Features — 24 February 2018
Domestic violence was always an issue and a culture

I think I was about twelve years old and it was around my birthday, June 1982 (if my memory serves me right) when I first heard of the most cruel story I could imagine against a beautiful young woman at the hands of her boyfriend. It has remained imbedded in my memory which was triggered to real-time with the murder of Hermelinda Pinks Emmanuel by her husband, Jason Emmanuel.

This very beautiful young lady was Marion Idolly Singh and she was working then at this luxury hotel in Corozal named Don Quixote, based in the then secluded area known as Consejo Shores. Television was just becoming the in-thing in the North and so the hotel had made this TV commercial featuring her. I can still vividly see her face and beautiful flowing hair and soft tender smile and hear her voice saying, “Welcome to Don Quixote…” I was mesmerized.  Well, I do not recall the exact date, but I remember the buzz in my house one fateful day as I heard the adults speaking of her murder.  Now, I was only eavesdropping, since in those days kids dare not ask or get in adult conversation.

So here is the story I recalled hearing. Ms. Singh had been dating her boyfriend, Leocardo Edwardo Alpuche, Jr., and it seems they had a very stormy relationship and he was very jealous.  He had even hit her once and seemed to be very insecure at her popularity and the attention she had been receiving as a local TV star and from guests at the hotel. Remember, this was when TV was a novelty for us!

Following the breakup, one afternoon the old boyfriend visited her home and asked her family to speak with her, which they allowed, and so he was allowed in the house. But he had gone there with bad intentions, because he manged to lock himself up in the room with her and stabbed her to death with a knife he had brought with him. All her screaming could not get her relatives to open the room door in time. I do not remember if he killed himself there and then or escaped and went to kill himself elsewhere, but I know he killed himself. At the end of the day, it was a murder/suicide. To my frail little innocent mind that was a lot to absorb and I would like to say that the details did traumatize me and so this memory stays with me… and as I write I still see her face.

Imagine that this happened some thirty-five years ago and it happened in a seemingly laid- back, quiet community – my hometown Corozal, where everyone knew each other, but where I remember many persons committing suicide over failed loves and many women enduring countless beatings and torment in their marriages. The Mestizo culture which was predominant then, and still is, mixed along with the East Indian culture, which viewed women as second class, combined together, served as a deadly cocktail, where culturally the women were treated and seen as chattels. We were for the most part seen as vessels to carry children once married off, and pregnancy out of wedlock made us outcasts. We were taught to be submissive and to act at a standard our men were not expected to act. We were to be pious, virginal, pure, humble, subservient, and we were expected to stay in our relationships no matter what! No ifs, no buts, and to do otherwise was a disgrace to our family. Even our own parents and siblings looked down on us and would demand we keep our marriage together, for the children, but more for appearances. And society was ruthless then, and women were not allowed much education and worse yet, were not freely allowed to work out of the home. Making beans, tortillas, and babies was our future, it would seem.

Husbands would beat their wives and children, almost to a pulp, and neighbours could not intervene. Women may want to run to the rescue of other women, but the husbands of these other women prohibited it, because it’s “not their business.” Rather, “it’s a man and woman thing” and the rule was and still is, we do not interfere. That culture is still with us, despite many women like myself refusing to conform and daring to make ourselves financially stable so that we do not have to stay in a relationship due to economic reasons. However, even when more women became educated and worked, even their finances were controlled by their spouse… I am not exaggerating; it is real even to date, when many professional women end up with these jobless or insecure men.

I am thankful that I have fought against this culture and even opted to disassociate from it and that in many ways seeing these experiences from childhood has made me resolve that it cannot be that my sole purpose is determined by my vagina and not by my equal worth as a human being. I know it is not an easy journey, but the reward of freedom of self is priceless. But I cannot be fully free if my sisters are not yet free and I may die not fully free because in my lifetime my sisters may still not be free. Still, I have watered the seed of freedom, planted before us by other women in abusive relationships. We must shout it out loud and clear – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY; YOU ARE STRONG AND SELF-SUFFICIENT AND YOU ARE ENTITLED TO TRUE HAPPINESS AND FULFILLMENT!

