On the edge

“I shout to mi sister that mi come home fi meet mi death.” These were the words of Nazalena Natasha Houston as she lay in her hospital bed minus her right hand and the fingers of her left hand, and grieving the loss of her two children.

Ms Houston, just 21 years old, was maimed by the man who took her children’s lives. And like so many other women in her position, she was maimed and almost killed by the man with whom she lived. Her words to her sister showed that at the time, she recognised the inevitability of her situation. Intuition had hinted to her what was in store, yet she allowed herself to be forced into a car and taken to what was to be her fate. If it were a stranger who was forcing Ms Houston into that car, she would most likely have screamed and fought. Statistics reveal that a woman is more likely to be killed by a male partner (or former partner) than any other person. A third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a former or current partner, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study.

Among the findings of the same WHO study is the revelation that 40 per cent of women killed worldwide were slain by an intimate partner, and being assaulted by a partner was the most common kind of violence experienced by women.

The attack that devastated Ms Houston, that took her children’s lives and which was meant to take hers as well, was unfortunately, not the first she had experienced. The ongoing physical abuse had already forced her to go to the police, to see a probation officer and finally to take a decision to end the relationship. All of these actions have been touted as what women should do when in abusive relationships. None of them worked for Ms Houston because the system did not respond in the way it should. Meanwhile, her partner has since disappeared and is being hunted by the police.

The assault on Ms Houston and her children was one of three that occurred recently. It was preceded by the murder of Vanessa Richmond-James of Jonestown, Mahaica at the hands of her husband Ryan James, who later killed himself.

Mrs Richmond-James, who was just 26 years old, was discovered tied up, with a slit throat and multiple stab wounds at her home after her husband was found to have ingested poison. Her relatives revealed that Mrs Richmond-James had complained that her husband had accused her of being unfaithful. They later found a diary that detailed the constant physical abuse she had endured throughout the relationship.

The very next day, Shawn Fordyce, a Sophia resident, brutally chopped his reputed wife Dorothy Blackman, two of her daughters and a granddaughter before escaping.

One of his stepdaughters, new lawyer Wanda Fortune, related how she had barely escaped more serious injury by leaving her clothing in her stepfather’s hands and running to a neighbour. She had also revealed that she had called the police several times before her mother’s reputed husband completed his dastardly act, to no avail. According to her, the man had not displayed violent tendencies before but had appeared threatened by her recent academic success.

Rock group Talion might have been singing about men who abuse and eventually kill their wives/partners in the song ‘Living on the Edge.’ The lyrics are: “Motiveless killer out of control//Dagger poised to take your soul//Your days are numbered, you don’t stand a chance. A stab to the heart, you’re in permanent trance…”

Women like Ms Houston, Mrs Richmond-James, Ms Blackman and the women in her household live their lives on the edge as do so many other women. They do this by cohabiting with violent and/or unpredictable men. The reasons they do this are myriad. Often fear and finances top the list. Statistics also point to battered women staying in these relationships because they believe they are in love with the men who abuse them; they believe they can change them; or they think that staying is the best thing for their children. These are all the wrong reasons, of course. Unfortunately, and this happens too often, women cannot leave because there are no safety nets for them.

In Guyana, the lack of safety nets for women in domestic violence situations is a huge issue. It is well known that the much touted Domestic Violence Act has never really worked in the way it should. Over the years, there has been an increase in the cases of domestic abuse and the death of women at the hands of their husbands and partners but the corresponding increase in the facilities and support has been moving at a crawl. Action taken in fits and bursts every time there is a spate of deaths or heightened violence solves nothing. There is need for a definite proactive policy backed by policing and support systems that work and a justice system that hands down realistic sentences that match the crime where committed. This must be done now. Too many women have already been killed, maimed and damaged mentally and emotionally. Too many  women are teetering on the precipice.

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