Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Help from underground - Secret network rescuing abused women from life-threatening situations

Published:Sunday | September 4, 2016 | 9:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
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At least three women have been rescued from life-threatening, abusive relationships in recent times, and several others are being assisted by a secret underground network, which just last week acquired a safe house outside of Jamaica to bolster efforts to safeguard the lives of victims of domestic violence.

The secret network operates in a similar fashion to an underground railroad and is made up of former victims of abuse, trained counsellors, justices of the peace, pastors, lawyers, business women, and others who are sympathetic to the needs of battered women.

The rescued victims are assisted with finding a safe place to live and, in some cases, new schools for their children. They are also linked to support services.

The secret network was initially started as a support group for battered women, but a member of the group told The Sunday Gleaner that they were forced to expand the nature of the assistance offered when it became obvious that some of these women were in life-threatening situations.

"We are realising that much more is needed in terms of places of safety and shelters for women who are going through abusive relationships," she said.

Jamaica currently has only one battered women shelter, which is to be temporarily closed soon to undergo refurbishing, and pledges by successive government officials to build three women shelters across the island are yet to come to fruition.

While the number of women living in domestic-violence situations in Jamaica is not known, statistics from the Jamaica Constabulary Force reveal that 116 female homicides were reported in 2015. Sexual violence against females remains very high. In fact, in 2014, young women 24 years and under accounted for 92 per cent of all sexual-violence cases.

NEAR-DEATH

EXPERIENCES

Members of the secret network were kept busy last week trying to rescue two women from their abusive spouses. One of the women had at least three near-death experiences at the hands of her husband, who told her on several occasions that he was not afraid to kill her and then himself. There have been several cases of murder-suicides across Jamaica in recent times, linked to domestic disputes. The woman and her daughter were assisted in getting somewhere to live and her child placed at a new school.

In the second case, the woman was being physically and emotionally abused by her husband, but felt hopeless because she had nowhere else to go with her child.

"She is not allowed to work, she does not have a phone, she is not allowed to have Internet access or anything like that. She is completely cut off from her family in terms of communication," said a group member.

Contact was made with a relative overseas on behalf of the woman, who committed to offer her assistance, and an apartment was found in a different parish. A new school was also being sought for her daughter, and a police officer had agreed to help escort her from the house she shared with her abusive partner. The woman, however, changed her mind at the last minute.

Former president of Woman Inc, Joyce Hewett, told The Sunday Gleaner recently that leaving an abusive relationship is not always as easy for a woman as it might seem to the casual onlooker. Women Inc operates the only official women's shelter in the country.

"They are most vulnerable when they try to leave because of the level of possession and ownership that is at work in domestic-violence situations," said Hewett.

"It is all about power and control, so when she leaves the situation, she strips the abuser of his power and control, and then he totally loses it, because all he wants back is to totally own her, control her."

Although the location of the shelter operated by Woman Inc is confidential, Hewett said they had been forced to close down their office in the past, as staff members were threatened by an abusive spouse who turned up searching for his wife.

The risks associated with helping battered women have not been lost on members of the secret network, who have so far been operating successfully under the radar. In order to limit the chances of being found, the women assisted by the secret network are often advised to only tell a selected few about their impending move and to travel as light as possible.

HIGH RISK

"We, too, have to be mindful of our own safety. When you come into something like this where you are assisting women, you have violent people, in terms of spouses, who, if they are aware that you have helped a woman to get away from them, they can retaliate," said a member.

She said they receive no funding and so members generally pool their resources to assist the women they help to rescue. Not revealing the location of the safe house, she said it was outside of the country and was an offer from someone who wanted to contribute to the cause.

"It is for women who are going through abusive relationships and who need to get out of the country, to get away from their abusers," she shared, while explaining that the women would have to pay their own airfares.

"A lot of us bury our heads in the sand and we sit and watch Lifetime TV and believe that what we are seeing on Lifetime TV stays there, and probably does not happen here. But that couldn't be further from the truth, based on what we are experiencing now, the women that are coming to us, and their respective situations. A lot of it is very much like what you are seeing on Lifetime," she said.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com

Helplines for victims of domestic violence

Woman Inc & Crisis Centre

(Shelter for women and children in domestic crisis rape, incest, etc)

4 Ellesmere Road, Kingston 10

Telephone: 876-929-2997

Sam Sharp Square, Montego Bay

Telephone: 876-952-9533

Bureau of Gender Affairs

(Promotes national strategies for gender equality)

5-9 South Odeon Avenue, Kingston 10

Telephone: 876-754-8576-8

Deaconess House

(Offers temporary accommodation for women in crisis fire victims, ex-prisoners & victims of abuse)

4 Caledonia Avenue, Kingston 5

Telephone: 876 926-8856

Sisters United for Prayer, Healing Empowerment and Restoration

(A support group for women dealing with relationship, family and job-related challenges)

Contact: Marie Berbick

Tel: 832-4867

Missionaries of the Poor (Jacob's Well)

(Free accommodation for poor, homeless, sick or destitute women)

74 Hanover Street, Kingston

Telephone: 876-922-4414

Association for the Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

(Public education, peer counselling, training)

21 Slipe Pen Road, Kingston

Telephone: 876-967-5781

Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)

(Provides social support to women and girls)

2H Camp Road, Kingston 4

Telephone: 876-9283023

Jamaica Constabulary Force

Spouses of members of the police force are being encouraged to utilise the secure and confidential 24-hour helplines offered through the force's Medical Services Branch (MSB), at

1-888-2-get-help (1888-2-438-4357), 482-7575 and 322-7292.

Incidents of abuse may also be reported by calling 119 or the nearest police station.