Domestic Abuse in Jamaica: A First Hand Reality
The recent domestic violence occurrences that have escalated into murder suicides are a tell-tale indication of the issues that we are struggling with as a nation with regards to mental health and strategic domestic violence intervention.
A couple years ago I started a blog, a year ago I wrote a story, a personal account of my experience of domestic violence and abuse. The response from women in Jamaica and within the diaspora indicated that a vast number of Jamaican women suffered from some variation of post traumatic stress disorder, remnants of domestic, sexual and emotional abuse.
How do we go about assisting individuals in fragile relational situations without encroaching on the lines of privacy and freedom of choice?
How do we help women and men in these situations to continue their lives after cases of abuse?
It is clear that these murder-suicides affect the entire community. How do we propose to get the community involved with helping couples to deal with their conflicts and to encourage healthy exit strategies when a relationship is no longer working out?
From my personal experience, I know that domestic violence and abuse in relationships is layered. I also believe our police force does not know (no fault of their own) how to effectively deal with these situations when they arise.
I know that women are often embarrassed and ashamed to get external forces involved, sometimes confused about whether they want to stay or leave. I also understand that support systems are often warped and in laws play a crucial role in stemming violence by their male relatives.
I recall my first visit to the police station after my ex attacked me, his mother’s response was “see what you caused!”, she was upset that I was trying to send her son to prison and she could not see that her boy was trying to kill me and that I was only defending myself by reporting him to the proper authorities.
I was made to feel ashamed, wronged that I had reported him to the police, I often ask myself if it was better if I had allowed him to stab me to death, beat me or blackmail me. I felt as if I had betrayed him. His mother said I brought down disgrace on him. I was traumatized and socially ostracized.
How could I feel wrong about reporting someone that was hurting me? I conceded that my only escape was out of that relationship. I was humiliated too, once police locked him up, our private business became public knowledge. Not only that, the police officers joked about the situation, I was made to feel like a nutcase. I was made to feel as if I was not the victim. As long as it is not a case of life and death, it appears the police officers’ response to reports of domestic violence is indifference.
One police officer told me that “women are stupid and always putting themselves with these careless niggas”, that he was not going to send up his pressure over them. “ Cause them nah leff”.
Then there is the issue of mental illness among our people and how we go about protecting our most paramount resource, the human capital. Mental illness is not taken seriously in Jamaica, it is often stigmatized or misdiagnosed with reference to superstition and obeah.
Schizophrenic victims walk on the road, mumbling gibbers and family members claim “someone obeah them” I remember when a young man hunted his pregnant girlfriend with a knife, his mother said “A people set him so”, when it was clear from my observation that the young man had serious psycho-emotional issues.
How do we move forward with these issues? What if paying more keen attention to our mental faculties could solve our crime situation? I am often of the opinion that these men who rape and kill children are facing deep psychological impairments. And then there are other issues which require certain questions to be answered such as: can the government afford these mental rehabilitative programmes and initiatives? Will our people respond by using the various avenues available for counseling and therapy when psycho-emotional issues burden them?
Ask anyone who has been depressed or otherwise distraught, and they will tell you that it’s like bacteria, it feeds on you. Gnawing away at your resolve until you are too far gone over the edge to come back.
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