Under Scrutiny: The scars of child abuse
By Stephen Alleyne
Outwardly, Jennifer (whose real name has been withheld to protect her identity) has a body most women her age would spend a pretty penny to acquire and maintain – petite, curvaceous, unblemished. Added to that, she lives in a middle-class neighbourhood, drives an expensive car and wears the latest in fashion. However, until recently the 59-year-old woman, with some measure of success, deliberately effused a persona of jubilation to conceal her turbulent past; but, behind the physical appearance is a woman who has been psychological scarred, perhaps for life, by her closest and most trusted relative. This is her story as she has requested it to be told.
Jennifer and her elder male sibling were raised in a traditional Barbadian home in a suburban district by her mother and father who were married to each other. However, at aged 14, Jennifer’s mother became critically ill and this left her and her brother in the care and control of their father. Little did Jennifer know, her father, who was a heavy drinker, had plans that she said were inconceivable.
“I could see it now. I came home from school, went to take off my uniform, and he coupled my breast and I said, ‘Stop it!’” He slapped me in my face when I started to cry, pulled me into his and my mother’s room, and told me not to speak. He took off his belt and threatened to beat me if I didn’t take off my clothes, and I took them off because he threatened me over and over. He then spread open my legs and forced his penis inside of my vagina,” said Jennifer in a river of tears.
“I started to bleed profusely, because I was still a virgin, and he had the temerity to tell me after that I bled because I was resisting him,” she continued after regaining her composure.
She said that it was just as painful that her brother was at home during the first encounter, she screamed for help at the top of her voice, and he never came to her assistance. “I refused to talk to him for over a month and when I told him that our father had ‘interfered with me’, he said I was a liar.”
The frequency of Jennifer’s rapes by her father continued for about two years until the inevitable happened. “Eventually he (her father) made me pregnant, and he literally dragged me to a doctor that was his good friend to have an abortion. This was yet another horrible experience that he put me through because I felt as though I would have died after the procedure. I was extremely weak”, recounted Jennifer.
To escape the clutches of her father, Jennifer said that as a teenager she became involved with a young man, got married at an early age, and moved out of the family home.
After her marriage, Jennifer avoided her father like the plague, seeing him only when it was absolutely necessary. In the early 1980s, however, he was hospitalised and while there he sent a message to her by a family friend asking her to come and see him. “Not knowing what he wanted, I went to the hospital one evening with two of my friends to look for him on his dying bed, and as I got there he looked at me and said, ‘Jennifer, I’m sorry!’ I took up my heels and bolted out of the hospital in tears, leaving my friends there without saying a word to him or them. To this day my friends don’t have a clue why I beat such a hasty retreat from the hospital,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer confessed that she has never told her husband, children or anyone about the ordeal she suffered at the hands of her father and was prepared to take it to her grave, but in recent months the psychological wounds inflicted by her father have reopened. At the behest of close friends who noticed a change in her mood, therefore, Jennifer has sought professional help and is experiencing positive results after a few sessions with her therapist.
“I hated my father with a passion after what he did to me and I felt the same way about my brother because I felt he was big and tough enough to help me and he refused to do so,” said Jennifer on reflection.
Before seeking professional help, Jennifer said she had vowed never to approach her brother with a view to resolving this matter which has been eating her out subconsciously most of her life, as was suggested by her therapist, or to forgive her father who went to his grave over 30 years ago. “However since getting professional help, things have changed and that’s why I have been so eager to share my story with the public and other people who have suffered the same fate as I have. I am convinced now that had I had the professional assistance I am having now at an early stage, I would not have had to endure the miserable life I have endured for the past 45 years.”
Reprinted from the Barbados Advocate – April 2, 2012
(Stephen Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former member of the Royal Barbados Police Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)