Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Battered & bruised but women hit back - 71% of abused females lash out at their intimate partners

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2018 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
An enactment of a domestic violence scene

For just over three years, Donna* lived with a man who would slap her if the dinner was late, kick and punch her if she spoke too quietly on the phone he had bought her, and beat her mercilessly if he assumed she was cheating.

Then she fought back, hitting him with an unopened tin of milk before fleeing the Kingston 20 community with just the clothes she had on and what she could push into a small bag.

Donna is among more than 71 per cent of the women who have experienced physical or partner violence and have retaliated.

But for more than 20 per cent of these women, their efforts were futile, and Donna is among that group.

In less than two weeks after she fled, the man convinced her that he had changed, and she returned home. One month later the beatings started again, and they would not stop until her father and brother arrived to forcefully take her away.


Fought back more than once


According to the Women's Health Survey for 2016, of the 71 per cent of women who retaliated, approximately 23 per cent fought back only once, while 48 per cent fought back two or more times.

"Among the women who stated that fighting back was effective, the majority (36.5 per cent) said the violence stopped and 18 per cent stated that the violence became less after the retaliation.

However, for approximately 25 per cent of the women, the violence became worse after they retaliated, the survey found.

As a community mobiliser for the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), Christine Senior has come across several women who have been in abusive relationships, and she found that the response to abuse varies.

"Some of them run away from the home. I know one in particular who, when she left, she left her little girl, but it was for peace of mind. Persons were saying, 'If you are going to run away, why not run away with your pickney,' but then again, if you feel as if the child is not in any immediate threat and the child might have a bed to sleep on, while you don't have anywhere and you have to now 'kotch' with a friend, it is best to leave the child," Senior told The Sunday Gleaner.

"I know of another situation where the person got really physical, in the sense that she actually used a skillet and knocked the man out cold and actually sat on top of him just waiting for him to move again. Thank God he didn't; not that he died, but if he had, probably she would have hit him again," Senior recounted.

The survey found that more than half (51.1 per cent) of the women said they left the relationship because they could not endure more violence, while 14.6 per cent said they were afraid their partners would kill them.

Of those who left, 13.2 per cent were encouraged to do so by family or friends, while for 12.3 per cent, it was because they were badly injured.

While walking away is one of the main forms of retaliation, the study found that some, like Donna, returned to the abusive relationship for varying reasons.

Acting executive director of Woman Inc, Joyce Hewett, says sometimes it is because they are financially dependent on their abuser, while in other cases it is because the woman has nowhere to go.

Woman Inc operates the only shelter available for abused women in Jamaica, and Hewett finds that in some cases, the women go back because they underestimate the level of abuse meted out to them.

"We have seen instances where there is what would be described by a psychologist as a codependency or emotional dependency. It is where the woman has reached the stage of not being able to logically recognise that she is being a victim and has accepted it as the norm," said Hewett.


Women depressed


Oftentimes, it is also coupled with a level of depression that is not as evident to the average person, but she is at that low level, almost what you would call the battered woman syndrome, where she just continues to go back for all of these reasons and where she convinces herself that the violence won't happen again; but it will get increasingly worse unless there is intervention," added Hewett.

The study also found some of the women return out of concern for their children and a desire to keep their families together.

But staying behind for the sake of the family has been shown to have adverse effects on the children in some cases. The survey found that children of women who experience physical and/or sexual violence from their partners were four times more likely to drop out of school than children of women who did not experience such abuse.

"Going back for the sake of the children or staying for the children becomes more harmful for the children than good, but again, the mother is not able to rationalise this because of her state of mind," argued Hewett.

* Name changed on request