Staring abuse in the face and winning – one survivor’s story

“It came to a point where I wish I had the strength to commit suicide. I stopped being fearful of him and when he started making his threats I would tell him, ‘is either  you do what you have to do or let me go’. Slowly that is how it eased with his threats and him coming around.” 

It was if she was reliving her experience six years ago when she endured months of abuse, harassment, embarrassment and emotional torture at the hands of a man she once loved.  

Her shoulders sagged and while she was no longer crying (she cried during our conversation) the sense of sadness and frustration was tangible. 

At 29 she is a single mother of a young child who wanted to share some of her life’s experiences with others. 

“I want them to understand what women go through and if my story could help someone then that is good enough,” she said to me the first time I spoke to her. 

We met through a mutual friend who encouraged her to speak to me. 

The relationship was into its third year when the abuse started but the signs were there before; she just never saw them. 

“I had no friends,” she said. “He did not want me to have friends because he was the jealous type. The first incident happened when a male friend had called me on my phone and then he took the phone threw it away and then he slapped me. 

“I felt hurt given when you are in love with someone you expect them to treat you with love and it never happened in the first two years so it was shocking. 

“I went to his parents and I related to them what happened and they spoke to him and told him it was wrong and he cried and said he was sorry and it would not happen again. 

“But from then on anytime we got into arguments he would hit me. I would fight back and my interpretation was once I was not laid back about it and I try to defend myself at least I was doing something about the situation because I was defending myself. 

“And in terms of friends or anybody to speak to I had none. I was living with my grandmother and we did not have such a close relationship that we would discuss what was going on in my life. I was into pageantry and I was very self-conscious about how it would look if I related to anyone what  was happening. I was trying to maintain that image that everything was okay with myself and him.” 

She was just about 20 years old at the time. 

“I knew to myself that staying in an abusive relationship was wrong but it was like when we did not have any fighting and so forth it felt okay because we had a really good relationship then. My mother died when I was age 12 and I did not grow up with my father. He did not play any significant role in my life. 

“And that was my first serious relationship and it was me looking for love and somewhat feeling loved by somebody else. I sort of built my world around him in terms of gaining affection and validating myself. 

“Whenever we would have these fights he would cry after when he was apologizing and say he loved me and it would never happen again and he was going to change. And somehow I felt because he was shedding  tears, he probably meant it and it was a genuine apology and he would make an effort to not hit me again,” she shared. 

But it was not to happen, in fact, it got worse. 

“I was financially dependent on him and my decision to walk into the relationship had the factor of me not being able to finance myself to go to my UG classes  because my grandmother was not working either. And for the first two years we had a really good relationship, I didn’t feel that he did not love me. And when the incidents start happening he would try to make me feel responsible by saying I did something. It came to a point when I had made up in my mind that I wanted out of the relationship and then he started threatening that he would kill me and commit suicide. 

“It was scary because I believed him, that he would kill me given the fights we had before.” She paused as if searching for the next words. 

“The most drastic thing happened when one day we had an argument and he stripped me naked and dragged me to the front door and he was going to push me through the door naked. I was on my knees begging and crying for him not to do it because of the embarrassment. He told me the only way he was not going to do it was if I was going to have sex with him. At that point I told him yes because I figured when he closed the door I would be able to talk him out of it. When he took me to the room, I started crying and saying I don’t want to be in the relationship anymore but he just kept undressing and I told him no, that the only reason I said yes to the sex was because I did not want him to put me outside in that state.”

The tears started. 

“It was like whatever I was saying it was not registering he did what he wanted and forced himself into me and I was saying you know what my stepfather did to me and you are doing the same…, but he continued doing what he was doing. 

“After that day I found myself in a state of depression and I started thinking in my mind how I could hurt him physically. I was not prepared to go the police because given that we had a relationship I felt that they wouldn’t take me seriously.” 

‘My stepfather abused me’ 

We sat for a while after I asked her about the comment she made about her stepfather.

Then she started to speak again. 

“When I was 12 years old my stepfather abused me.  My mother was not in the country at the time and I was at home with him and my younger sister. My mother left the country for the weekend; she left the Friday and he did it the Saturday night.  

“It happened three times during the night. Me and my sister were looking at a movie and we fell asleep and when I woke up I was in his arms; he was about to put me in his bed. I was a bit confused because I was wondering why I was in my mother’s room. He had a knife and he placed it to my neck and he said if I scream he was going to kill me. I cried and begged him not to and I was overpowered by him, he slapped me several times.  

“It was very painful… he forced himself in. When he was finished he sent me to take a bath. After the bath, when I was about to go into my room he took me into the room and did it again and then sent me with my sister to sleep. Sometime later he woke me up and took me into the room and did it a third time,” she said woodenly.  

