Features — 10 February 2018
ABUSE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS … Cruelty in law

“We were given: Two hands to hold. Two legs to walk. Two eyes to see. Two ears to listen. But why only one heart? Because the other was given to someone else for us to find.”
–  Author Unknown

It is interesting some of the cases of abuse I have come across in my line of work over the years and how from then to now the cases I have encountered have become even more heinous and prevalent. From the start of my career as a journalist I have had the privilege of having people confide in me, and me willing to offer support and encouragement. Now in the legal field I have had to not only listen but seek legal redress for women in very abusive relationships.

I always reflect on how most of these relationships started with promises of love, companionship and security, but then it turns to hate, loneliness and lack of personal security… sadly, the abuse comes from the person to whom you have given your heart. Or is it love? I opine, without the need to be a relationship expert, that it is not love. True love is kind, compassionate, not injurious, and definitely not abusive and is not designed to lead to insecurity and fear of safety nor fear of the very person who swore to love you and protect you. I believe that there was always a pre-disposition of abusiveness by that person, just that you were too blinded to give it the prominence it deserved.

The very foundation of a relationship is love… which includes respect for your partner, and this in and of itself presupposes that you would not do anything to each other to hurt the other, be it physically, emotionally, psychologically or financially.

Kinds of abuse in law

If you would be loved, love and be lovable.” — Benjamin Franklin

The reality is that in my line of work as a lawyer, I meet countless cases of serious abuse and feel compelled to write about it so women and men can openly discuss abuse, because it is crippling our society and it is trickling down to our children who are reverting to solving their problems in an aggressive manner instead of a respectful manner. Abuse, of any kind, is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Abuse is addressed in various legislations and in each it is accorded its own standing and penalties.

Under the Domestic Violence Act Chapter 178 of the Laws of Belize, domestic violence is defined to include “physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, de facto spouse, or any other person who is a member of the household…”  However, under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, Chapter 91, Matrimonial Cause Section, abuse falls under the category of “cruelty” because all forms of abuse amount to cruelty upon a spouse. The Married Person Protection Act, Chapter 175 likewise calls it cruelty, and the Criminal Code Chapter 101 classifies it from offences ranging from common assault, to marital rape, to aggravated assault and the like. The point is that the law does not tolerate any form of harm or abuse against any person, yet abuse is a daily occurrence in various settings and especially in the male–female relationship, even those in a youthful courtship. It is alarming the incidences of abuse in teens and young adults dating and not living together.  The signs manifest from this point of courtship, yet these persons remain in these abusive relationships, and many proceed to co-habit in a common-law relationship and even get married, and less than half, I estimate, ever get reported as criminal offences and even less than 25%, I again estimate, even reaches the court.

I will admit accessing the Family Court can be so cumbersome, and can result in being yet another form of abuse in and of itself because of the abusive and degrading nature of the system, the people who operate it and the decision-makers, who lack the training and sensitivity to skilfully address family issues. I have witnessed, heard and experienced the unprofessional tones, facial expressions, insensitive remarks and outright disdain of some of the very people who work in the Family Court system and my heart aches for those unrepresented persons who must navigate the system seeking help, relief, justice and are left further abused and helpless.

Then of course there is the problem with the attorneys who practice in the area of family law, who are all about the fight, the money and the further abuse of the system. Those types treat family matters like any other litigation, instead of appreciating that at the end of the day the parties are related either by blood, by law and especially through children, so no need to also display your dirty ways and animosity, instead of being a true counsel and seeking solutions in the best interests of the family.

I can assure you by the time any family matter reaches the courts, the love is already gone from one or all of the parties, there is already sufficient hurt, abuse, animosity, bad blood, pain, stress, breakdown and division. The purpose of getting lawyers cannot be to further divide but to help the families reach solutions in the best interests of children and in the least antagonistic manner. You see, in business cases it’s all about money so attorneys may war for their clients and not worry who pays; but in family matters, the price is too high to pay when it’s the emotional and psychological well-being of the parties, children included, that is at stake.

Share the love, not the STD’s

“Come live with me, and be my love, And we will some new pleasures prove, Of golden sands, and crystal brooks, With silken lines, and silver hooks.” — John Donne

There is this very serious issue of unspoken abuse in marriages which I wish to address, because it is taboo. It’s about sexual relations in established relationships, especially marriages and common-law unions. I address it because I am seeing a growing number of cases and wonder why we don’t have more discussion on this very important topic. Thus, I borrowed the phrase, “Share the love, not STD’s” from a Facebook post I saw regarding this Valentine’s season, which has become so highly commercialized.

When two persons decide to get married or co-habit as wife and husband there is a level of trust, respect and commitment that one supposes is established to be able to reach that far; thus it is expected that one would expect fidelity, loyalty and no-cheating from their partner. However, the cheating has become a renewed epidemic, like the sexually transmitted diseases that they spread. I am finding there are more and more women who remain in a marriage or live-in relationship despite knowing of their partner’s infidelity, and I am sure it’s vice versa, since often times many of the women with whom these men cheat are themselves married or in another relationship.

However, I do not write this to discuss the problems of reasons for infidelity as much as to discuss the resulting sexually transmitted diseases that partners end up with. I want to only discuss it in the context of marriages, from the point of view that women who contract any kind of sexually transmitted disease from their partner, need to know that they can use that as the basis for a divorce, as it is a form of cruelty and is also a form of physical harm because of the ensuing pain, trauma and sometimes lifetime suffering. There are cases where wives have become HIV positive as a result of their husband’s infidelity, or where women have to live the rest of their lives with other diseases such as gonorrhoea, genital warts, genital herpes, chlamydia even hepatitis, yet they remain silent.

Too often the women are too ashamed to have their medical status known, despite its being the result of being infected by their partners. I have met a few who, despite suspecting that their spouses are infected have subjected themselves to sexual intercourse without any form of protection. This might sound crazy, but it’s real. Some of the women say that the spouse denies having the STD and when she refuses intercourse, he then says it is she who has it and to prove that she doesn’t, she must then have unprotected sexual relations, because if she is sure she will not infect him, then why use protection? In the meantime the husband is aware of his status and when both end up infected, he blames her, telling her that is why she even brought up the issue.  This psychological warfare on the wife, to have her submit and then turning around to say it is she who has the STD, is all part of the cruelty a woman can prove in her marriage. However, it is imperative that she gets help and do it promptly.

I know this is not an easy topic and one that, frighteningly, is concealed by women out of shame, so I am writing to help remove the stigma and open the discussion and open the minds of our people, since the increased cases of HIV and other STD’s in this country are alarming.  Marriage is premised on the belief that two shall become one, but it does not remove your individuality to seek to protect your health. I am cognizant of the fact that the mere ability by the partner to be so demanding and controlling sexually, means that already there are signs of emotional and psychological abuse, paralyzing the woman from fighting back. However, when the problem escalates to being infected with an STD, it is more than time to get out and end the cycle of abuse. Seek the help of the doctor to start with and even seek counselling or therapy to cope with the trauma you have been subjected to. .

I know of one case where the husband insisted that the wife is the one who was cheating and refused to be treated. However, she got treated and while they lived under the same roof, she no longer became sexually involved, while the husband roamed and infected several other partners.  That is a lot to endure in a marriage and is sufficient basis to end the marriage. So this Valentine’s Day, which many equate with sex, rather than true love and respect, a word to the wise: protect yourself by having safe sex and if you do not know the status of your partner do not put your health and life at risk! Remember, love begins with love of self, first!

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Deshawn Swasey

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