Call us survivors, not victims!
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By Rehana Ahamad

WE often associate the word victim with somebody who is perhaps helpless and fragile. As a matter of fact, online dictionaries explain the word to mean, “a person who is tricked or duped.”

“She fell victim to his charms,” one might say. When we think of a survivor, however, we often think of a strong person; a person with the ability to endure and overcome. “She is a born survivor,” is an often-used phrase.

One woman who has been insulted and abused for more than six years takes offence to the term, “domestic abuse victims.” “I am not a victim,” she says, “I am a survivor.”

In order to maintain her peace of mind and safety, the survivor interviewed for this piece requested anonymity, so throughout this story we will refer to her as “Ann.”

Ann and her abuser grew up together; as a matter of fact, they met when he was 10 and she was nine. Their families rented apartments in the same yard; they played together, they laughed together, and they constantly looked out for each other.

As the countryside aunties would say, “dem bin like matee.” Everyone around them knew it, but even though the crush was mutual, they were kids and continued to be just that. Ann lived with her parents and siblings, while her “crush” came from a broken family.

His parents were not around and he lived with a relative. Throughout the story, we’ll call the “crush,” “Brian.” Ann and Brian’s friendship continued for years, but grew even stronger when her parents decided to part ways.

“It came as a surprise to everybody. We didn’t expect it, and I guess he was really feeling sorry for me and we started to get closer.”

Ann believes it was a case of “broken people attracting broken people.”

“He was a school dropout. He did start working and so, while I was still in school. In dem days he used to follow me to school and we started to really [get] close.”

Eventually, the childhood crush turned into strong feelings. The two teenagers had grown to love each other, but their families weren’t in favour of a relationship.
“My mother didn’t like him and he aunty didn’t like me,” Ann recalled.

When she was 17, the two made a bold decision to “run away.” Equipped with just a few pieces of clothing and a few essentials, the two moved into a relative’s house.

Despite having very little, Ann said she and Brian were in love and treated each other well.

“Things were really good with us at that time. We cared for each other,” she reminisced. Eventually, poverty began to cause many problems for the couple. At one point, Brian was unemployed, while Ann had become pregnant.

“Both of [us] were worried and angry about everything. At that time, I didn’t know much about contraceptives and so, so I ended up getting pregnant,” Ann related.

She said things began to get much worse after the baby was revealed to have been malnourished and underdeveloped.

“They said if the baby born, it would be disabled and so,” Ann said. The complicated pregnancy didn’t last. Ann lost the baby. “It was a very hard thing, and a very hard time for us,” she recalled.

Eventually, Ann got pregnant again. They were more financially prepared and despite the “regular ups and downs,” life for Brian and Ann was good. However, it wouldn’t be long before things got ugly.

PREGNANT AND ABUSED

“I was about seven months pregnant and we were in the room arguing. Honestly, me ain’t even remember what the argument was about, but he was on the bed and I was standing up next to the bed; next thing I know, this boy stand on the bed and give me one hard kick to my chest,” Ann recalled shakily.

“I never expected something like this. Like I couldn’t even react; I leff shocked,” Ann said.

In the years that followed, Ann’s “shock” turned into a norm – a regular affair – daily insults and regular slaps, kicks and “cuffs.”

“He was working and he started to go out a lot. He never used to be a drunkard or anything, but he started to go out and sport and come home whenever he felt like and so. I couldn’t say anything,” Ann said.

The young woman recalled that any time she objected to her husband’s lifestyle, her punishment would come in the form of heightened abuse. Apart from the physical abuse, Ann said she also suffered years of emotional trauma as well.

“After my baby was born, I gained some weight and he used to always be telling me that I look ugly and making me feel bad about myself…cussing me about my stretch marks and so. He used to always tell me that he is the only man who would ever want me and at that time, I used to believe,” Ann related.

“At one time, I didn’t even go to the clinic to get my son vaccinated, because my skin was always black and blue,” Ann recalled. The day she finally mustered courage to cover up her bruises and go to the clinic, was the day a nurse decided to scold her for her “carelessness and neglect.”

“She started shouting at me for not taking the child to get the vaccines and like I was going through so much that day, I just break down and start to cry,” Ann told this newspaper.

Even though Ann’s situation had worsened, she was too embarrassed to seek help.

“I ran away. My mother warned me and said that one day I gon gotto run back to her, so I didn’t want to let her know. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction,” Ann explained.

It took a few years before the battered and bruised young woman reached her breaking point. It wasn’t due to her abuse; it was because her son had also become his father’s target.

“He would come home, sometimes drunk and when something bothering him, he would play like he play-fighting with the child and he would hit this child hard.”

The young mother then recalled the incident that changed her life forever.

“It was when he pulled a knife and put it to my child neck. That was it for me. That was when I really mek up my mind that this can’t go on,” Ann told this newspaper.

She said the incident stemmed from a conversation she had with her husband, when she signalled her intention to leave the relationship.

“I know he had a hard life, and we had a hard life together too, and I really care for him, so I didn’t just want to leave him just like that, so I started to give him hints and so.”
On the day of the incident, Ann said she told her abuser directly that she had reached a breaking point and was no longer prepared to stay in an abusive relationship.

“When I tell he, he laughed and walked into the kitchen. I wasn’t really worried. Next thing I know, he grabbed my child and put a knife to the child neck. He asked me where I think I going, and if I really feel I could leave,” an emotional Ann reflected.

THE ESCAPE PLAN

It wasn’t long after that when Ann started to craft her “get out” plan. She had a good job and started to save money to ensure that she had the means of taking care of herself and her son.

“That was when I finally started to reach out to people, and a lady I knew offered me a place. I am a person, I don’t like asking for help, so I made sure I had money and so to pay a rent,” Ann noted.

After all was in place, the young mother made her move.

“A morning before he left for work, I just give he a kiss and tell he that I love he. When he gone, I call the canter right away and I throw all my stuff in some garbage bags. I didn’t take any of the things that we buy together. I just took my things; the things that I bought with my money,” Ann said.

The move was successful, but Ann was still not safe. Brian showed up to her place of employment where he threatened to kill himself if she didn’t return.

“Even though I care for him and so, I couldn’t go back. After the things that he did to my child and so, I couldn’t put my child back into that situation,” Ann asserted.

To get him to leave, Ann pursued legal action and took out a restraining order against her abuser. She is still a little fearful, but Ann says that she is happy and determined to raise her son to be better than who his father was.

MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE

Ann’s advice to women like herself is to maintain independence.

“When an abusive man buying everything and got to provide everything for you, he would use that to control you. The first thing to do is understand that you don’t deserve whatever he is making you think you deserve. You deserve better, and you have to give yourself better, so try to get a job and streamline yourself,” Ann encouraged.
She also advised women to confide in people, “family, friends, strangers…anybody. People are going to help.”

CALL US SURVIVORS!

Reflecting on her journey, Ann said she has always been annoyed by the fact that survivors of domestic abuse are referred to as “victims.”

“We are not victims,” she said, “I have never seen myself as being fragile, or weak. I am a strong woman. I survived an abusive man. I SURVIVED that, so I want them to call us survivors, not victims!” Ann demanded.

Ann told her story just as Guyana and the rest of the world observe 16 Days of Activism in observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls.

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