Domestic abuse
One woman’s painful story

Stabroek News
November 3, 2002

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Many observers believe that in the six years since the Domestic Violence Act came into effect, it has had little or no impact on the continued abuse of women and children in Guyana.

The bill was supposed to be a big boost in the fight to stop men from hurting their loved ones, but instead many families have gone unprotected, have been maimed and disfigured and some have even been killed. Some may say that the protection is there but many of these women don’t want to leave. One may well may ask why a woman would want to stay in a relationship that’s abusive. Sunday Stabroek begins a series on women who have survived abusive relationships.

After knowing her husband for so long, Celine (not her real name) got married to her “main man” at the age of twenty-two. It never crossed her mind that the man she considered her knight in shining armour had a deep, dark secret.

Three months after her wedding day the beatings started. The first time was a slap that escalated into cuffs and kicks. She was six weeks pregnant with the first child and her husband was still abusing her. The beatings she received then caused her to be hospitalised twice after her second pregnancy with severe damage to her organs and heavy bleeding patterns, it was then she decided to separate from him.

One year after she left, he came on hands and knees begging and pleading for her to make up with him. Celine made the dreadful decision to go back to her husband and then she found out that life could not get any worse. He had gotten a job out of town and so she moved away from her family and friends.

The first thing, Celine observed when she went back was that her husband was a drug addict something she not known before. She made the mistake of asking him about it, and was told that she has no right to do so and that he has been using cocaine three years before he ever met her. Celine said that after this revelation, the beatings worsened, “blows was shared for no reason at all and for little things, things like a box of matches”.

When Celine got her second child for her husband she received a beating that she describes as “being at death’s door”. Her husband beat her so badly that she fainted. Describing the events of that final beating, Celine said her husband had just come back home from work and went to take a nap. In a split-second something came over her and she picked up an ice-pick, walked up to him and went to stab him in his throat. But in his sleep he moved his hand and blocked his Adam’s apple and the pick went through his hand instead.

Celine said her husband flew up in a rage and started to beat her in full view of her next door neighbour. He rammed her into a wall which had a nail, that went into her forehead causing her to bleed profusely, but apparently her husband saw the blood and got more furious and continued the beating.

Celine said her neighbour’s son was visiting at the time, and wanted to know what was going on. His mother informed him that it was a usual thing and that she [Celine] was such a nice woman and didn’t deserve the treatment. The neighbour’s son, eventually could not stand the beatings anymore and rushed over and intervened, telling Celine’s husband not to hit her anymore and if he wanted someone to beat he should beat him.

Celine said she is eternally grateful to that man, as he is the reason she is alive today because she had already fainted during the beating and was it not for him, she might have died. But Celine’s abuse did not end there.

She was rushed to the hospital, where her chances of survival were considered slim. Her husband, who she said had a very respectable look came to the hospital neatly dressed to see what had happened to her and was standing over her and warning her: “Celine, I am the man, you must remember that, don’t you ever think that you are the man, I am the one in charge.” She said, it was after she started to react to his threats that the nurses realised who he was and chased him out of the hospital.

Upon his arrival home, Celine’s brother was there waiting for him - her eldest son had crossed the river by himself and called his uncle to save his mother. As furious as he could get, Celine’s brother let her husband have it, he was even attempting to kill her husband, when another friend intervened and brought him back to his senses. In a rage at not being able to carry out his actions, her brother resorted to chewing on Celine’s husband’s hand.

Meanwhile Celine said through semi-consciousness, she remembered the nurse asking her to describe her husband and when she did, the nurse informed her that “they [the police] have gotten hold of him”. With a bitter laugh she remembers the police asking if a human being had done it that to her husband’s hand.

Finally after seven years of abuse, Celine packed up her four children and came back to Georgetown to live with her relatives. Thanks to her faith in God and prayers, she has been able to shun her husband’s many attempts to make up.

Reflecting on her life, Celine noted she has had no regrets leaving her husband, even though at the time when she was going through her turmoil, she was thinking about what people would say and how it would look in God’s eyes. She said she has been able to fulfil the dream of having her own home. All her children- with the exception of her eldest child who has followed his father’s footsteps into drugs- are well-educated and she is happy and relaxed living among her children and grandchildren.

Her advice to women who are going through the same thing is “before you stay and die, cut and make life somewhere else, it is not worth the pains and aches. For those who have children, live for them and follow Christ. Christianity has helped me a lot.”

She indicated that there is no excuse for a man to beat a woman and women must be able to stand on their own. They must be able to take care of themselves and their children. Celine has been separated from her husband for many years now but has never gotten a divorce all because she did not know the proceedings of the court and was embarrassed by the judge who was handling her divorce. Since then she has never gone back to the court for assistance but has done everything on her own.

A few months ago, Help and Shelter in collaboration with AHIMSA - a programme for perpetrators of domestic violence in the United Kingdom - started training counsellors to work with the perpetrators of such abuse.

Through a grant from the United Nations Fund for Women, UNIFEM, founder of AHIMSA, Calvin Bell was able to visit Guyana and helped in the launching of the programme. Bell said the programme was developed to train and provide manual help for police officers and social workers to cope with the abusers.

A group of trainees from the probation and welfare department, representatives from GRPA, National Recovery Challenge and Help and Shelter counsellors were trained for two weeks in helping to deal with persons who abuse others and persons who are abused.

The main objective of the programme is the safety of the women. The counsellors have been trained in the theoretical and practical part of the programme in allowing the abuser to accept his problem and learn to deal with.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship
(Information supplied by Help and Shelter)
* when a person is inclined to move between trusting no one to
trusting anyone, and telling all to anyone
* talking at intimate level on first meeting
* falling in love with a new acquaintance
* falling in love with anyone who reaches out
* being overwhelmed by a person - thinking about them all the time at the
expense of other activities
* acting on first sexual impulse
* being sexual for the partner and not for self
* going against personal values or rights to please others
* not noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
* accepting food, gifts, touch, sex that you do not want
* touching a person without asking
* taking as much as you can get for the sake of getting
* giving as much as you can give for the sake of giving
* allowing someone to take as much as they can from you
* letting others direct your life
* letting others describe your reality
* letting others define you
* believing others can anticipate your needs and feeling angry when
they do not
* expecting others to fill your needs automatically
* falling apart so someone will take care of you - and resorting to self
blame and self hatred so as to get attention
* sexual and physical abuse
* abuse of food, drugs, alcohol