by Mary Fernando
“He laughed a lot, but not loudly. Other people naturally deferred to him. He was a skilled communicator,” she said, in that famous voice, like smooth whisky with a touch of honey. “We married very quickly. I was very young.”
After they were married, he began to reveal his plans for her. By humiliating and belittling her daily, he made her feel small, unimportant and made it easier for her to be controlled. It taught her that she was no match for him. If she disagreed with him, embarrassed him in any way, there would be consequences. There would be beatings. She learned to never disagree. Never to say anything he would disapprove of. She learned to avoid other people. To become isolated, because that too, made her easier to control.
She learned his rules. In the midst of fear and humiliation - she knew if she followed his rules, the beating would be less. And the beating would stop when she was pregnant. And he didn't beat the children.
She didn’t go to the hospital to give birth to her first three children, because he didn't want her to say anything when he couldn't control her.
When she was nine months pregnant with her fourth child, she said something that upset him. He threw her down the stairs, broke her coccyx and sent her into labour. He took her to the hospital.
To keep her in line, to make it clear how unimportant she was, he parked and made her walk, bleeding and in pain, the long distance to the hospital doors.
When the x-rays showed her broken coccyx, she told the nurses and doctors that she had fallen down the stairs. No one, no nurse, no doctor, asked her if she had been beaten, if she felt safe. When she went into full labour, she refused all pain meds, fearful that she would say something she shouldn't if she was drugged.
After she delivered her baby, she began to realize that there were no rules that could keep her safe. Before, her pregnancies had protected her from severe physical violence. Now she knew that he was eventually going to kill her. And then who would take care of her children?
That provided the impetus to get help from a women’s shelter. Here she voraciously read their literature on abuse, found solace in those who cared for her and her children.
But he still had plans for her.
Before she could escape and build a life for herself, he kidnapped her children. To get them back, she had to go with him. She went with him.
For three days, he tied her down and he tortured her. Beat her. Humiliated her. Raped her. She still remembers that moment during those horrific days that she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was filled with loathing for the woman she saw in the mirror. She hated what she saw. What he had made her.
“I now know I was just doing my best,” she said, whisky voice turning soft. “I was being extraordinarily brave to take the only path forward I could see for my children. For myself.”
That path was to get her children back, escape him and make a life for herself.
You probably know her as Eve, or by her twitter handle @BrowofJustice. She is a nurse who is fierce about the care of her patients and the raising of her children. She is fierce in defending others. You can’t scare her, because she has been to hell and she walked out. On her own two feet. And she has other things that terrify her.
Eve is not alone, not only because she now has friends and colleagues. She shares the same story as the one out of every three women worldwide have been the victims of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. Less than 40 per cent of the women who experienced violence sought help of any sort. Less than 10% sought help from the police.
Healthcare providers - doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, PSWs - all need to be trained to see the signs of domestic abuse. We need to ask - do you feel safe? We are trained to recognize heart attacks and strokes. We need to be trained to help curb the epidemic of domestic abuse.
Eve is the voice of these women and her story is their story.
One of the reasons women don't speak, don't escape, is that they are frightened that their ex-partner will eventually find them and make them pay for breaking their silence. They are scared that they will never be free. Never feel safe.
When I write the rest of Eve’s story next month, it will become clear why Eve, like many women, is justified to have these fears.