By Dennis Nichols
Less than two weeks ago, and in the space of four days, two women were murdered by their husbands. (One reputed) Such horror has become a virulent trend in Guyana.
The following poem written by a woman named Paulette Kelly, prefaces today’s story, and will likely resonate with every victim or survivor of domestic violence, including those who stay in abusive relationships for the sake of ‘love’, marriage, children or whatever it is that keeps them trapped in what we call toxic relationships. Its title is “I Got Flowers Today”
“I got flowers today. It wasn’t my birthday or any other special day. We had our first argument last night. He said a lot of cruel things that really hurt me. I know he was sorry and didn’t mean the things he said. Because I got flowers today.”
“I got flowers today. It wasn’t our anniversary or any other special day. Last night he threw me into a wall and started to choke me. It seemed like a nightmare; I couldn’t believe it was real. I woke up this morning sore and bruised all over. I know he must be sorry. Because he sent me flowers today.”
“I got flowers today. It wasn’t Mother’s Day or any other special day. Last night he beat me up again. And it was much worse than all other times. If I leave him what will I do? How will I take care of my kids? What about money? I’m afraid of him and scared to leave. But I know he must be sorry. Because he sent me flowers today.”
“I got flowers today. Today was a very special day. It was the day of my funeral. Last night he finally killed me. He beat me to death. If only I had gathered enough courage and strength to leave him, I would not have gotten flowers today!”
Too often, death is the deliverer that frees women (and occasionally men) from intimate partner violence, or IPV. It shouldn’t be. ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ isn’t just a phrase in the US Declaration of Independence. It is a universal right that should be protected in every country and community; taught in every home and school. Some will say this is already the status quo in civilised societies but statistics mocks that assertion.
In America, the trumpeted home of democracy, for example, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reveals that on average 24 people are victims of physical violence, rape, or stalking by an intimate partner every minute. Let that sink in – in a country that prides itself on upholding the notions of justice and equality including its advocacy of women’s rights, and where, of course, women comprise the majority of casualties.
Globally, the United Nations, in a 2018 report, noted that 137 women were killed daily by intimate partners or relatives. The emblazoned caption read ‘UN finds the deadliest place for women is their home’. Its Office on Drugs and Crime said about 87,000 women and girls were killed worldwide the previous year, with more than half of them succumbing to domestic violence. To make matters worse, it stated what most of us know – that incidences are almost universally underreported to authorities.
Again, most of us know the reasons why some women endure abuse without retaliating or seeking help. Fear, proverbially, is the key. Fear of fighting back, fear of not being believed, fear of ridicule and reprisal, fear of economic hardship, and fear of being stigmatised. In Guyana, there are countless stories of women reporting domestic abuse to the police, after which a warning, a reprimand, or a restraining order may follow; and sometimes a plea from the abused party not to follow through with a course of action.
The consequences of some of these half-measures are that the abuse continues, until a knife pierces a ‘love-wracked’ heart, or hands that once lovingly caressed become claws that garrote a slender neck. Or worse. Outrage flares. Words of solace, anger, and vengeance tumble over each other, impotent and inconsequential. Then the verbal furor wanes until the next sure-as-the-sun-rises episode unfolds in this endless, badly-scripted soap opera.
In previous articles on the subject of intimate partner violence, I have offered and proffered advice and tentative solutions. Others have done the same, and more. Many of us are tired of the repetitive madness. What more do we say or write? It seems to make little difference. It has come to the point where people like me, who see ourselves as progressive thinkers, throw up our hands and pronounce, at first hesitantly, then with increasing viscerality, the two words we hoped we’d never have to say, “Hang them!” (The perpetrators, after lawful trial of course) The fact that I still generally oppose capital punishment tells how strongly I feel about IPV.
There are tons of data on IPV, in databases around the world. They include the scope, and all the definitions, reasons, conclusions, and tentative solutions thoughtful professionals can come up with. But all the resources; all the meetings and global initiatives, workshops, seminars, resolutions and action plans put forward by hundreds of organizations seem to go only so far. And gains that are made in one area are all but reversed by some new or unforeseen atrocity in some part of the world.
It seems almost pointless to go on about the often-senseless brutality of domestic violence. To what end? Maybe things will get better. Or maybe not.
Eight years ago, a man committed one of the most egregious acts of domestic violence in this country. But not on his wife, although she may well have suffered a fate worse than death. He murdered their three young children while they were asleep in bed. Forty-two years before that, in 1969, a man shot and killed his wife and two daughters then took his own life. I saw one of the girls still in her school uniform with a hole in her side.
Less than two weeks ago, a woman was stabbed to death by her husband as she was putting his clothes out in the yard. I don’t know for how long she had lived in an abusive relationship, or how many times, if any, she had sought to resolve or end it. They reportedly had eight children. She is dead. He appeared in court last Friday. I’ve heard nothing about the children. Had this woman ever received flowers as a symbol of her husband’s remorse over some insult or injury? Oh, and did she receive flowers on her ‘very special day’?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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