The culture continues

I have been writing and talking about abuse, because part of my growth into my authentic self requires me to place every experience in its context and to name abuse for what it is and to identify the history of it, the players in it, the damage of it, and the path to break the cycle of it.  I must conscientiously free myself of the shackles of abuse to be able to be a fully functioning woman and in the process I am willing to share, because my growth is not complete if I do not bring other women, and men, along and make it a social issue we can easily and comfortably speak about. I want us to individually and collectively remove the taboo! That does not mean I can rescue women, because that fight has to come from within each of us, but I can open eyes, let people see that even I have walked that path and there is freedom. I should no longer carry the shame abusers place on you and I should lift my head high and say, I am a warrior… I fought against it and I came up on top. But that is the same battle cry I want for my every sister in this land, regardless of race, religion, economic background, education, profession, size, shape and opinion!

It is because I have lived and seen and heard abuse from my childhood to now in my professional life, that I have come to recognize that it is a culture we have had from time immemorial and for a long time that was and continues to be acceptable, and it is time for us to, first individually, break the cycle of abuse and then by so doing we are contributing to the collective dismantling of this culture.

 Now this conversation to fight abuse started long before my voice, because long before me, I know there were women who denounced it and scarified being the outcast to start dismantling it, so we should not let their sacrifice be in vain. Also, we have recognized it’s an issue in this country by the mere fact that we even have laws to address abuse, and in many ways compared to our sister countries we are far ahead in terms of laws enacted… this is a good step forward.

However, having a law alone is not enough, because the laws must be given spirit by those who use it either by seeking help, offering a protection, and/or handing down decisions. This is where we need more sensitization and education. It’s like we would create a new revolution that promotes healing and teaching respect for each other and where we are taught to resolve conflicts or deal with separation or rejection in a more civilized manner instead of a selfish and destructive manner.

Now the trickle down of this abuse is the continuation of this culture, so let me just give a slice of how this cycle operates. If children are abused at home, their likelihood of becoming abusers or submitting to abuse increases. They have the propensity, but it does not mean that automatically it will happen, but chances are higher, given the right, or rather wrong, relationship. I believe, that depending on the person’s personality and self-preservation mechanism, there are those strong enough to break the cycle by their own means, and sometimes that means is education, religion and even therapy.

I do not have the statistics, because I do not believe they exist in Belize, for those who break it or stay in it, so I will give my own guesstimate based on my experience and observations.  Therefore, I estimate as much as 70% of those growing up in abusive environments, never break away from abuse on their own and so they perpetuate the cycle. When they grow up and enter relationships and have children, they are likely to pass on the abusiveness and continue the cycle of abuse to the next generation, who then pass it on to the next generation and it goes on until someone in that bloodline breaks it from their immediate branch of their family tree.

Linda’s tragic end

It is rather interesting that my memory of Marion Idolly Singh should be jerked to consciousness by Linda’s tragic end. They both looked so beautiful and I guess that Marion was in her twenties at the time of her untimely demise, unlike Linda, who would be almost twice her age. But the age does not matter, the education does not matter and the status does not matter: what matters is that they were both women in abusive relationships.

Since this has become a topic of public discourse, both friends and relatives of the two deceased have sent me private messages about the background they knew and one close relative of Linda said the information he provided can be made public. But I do not wish to go into the details; suffice to say that indeed all indications are that the relationship was abusive to the point that the parties separated and the husband moved in to live with another female, who was his co-worker. However, there was reconciliation between the couple and marriage counselling was done. But after moving in back together, shortly after the husband returned to the same abusive ways. Those ways being that he was very jealous, insecure, neglected his wife, and was always out with friends on his own and even threatened her with his weapon. Out of the home he was a very likeable guy, but at home he displayed his temper and abuse. Per one relative and another close friend of Linda, she had already told them she was parting ways with him and wanted him out of her life and they believe that it is this action to get out of the relationship that precipitated his irrational behaviour. However, persons familiar with the co-worker with whom he had a relationship said that she also lived in fear as he had threatened her too.

Now, I know some have sought to solicit sympathy for the husband because of the tragic past in his life, where his mother committed suicide, his sister was killed in a similar situation as her partner likewise committed suicide, and to make matters worse, his brother was knocked down and killed. I do not say that there should not be any empathy for him. After all, these life events only serve to show the level of trauma and abuse he witnessed, including the abuse growing up.  This background points to the very cycle of abuse he learnt and saw as the pattern for his life.  This is in no way to vilify him, but rather to indicate that while he was an adult, he too needed professional help to break the cycle of abuse and trauma he experienced and, sadly, which he continued.

Sadly, culturally we have come to accept the abusive homes and communities we live in and see it as the norm. We are products of these environments and to different degrees we each display our abuse to others or become paralysed by the abuse we suffer. Break the Cycle and let this conversation continue!

RIP, Marion and Linda!

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Deshawn Swasey

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