a colleague – his opinion on the matter; that unless I had been separated for a period of one year, I had not been raped.
Mortified, I left the police station and ruminated on the insensitivities of men. I decided that as I am taking a stance against one abuser, I would not tolerate abuse from another. I returned to the police station and very calmly and rationally, asked the police officer, not in his capacity as servant of the law, but as one human being to another, to please show me some sensitivity.
His reply was that if I had an issue with him, I should direct it to the station sergeant. I left ashamed now not only for me, but for him as well.
My abuser was not served the application for a restraining order for over a month. Despite my very frequent calls to the police station, to the bailiffs, to my lawyer, to Central Police Station, to the court house – despite me providing frequent details as to his whereabouts (he was always very easy to find) – despite my pleads for protection, I did not go to court over the matter until April.
The day of the hearing, I spent hours in the court yard with my abuser. This is hard for me to explain, but I feel it necessary to include in this letter, as an insight into the psychology of an abuse victim and how the relationship between the abuser and the abused is a complex one and should not be hastily misinterpreted. My position had always been to pacify and appease my abuser. I found that this method was the most effective in controlling the situation – and understand as well, that the ‘situation’ was ongoing – nine months at this point. So I was cordial to him that day.
A judge is possibly the most respected position in a society - the top echelon of western civilization, therefore how the judge behaved towards me is of much more significance, than how the police officers did. While the police officers seemed not to take my abuse seriously, neither did the judge – and while it was offensive and humiliating when the police officers did so., it was absolutely devastating when the judge made light of my situation and did not offer me the protection I had literally begged for.
The judge made a quip about how I seemed friendly with the abuser. He had the gall to commit to paper the following restraining order (and I still have a copy): He shall refrain from beating, threatening, abusing or otherwise harassing me for the period of one year!
Are these not my rights as a citizen of Barbados EVERYDAY, ALWAYS?!? Are these not my rights under the Charter of Human Rights?
Further compounded, the judge emphasized (twice) that should I wish to dissolve the restraining order, it would be a simple undertaking. Waive being beaten? It was almost inconceivable that a judge could issue such a statement.
The restraining order was devastating – maybe as devastating as the abuse that warranted it. My ex husband was an ignoramus, but the judge, someone who should have known better, someone who should have shown me some respect and support and defended what was right and condemned what was wrong - he was heartbreaking.
It was confirmed - I was alone in this.
A couple months into the restraining order my ex-husband showed up drunk in my yard, uttering threats. I called the police. He left before they arrived. On arrival they seemed more preoccupied by the dates on the restraining order – which were improperly noted – than my complaint. They asked that I fix the date error at the police station. They never bothered with my ex.
I want to offer the following advice:
• Women, especially immediately post abuse are not in a position to make a decision with respect to charges. This needs not to be a subjective decision on the part of the woman. A crime has been committed. The male needs to be removed immediately from the household and preferably jailed until the hearing;
• The laws that deal with rape need to be updated to reflect the realities of 2010 Barbados. No woman is a possession;
• Sensitivity training for police officers should be mandatory;
• Women police officers should be assigned to cases of domestic abuse and rape where possible;
• There needs to be a zero tolerance rule when it comes to threats, abuse, breaches of restraining orders;
• Police need to be guided by safety of women and children in their actions and prioritize cases of abuse.
I had left this letter incomplete for many, many months. It is now over two years since I was last abused by my ex husband. He has lived in the US for the last year with a woman. This week he called me to let me know that he was coming home to “push down the house” and “make my life miserable”. And who is going to offer me the support and security I am entitled to? This is a call to support domestic abuse with understanding and action."