This is the third part of guest writer, former Senator, Davida Morris’s discussion about domestic violence, following on from the news of the Centre Against Abuse having to close its shelter some weeks ago.
In this third installment on domestic violence (DV) I am responding to the rest of Mike’s questions regarding the messages around DV and the social impact it has.
In the last few weeks DV has taken centre stage, not just in Bermuda but in the US too, with the Ray Rice physical abuse incident.
In an effort to find the good in a really messed up situation I can only hope that these incidents spark conversations and education around DV and abuse so that no one has to go through such a horrible ordeal.
Because the safe house is (was) there, are we sending a message to the bullies that someone will look after them – so keep abusing?
Not at all.
Abusive men don’t want the shelter to exist. The shelter is a refuge, escape from their abuse and brings light where the abuser doesn’t want it.
Abusers will keep abusing until they are forced to stop.
The real message the safe house sends to abusers is that no matter how hard they try to isolate the victim from their friends and family there is somewhere for abused women to go to escape their torment.
If we let the shelter close and do not fight to keep it open, then we are saying that this behaviour (abuse) is acceptable, we are saying that we don’t care what happens to the abused, we are telling abused women that they must accept that this is their lot in life.
Are we saying that the message about abuse has failed totally or in part? Why? What causers that failure?
I don’t think the message about abuse has failed, although it may need to be repackaged, updated, modernised and said a little bit louder and more often from more people.
Abuse takes many forms and can change in how it’s presented, so where most think of hitting and slapping as abuse, they may not consider isolation or control over one’s phone as abuse. If we, as a community, are not educated on what to look for then we can miss the signs.
Unfortunately, getting the message can be difficult.
Charities, at the end of the day, are a business that runs on a different model.
Bermuda is not the only country where charities have suffered because of the global economic downturn. Living in London and working in the charity sector I can tell you the money is not there like it used to be.
This can force difficult decisions, like promoting yourself versus rent, or services versus salaries.
It’s especially worse if your charity isn’t for a particularly sexy or ‘exciting’ cause.
We cannot expect charities to do all the work however. Everyone must play their role.
Parents must tell their children that abuse is not right and not acceptable. My mother drilled into my sister and me (among other things) that if a man hits you once, you leave and don’t look back. No second chances.
So the one time a male had the brazen nerve and poor sense to lay hands on me, I put him in his place. Outsider of my life.
The Church has a role to play. Extended family members, friends. Talk about abuse!
We can’t sweep the issue under the rug or act like it’s not our concern. When we do that, that’s when the message fails.
When the community refuses to talk about abuse, when we refuse to spread the message, then the message fails.
Do we have strong enough legislation and police powers to deal with it?
When looking at the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act 1997 [PDF], the legislation governing domestic violence and abuse, I feel on first glance it’s okay but could be updated and broadened.
Currently the law lists physical, sexual and psychological abuse. While they are the more common forms of abuse there are other forms of abuse that should be mentioned and made illegal.
I need more clarification on whether the police can arrest a perpetrator of abuse without consent of the victim, but I do believe that it is something worth including in the legislation or making more clear, as often the victim will not want to press charges.
Would women feel more able to respond at the early stages of a changing relationship if they knew society will not tolerate abusive behaviour, and will remove someone from society quickly if proven?
I think this question should be reworded to:
‘Would perpetrators of abuse think twice about hitting a woman if they knew that they face community ostracism and the full hand of the law most assuredly?’
I’d like to think so.