My friend Sarah was in the kitchen cooking her favourite lunch using her grandma’s recipe when her boyfriend of six months approached and barked, “If you can’t cook the way I taught you, then your food will be fed to the dogs and I will take away all the groceries I brought home yesterday. Stupid idiot!”
If you know domestic abuse firsthand, then you know the fear and of wanting to do exactly as is told. Whether it is more emotional abuse, being left without food for a week or a fist to the body, you know there will be a price for you saying “no.”
Most people in these scenarios prefer to remain silent about the issue and pretend it does not exist. What also deters them is their perception of how others may view them and the shame, embarrassment or fear of the abuser causing further harm.
Many people in our society are unaware of the signs of what is considered abusive in relationships, some ignore the red flags as they desperately search for love and acceptance and for others, getting out of the relationship could meant death.
While many may associate domestic violence with physical violence, the Domestic Violence Act of Trinidad and Tobago (1999) broadened its definition which is stated as follows: “Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional or psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, any other person who is a member of the household or dependant.”
Some facts to consider about abuse:
• Usually, abuse takes place behind closed doors.
• Abusers deny their actions.
• Abusers blame the victim.
• Violence is preceded by verbal abuse.
• Abuse damages your self-esteem.
• The abuser needs to be right and in control.
• The abuser is hypersensitive and may react with rage.
Warning signs that signal you are in an abusive relationship
• Your abuser checks on you all the time to see where you are, who you are with, what you are doing.
• They try to control where you go and who you see, and get angry if you don’t do what they say.
• They accuse you of being unfaithful or of flirting.
• They isolate you from family and friends, often by behaving rudely to them.
• An abuser will do everything they can to lower your self-esteem or make you feel defective in some way. They put you down, either publicly or privately, by attacking your intelligence, looks, mental health or capabilities.
• They constantly compare you unfavourably to others.
• They blame you for all the problems in your relationship, and for their violent outbursts.
• They say things like, “No one else will want you.’’ If you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave.
• They yell or sulk, and deliberately break things that you value.
• They threaten to use violence against you, your children, your relatives or a pet.
Physical and sexual violence
• They push, shove, hit or grab you, or make you have sex or do things you don’t want to do.
• They harm you, your pets or your family members.
• They brainwash you and make you question your own sanity or the reality around you.
• They attempt to make you doubt your own perceptions, memory and sanity.
Things you might feel in an abusive relationship
“My partner isn’t violent all the time—they love me”
Your partner may act lovingly towards you by surprising you with gifts or take you out to dinner after a violent episode. These gestures will play on your emotions and you will have mixed feelings about what occurred making it increasingly difficult to remain upset or angry. Remember, abusers can be incredibly charming, especially if they’re trying to make you or others see them in a good light.
“Things will get better—I didn’t mean it.’’
After a violent episode, both parties attempt to make excuses, apologise, and make promises to change or simply downplay what occurred. Things might settle down for a bit, but it’s often only a matter of time before it happens again. It’s very difficult to eradicate physical abuse in relationships, and any abusive behaviour, without professional help.
“Maybe it’s my fault’’
You may begin to think that you’re to blame for your partner’s abusive behaviour. An abuser may excuse their behaviour by saying something like, “It wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t…’’ The truth is that no matter what you do, another person’s abusive behaviour is never your fault.
“I’m scared of what will happen if I leave them’’
It’s not unusual to feel afraid of leaving the person who’s abusing you. You might feel unsafe, or scared of what the person might do to you or themselves. You might also feel that you aren’t capable of making it on your own. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you every step of the way.
Who can you contact if you are a victim of domestic violence?