Three days later, she walked into a police station and reported the assault. Her mother had not returned at that point. 

“I had decided to write everything down on a paper and I went to school the Monday, but I kept thinking about what happened and how I should deal with it. I came back home and acted normal, but on the Tuesday when I was going to school I went to a police station and ask to speak to a female officer.  

“I gave her the paper to read it because I was not in a state to speak, she took me to the hospital and did a medical. I called a family member and she made contact with my mother. My mother came back two days later but my aunt collected us from the house before. The police arrested him the same day. 

Mother died 

“My mother sold everything in the house and we left the country. I guess she was hoping for us to have a fresh start. But when we got there she became ill shortly after and her condition started worsening and we had to come back to Guyana and stayed with my grandmother. 

“She passed away within the same year. I remember the morning that she died we had to go to the court the same day. We had missed a lot of court dates, because we were away and we still went to the court even though my mom had died but by the time we got there the case was dismissed.  

“I felt really hurt. I was even upset with my mother because I didn’t really get help. Its like my family members did not even ask me anything.” 

She started to cry again. 

“My mother didn’t even really talk to me about it. I guess they were not sure how to handle situations of that nature.

“It was really painful seeing my mom sick and I would ask her if she was going to die. She would say no but then one day she ask me to take care of my sister… “My mother was HIV positive and my family took me for a test and it show negative. I did more tests and I was still negative. 

“She had stopped taking the medication. You would find it under the bed. She stopped eating and I don’t know if it was because of what happened to me she was just hurting I don’t know… 

“That morning when she passed away, it was the worst day of my life. We went to court the case was dismissed and she was no longer there. I was staying with my grandmother and she is one of those long ago people; she don’t talk about certain things. She was not expressive emotionally. 

“After my mother passed away I became very much reserved and then rumours were already spreading. People would say I was HIV positive and it affected me psychologically. It was like something I should be ashamed of even though I did nothing. 

“So when I got into that relationship, he knew everything that took place. I was very much open to him about my past. And from since childhood that was my first time of feeling appreciated and feeling loved. We would pray together and go to church and even though I had told him everything he was still with me. And when he changed and became abusive it was really hard to deal with in terms of if I should really walk out.” 

It was after he forced himself on her that she knew she had to leave. 

“I told him that there was no turning back and at first he accepted and started saying he was sorry and that he probably needs help. I told him I had forgiven him but we cannot be together but we could still talk. 

“One day I told him I was going to the movies with a friend and I stayed in town by my cousin and he called my phone number the entire night. I got scared and did not go home I stayed by my sister until the afternoon. As soon as I entered the house the phone started ringing and I picked up but heard no answer. Somehow I felt he was around and I went and I locked the door but somehow he came through a side window and I opened the door and run to house at the back and closed the door. He was knocking down the door and he managed to open the door. It was just me and my cousins who were younger and he had a fork and he went down on his knees, crying and saying his life had no meaning without me and if he can’t get me no one else can. I had called his mother when I was running and his father came right away and took him away.” 

But he returned a few hours later, while she was talking to her aunt on the phone. 

“He came in the house and took the phone away and said he wanted to examine me to see if I had sex with the guy. He had a knife and he examined me by pushing his finger into me and he started crying and threatening me…” 

Her aunt had suspected something was wrong and sent her uncles. The first police report was made, but she dropped the matter after he promised to leave her alone. She ran from her village in fear and believed she could have escaped him by living in another part of the country. 

“But he called my grandmother and he lied to her and she gave him the landline number and the directions to where I was living. He found where I was living and he came and begged. I had started working. I think he was stalking me. Every morning I came out he was there waiting for me. Every afternoon and he would be there to start embarrassing me and to quieten him  down I would stand up and listen to what he had to say,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. 

Several reports were made to the police and he was even charged but she said many times she felt as if she was the perpetrator. He always had family support and she had none. The police also attempted to get them to reconcile. 

“I remember one time, hours after he was arrested, I got a call on my cell phone and a female police officer was one the phone and she said someone wanted to speak to me and then I heard him crying and begging me…,” she said shaking her head. 

“When the matter went to court I eventually stopped going to court. But I was so scared of him and I started sleeping with a knife. I had to have males always accompanying me when I was on the road and then one day I just had enough. I just couldn’t take it anymore and I told him if he wanted to kill me then do it but I was no longer scared. 

“It has been six years and I have adapted to being single, because even though I have a son that relationship did not last. Even before my child was born we were no longer together. I now focus on my child and he has brought a lot of change to my life and I don’t miss my mother so much anymore now that I am a mother.” 

We eventually parted ways after almost two hours of conversation. She told me so much more. She has had some harrying experiences but this sister is strong and I honestly believe she will be alright. She continues to climb the ladder at her organisation and seeks to continue her education. 

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