The story of a South Sophia woman who is a victim of domestic violence hit me hard this week when it was apparent that she and her children had no place to go after the father of her child brutally beat her. The woman’s mother was convinced the abuser would have killed her daughter this time if he hadn’t been stopped.

Here is how a Stabroek News report described the beating:

“The abuser reportedly hit the woman several times about her body with various objects he picked up around the house…20130706stellaslammed [her] into a window, causing a considerable amount of damage to her face. [Hit her] so hard and so many times with the iron that it eventually broke. [And] removed several glass louver windows and smashed them across [the woman’s] body. One particular blow left a deep gash at the back of the distraught woman’s neck.”

As shocking and tragic as this story is so far, there is even more bad news. The woman’s mother said, “She was contemplating where she, her daughter and her three year old grandson would sleep since she was afraid to return home.”

The mother added, “She knew the type of person the attacker was and was almost certain that the man would return to her house. She described him as a violent man and added that he had beaten her daughter several times both in the recent and the distant past during their seven-year sporadic relationship.”

The man reportedly thrashed the woman every day since last Thursday and forbade her to leave the house, saying that if she left the house it would be the last day she left. The abuser also made threats to burn the house down, and made several attempts to do so.

There is no question at all that this situation is a dire one and that the victim is at risk of even more abuse and even death. At the time of the report, the police had not yet apprehended the abuser.

Where does an abuse victim like this turn at such a crucial juncture? The most dangerous time for a domestic violence sufferer is at the point of exit. Moreover, such situations frequently involve an imbalance of power that limits the victim’s financial options. Ideally, she could turn to a shelter for abuse victims where she could be safe until the man is apprehended and unable to harm her further.

A women’s shelter is a place of temporary refuge and support for women escaping violent or abusive situations who are seeking refuge from their abuser. Shelters for abused women are not a new concept. Wikipedia provides us with brief history of these shelters:

“In feudal Japan, some Buddhist temples were known as kakekomi dera, runaway temples where abused women could take shelter before filing for divorce.
“In the West, crisis accommodation has been available for women for some time. In 1964, Haven House, the first ‘modern’ women’s shelter in the world, opened in California. Chiswick Women’s Aid, the first widely known shelter for battered women was opened in London, in 1971 by Erin Pizzy. Also, Ishtar Transitional Housing Society first opened its transition house for women facing abuse in Langley, British Columbia in 1973 making it the first transition house in Canada. Later others opened in places such as Christchurch, New Zealand, and Sydney with similar ideals in mind.”

In a 2008 study of survivors of abuse in these types of shelters in eight states in the US, entitled “Meeting Survivors’ Needs: A Multi-State Study of Domestic Violence Experiences,” participants were asked what they would do if such a shelter for women did not exist (page 56). The response from over 2,300 women came in five different ways; some said they would have to be homeless, some said they would lose everything, some said they would act out of desperation, some were uncertain and others said they would have to live with the continued abuse and risk death.

These options are simply not tenable. Why should a woman have to give up everything she has in life and live on the streets or sleep the sofa at a friend’s house because there are no other options for her to remain safe and alive? If she does act in desperation, the abuser could be the one who ends up dead. If she chooses to go back home, she could end up dead.

None of these options are solutions at all. All of them put the victim at continued risk. A shelter for victims of abuse is the best answer. Yet when this South Sophia woman found herself in the position of trying to decide where she should go – there was no option of a shelter for her. There was no safe haven for her and her child where they would be protected from her abuser.

What this means is that she is only left with the untenable options of being homeless, giving up everything, acting out of desperation and living in uncertainty or going back to the abuser. I do not know which of those dreadful choices the South Sophia woman made. It makes me nauseous to think that she had no real choice that would better her life.

How many women each and every day in Guyana are forced to make this dreadful decision? Sadly, without the option of a shelter, there are many, many women who choose to stay with their abuser and some pay the ultimate price with their lives. The ones who do not die will face a lifetime of near death beatings as they live in constant fear that today will be the day finishes the job.

Until domestic violence is wiped off the face of the earth, there should be a shelter for victims of abuse in every major city to provide these women a better option – and a hope for a better life. It is upon the State to protect its citizens and this includes women who find themselves in situations like the South Sophia woman did this week.

It is time for women to have a better option than to be killed.

Email: stellasays@gmail.com

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