I sat in the bus travelling. A young mother asked to alight at the next stop, and as I looked at her she didn’t look alright. She looked rather disturbed and in a hurry.
As she made her way out of the bus, her young son staggered after her through the aisle. Shasha* the lady who was sitting next to me, woke up startled, grabbed the child and then walked him to the door.
Once out of the bus, mom and baby stood there looking quite lost. Sasha, who’d returned to her seat looked uneasy and furious at the same time. “Labda Amerushwa Nje Na Mtoto’ “Maybe She Has Been Thrown Out With Her Child”.
She imagined that the lady had been violently evicted from her house with the baby. This being an unusual train of thought and based on my observation of her reaction, I sought to understand the story behind her anger.
Shasha narrated her story…… She was five years out of her marriage now. The father of her baby had been violent, very violent. They had lived together as husband and wife for four years. He had been exceptionally well behaved before marriage, except one incident when he had slapped her when they were out at a club and had argued. He had apologized at the time.
Two years into marriage, he stopped paying all bills, forced her to get intimate in any manner he pleased, physically assaulted her uncountable times and had open extra marital affairs.
He emotionally abused her using very hurtful words and shouted at her often in their baby’s presence. This left Sasha feeling really worthless. Once a month he would take her and the baby out and buy them everything they needed, treat them like his queen and princess and swear never to hurt them again.
Sometimes he even took them away on weekend getaways that were he fully paid for. Each time he behaved well, Shasha kept hoping that he had changed and even blamed alcohol for his bad behaviour.
She tried to do everything he needed to bring peace. She would go out of her way especially on the days he would come home and not talk to her. Nothing she did was good enough given that he would revert to his old and hurtful ways. She noticed their three year old baby had started wetting herself again, something she had stopped doing a year ago.
Once her father got home their baby would run to the furthest corner of the room and stop playing. She also didn’t understand why their baby girl had become very clingy and would cry uncontrollably when any male adult visited them.
The straw that broke the camel’s back and finally made her leave is when her husband held their little girl and threatened to throw her over the perimeter wall around their house. As this had happened three times that month she was afraid that he would actualize his threat soon.
Once she left this abusive man, she got very ill. She didn’t feel well at all and reported having boarded a wrong bus on several occasions. She felt like she had lost herself and that she was losing her mind too. She relocated house and resigned from a very good job because she found that what she was going through was too much. The hospital she visited had a psychologist who walked her through her depression until she felt better and recollected herself.
I sought to find out the reason why she stayed in this abusive relationship. She had many reasons: she stayed because of their child; she stayed because she loved him and hoped he would change; she stayed because she thought that if she treated him right he would stop; she also stayed because she was afraid he would kill her if she left.
Sasha’s story is not unique and unfortunately not unsual. This happens in very many homes and not just to women, but to men as well. Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse among people in an intimate relationship and it greatly affects the children too.
We often wonder why people stay in abusive relationships and are quick to pass judgment or declare what we would or wouldn’t do if faced with the same situation. The answer is – Violent People Are Not Always Violent.
There exist different stages and at each stage they behave differently. This gives the victim hope that the abuser may change someday.
• These stages are
Tension -The abuser is not friendly, does of want to communicate, is aloof, seems withdrawn. The victim at this stage attempts to do everything possible to calm down the abuser for the sake of peace.
Violence – the abuser extends abuse either verbally, through physical harm, intimate abuse or any other form of abuse that is meted on the victim.
Honeymoon – the abuser repents, promises never to hurt the victim, treats them so well including holidays, gifts and other goodies, feels guilty for having treated them wrong, and tries to rebuild the relationship. This give the victim the hope that it has come to an end and that life will go back to being better.
None of these stages last. They go back and forth and that becomes a vicious cycle.
Domestic violence can be physical – where body harm is inflicted, emotional – where one’s self esteem is brought down, sensual – where one gets intimate satisfaction with another without their consent, and financial where ones partner controls the others finances and wields that over them. People in domestic violence deny that they are in such relationships and most of them keep on hanging on even if it hurts.
It is important to recognize domestic violence and to look out for the following signs that will alert you. Please be aware that it is violence if:-
- You are in fear of your partner and you have to keep watching what you have to do or say in order to avoid a blow up.
- If your partner threatens to harm you repeatedly.
- If your partner intimidates or yells at you.
- If your partner makes you feel you do not do anything right.
- If your partner ignores or puts your opinions down.
- If your partner sees you as more of an intimacy object than a person. What matters as his sensual satisfaction, not how are you feel.
- If your partner treats you so badly that you are embarrassed for your friends and family to be aware of what is happening.
- If your partner makes you account for every penny you spend while they withhold money from you.
- If your partner prevents you from working or choosing your own career.
Domestic violence is a reality. It is not the preserve of a certain type of person and affects many of us in society across the economic divide.
Awareness of what it is and what can be done is scanty and it would be important for all of us to get a better understanding of it. Are you or anyone in your life going through domestic violence?