Thirty-two-year-old Tiffany Jackson is a fighter, and has used the most traumatic experience of her life as a catalyst to assist in her work of helping victims of domestic violence.
Four years after her face was bashed in with a beer bottle, resulting in a huge scar on her forehead and the loss of most of the vision in her right eye, Jackson declares that she is a stronger and more resilient woman, one who would never allow any of these events to dictate the course of her life’s journey.
The journey from that day has not been easy but the ‘justice’ she received one year after the event was more traumatizing than the attack itself. Even for a woman who was always strong and had vowed to use the attack to strengthen her Jackson admitted to the Sunday Stabroek during a recent interview that when Magistrate Ann McClennon ordered Sheldon Brathwaite called ‘Kagie’ to pay her $100,000 in compensation, she almost reached breaking point. The magistrate ordered the compensation – which Jackson has never uplifted – after finding Brathwaite guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm, without even consulting the victim about whether she was prepared to accept compensation.
The worst part of the court proceeding for Jackson was her former partner’s lawyer using their now eight-year-old son to plead for leniency, claiming that the young child needed his father. That to her was a most grotesque statement, as the man had attempted to kill the child’s mother in front of him and had ignored his anguished cries to leave her alone.
“Not one day did he spend in jail…” Jackson said still sounding very angry, and pointing to the fact that the magistrate never allowed her to speak at the Wales Magistrate’s Court when she passed judgment.
“Let me tell you, the court system here is very messed up… as a victim of domestic violence and you go to court they abuse the hell out of you all over again. They don’t care about anyone…” Jackson said.
She is still unable to comprehend how the magistrate could have seen the very visible injuries she had sustained, supported by a medical certificate, and still have ordered the man to pay her compensation that she never requested, and could not even cover her local medical expenses.
“This face” she points to her face which still bears the scars, “went in court and they didn’t see it…they did nothing.”
“I am telling you I am so sick and fed up of the system… For me it wasn’t about money, it was about justice and I never got it,” Jackson said, adding that the man still lives in the same village and sees her son as he visits his grandmother. However, she believes that as the child grows older he is becoming more afraid of his father.
Now country coordinator of Caribbean American Domestic Violence Awareness (CADVA) Jackson uses her story to help other victims of domestic violence and made it clear that there are also men who turn to the organisation for assistance.
“I have used it [the attack] to build myself and to become that channel of change where I can make a difference in the lives of others,” Jackson told this newspaper.
How it happened
Jackson recalled that she was in a visiting relationship with Brathwaite, and even though she quickly realised the relationship was not going to last she became pregnant soon after its commencement. After becoming pregnant at 24 even after her father had warned her about the young man, Jackson said she attempted to give the relationship another try.
“I try to see if I could salvage it for my child…” Jackson said sadly, but it was not to be even though she never kept their child away from him. Looking back she believes that may have been her mistake, as he seems to have harboured the idea of them one day being a family.
His hope of them becoming a family was crushed when she started dating someone else when her son was about three years old. It was then that the threats began, but because he was never violent Jackson said she never thought it would have escalated.
She did, however, report the threats to the police at La Grange Police Station, but the police never took her seriously and he was never arrested.
“I am telling you, when people criticize the police they are right, the police do a crappy job and they don’t see domestic violence as being between a man and woman…” she said.
She denounced what she called the “sweeping under the carpet” of domestic violence.
Police inaction forced her to visit the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security just days before the incident seeking help.
“No physical abuse, I am telling [you] none whatsoever… I just realised that we weren’t compatible,” Jackson said revealing that the man was also not supportive during her pregnancy but after the child was born he took up his responsibility for about two years until she started dating again.
The week before September 5, 2010 when the incident happened Jackson said the man was “very visual, he was always there everywhere I turned,” and it was later she realised that what he was in fact doing was stalking her.
“He threatened me the Monday before, he broke my phone and he said ‘you if I can’t get you I guh kill you.’”
It is a day she does not forget; it was the day before school re-opened and she was ironing her clothes to return to the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) when she was attacked.
“I was backing where he came from, my son saw him… I heard my son say ‘Daddy, daddy leave mommy alone’ and the minute I heard that is when I heard I felt this hand grasp at my throat strangling me and I can’ t make at sound… This thing happened within a second he spun me around and blam a bottle in my face,” was how Jackson described the horrific experience.
Jackson believed the bottle was filled at the time and when he hit her she later learnt that it was crushed to such an extent that it was as if a hammer had been used to smash it, “so you could imagine the anger and hatred he did it with.”
After he attacked her with the bottle the man then used his hands to do further damage even as she was attempting to shield her screaming son from the gruesome scene. Her father responded to her screams with a cutlass in hand but she stepped between the two men.
“At that point he looked at me, not with regret, not with sorrow but with satisfaction, the look in his eyes was nothing but satisfaction and when I saw that I knew he wanted to killed me,” Jackson said, recalling that at that point blood would have been pouring down her face and her right socket would have been bulging.
The man then left and Jackson was rushed to the hospital where she remained for two weeks. She said the blow caused the retina of her right eye to come out, the pupil was dislocated “and the oil started leaking and I had to go to Trinidad because the people told me they couldn’t do much.” As it is right now about 80% of her vision in her right eye is compromised and she has to wear spectacles.
But she was not cowed by the attack as immediately after leaving the hospital she told her story publicly to anyone who wanted to hear.
“I walked the walk, it was there on all the news channels, in the newspapers I kept bringing it alive,” she said, adding that there was one incident after the attack when the man threatened to “finish the job” because of her publicizing it, but she was never intimidated.
Apart from not receiving justice Jackson said her other major concern is the impact the attack has had on her son, who at one time blamed himself because his father walked through a door he had been asked to close moments before.
After the incident Jackson said she went through a process of becoming reacquainted with herself as it had transformed everything she had believed in.
“I was struggling with me, acceptance you know this has happened, how do I move forward, the humiliation. When I just came out of court and I didn’t get any justice, to me that was even worse than the physical injustice,” Jackson said.
It was over a year later she grasped at the opportunity to tell her story again and it was then she met Dianne Madray, the founder member of CADVA, after calling a number on television, since when there has been no turning back. She became part of the Break the Silence campaign which started at the Georgetown Cricket Club, Bourda.
Her “potential, ability and resilience” was observed and she was made the country coordinator for the organisation.
She said CADVA is there to create change and support and does not only give moral support but also helps to provide for other needs, even though she stated that she was strong and resilient before.
After the incident she had quit CPCE for a while, but is expected to graduate this year as she has completed her programme and plans to move on to the University of Guyana next year.
“So four years after here I am; I think I am more whole, I am stronger emotionally…” Jackson said, adding that the experience has not turned her off from relationships although she “is comfortable in my own skin and don’t need a man to complete me.”
Jackson is also a member of the Rotary Club of Demerara and said she had received tremendous support from the group.