By DR KENNETH D KEMP
GETTING punched in the eye is a different experience altogether from getting punched anywhere else on the body. Both are deeply painful and incredibly shocking blows to the musculoskeletal system; but a hit to the eye, powered by a mountain of hate and centripetal force, abets long-term physical and mental damage. The ramifications of such a tragedy become even more insidious when those punches are perpetually inflicted by the person you love.
Over the course of her marriage, my patient was both physically and emotionally abused by her husband and on more than one occasion, she was nearly bludgeoned to the brink of death. As she tried to run away, her attacker, the man she vowed to love, cherish and respect forever, the father of her children, would grab and squeeze the back of her neck so forcefully it felt like her neck and head would burst. That was usually just a prelude to what would follow, her head so uncomfortably contorted that her hearing became muffled, and the back of her throat burned.
Then the punches came, like a firestorm of bullets from an AR-15 rifle. Her jaw, her cheek, her eye. It was a heavyweight boxing match and her contender was winning easily. An attempt to block the blows to her face by lifting her arms left her torso unprotected. The knee kicks as she’d be pushed against the wall were particularly horrendous but she opted not to share any further details of the violence inflicted upon her.
She and her husband separated several years ago after her family helped her find the courage to leave him. But this is the extent of what I can tell you about her ordeal because after initially agreeing to share her story anonymously, she abruptly reconsidered out of fear that her former abuser would stop supporting their children. Her fear of him and what he may do continues to control her. Sadly, her situation of domestic abuse is staggeringly pervasive throughout the world and The Bahamian archipelago is not immune.
Parents often tell their children to never open the door to strangers because evil monsters may try to hurt them. But when some young women mature, they either forget or ignore this warning, opening the door to their heart and allowing their heart to overrule any clarity of thought. The monsters are willingly invited in, though initially disguised. Women then seemingly and continuously volunteer to stay in a relationship that breaks them and in doing so invite this wildly indecorous and even life-threatening behaviour to persist.
They also unfortunately fail to realise that there is refuge in the light of facing the unknown and opening their spirit to a life more fulfilling. The promise that he may change and that the punches will stop are commonplace in these situations. But past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance.
For the most part, I believe women stay because they feel they don’t have a better alternative. But by exposing their children to this, they indirectly teach their young sons that this is how a man should behave and their young daughters that this is what love looks like. Children become conditioned to the environment they’re in and what they see repeatedly will become what they expect to see in the future, unknowingly allowing it to become indoctrinated into their psyche as a normality.
Blaming women for staying is counterproductive, however, because they will continue to stay until they finally realise love is not supposed to hurt and they find another way out in whatever shape or form it presents itself. The highly acclaimed African-American novelist Richard Wright once said that ‘the impulse to dream has slowly been beaten out of me by the experience of life’. It was an alarming reminder that when you live in a culture or an environment that destroys your sense of self, you become marginalized and feel hopeless and it becomes a deep-seated challenge to see yourself beyond that.
So, it is incumbent upon us all to remember abuse is never the victim’s fault and communities around the abused must be held more accountable for reporting suspected abusers. The World Health Organization now strongly urges the health sector to be more proactive in responding to the needs of abused women. A home should provide a sense of comfort and security to its inhabitants but when that fails, the community must rise up to assist in a manner that doesn’t invite danger into their own lives.
Every man longs to live in his own home and be the ‘Lord of the Manor’ and captain of his domain. It’s an inner drive to be a leader to, and a provider for, the people we love. But societal norms have changed dramatically throughout the years. More women have degrees and work outside of the home than ever before and in many instances earn infinitely more than their spouse. This rigid dichotomy in finances is deeply threatening to the ego of some men and a driving force to exert their power and prove they’re still in control.
Locally, The Bahamas Crisis Centre is a private non-profit organisation founded in 1982 that provides a wide variety of services to men, women and children who are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. So, for those individuals who feel trapped in abusive relationships, organisations such as this can provide a way out, a ray of hope and, when ready, the resources required to help.
In our society the issue of gender-based violence and abuse is so prevalent that both Ann Marie Davis, wife of (current) Prime Minister Philip Davis, and Patricia Minnis, wife of (former) Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, work together, united in their efforts to continuously bring these issues to the forefront of national discourse. Partisan politics recedes in significance when lives of the innocent and abused are at stake. No one asks how you voted when you are wheeled into an emergency room, the victim of domestic abuse.
With her life now purged of its previous malignancies, my patient is the queen of her castle and finally feels free. She is able to sleep through the night without interruption because stepping into the unknown, though initially terrifying, has allowed a new woman to emerge. With that new woman came a joy that had never before been felt and a burgeoning confidence that grows with each passing day.
My prayer is others facing a similar turmoil may soon find the inner strength to reach out to those waiting to help and, in time, find this same peace.
• Nick-named ‘The Prince of Podiatry’, Dr Kenneth D Kemp is the founder and medical director of Bahamas Foot and Ankle located in Caves Village, Western New Providence. He served as the deputy chairman for the Health Council for five years and he currently sits on the board of directors for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in his role as co-vice-chairman.