Sun | Sep 24, 2023

Almost 20 years later, domestic abuse victim says ‘it hurts even now’

Published:Friday | June 2, 2023 | 12:34 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer
Participants among the graduates during a Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme, conducted under the European Union /United Nations Development Programme Spotlight Initiative in Clarendon on May 25.
Participants among the graduates during a Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme, conducted under the European Union /United Nations Development Programme Spotlight Initiative in Clarendon on May 25.

Thirty-three-year-old Anna-Kay was brought to tears as she spoke about years of sexual abuse, allegedly at the hand of her stepfather. The abuse, she said, started when she was just 10 years old and continued for about five years until she planned her grand departure from the dreaded family home.

Anna-Kay was among a cohort of 20 domestic violence survivors who graduated from a Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme under the European Union (EU)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Spotlight Initiative in Clarendon recently.

The five-month programme, completed at a cost of approximately US$113,000, culminated with a closing ceremony held at the Wembley Centre of Excellence in Hayes, Clarendon.

Last year, information from the Ministry of National Security revealed an almost 100 per cent increase in the number of Jamaicans who reported experiencing domestic abuse or violence over the last five years, with the annual number of reported cases of domestic violence increased from just over 4,000 to around 8,000.

“The sexual abuse affected my life. I feel like I have no worth in this world. I ended up having a child very young (not by the alleged abuser) because I just had to come out of the household because he was with our mother, and at nights he came to our room, and molested us … me and my sisters. It hurts even now. Just to speak about it really affects me,” said Anna-Kay, her voice waning as she tried to fight back the tears.

The Global Database on Violence against Women suggests that 27 per cent of women aged 15–49 years experience sexual violence perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime.

Anna-Kay shared that her grief and turmoil were compounded by the fact that her mother turned a blind eye to the alleged abuse.

“When I spoke to my mother about it, she became defensive. I got molested by her husband, spoke about it, and she got defensive and took rope the day that she was gonna to hang herself, but I believe I got relief by speaking about it, and I think she should have done something and she didn’t,” said Anna-Kay as the tears streamed down her face.

“I had my son at age 15, and even after, my stepfather still tried to do stuff [to me] emotionally because when I was about 20-something-years-old, he told someone that he gave me $25,000 and had sex with me. So a lot of these things affected me for most of my life,” said a crying Anna-Kay.

She told The Gleaner that finding the strength to forgive is hard.

“I try to forgive him, but it’s really challenging. I speak to him, but I don’t know if I forgive him, but I’m really trying to,” Anna-Kay said.

The notion of forgiveness seems farfetched for her fellow programme participant, Abigail McKenzie. McKenzie, 22, said she endured years of abuse from her ex-partner because she was worried about returning to her family home, citing fears of being ridiculed and no moral support.

“I was abused by my child’s father ... we lived together and he would always abuse me. I left as soon as I had my child. My family warned me. They told me to leave multiple times, but I didn’t take heed,” McKenzie shared.

Speaking on why she stayed in the abusive relationship for two years, McKenzie said: “I was not independent. I had to depend on him for any and everything. I was there for too long. It hurt me. It took away a part of me. [The abuse] should have never happened.”

McKenzie lauded the programme as excellent, adding that she had been armed with knowledge and skills to tap into her entrepreneurial skills. Plans are under way to launch her kids’ clothing business.

Under the programme, participants were also given business grants and completed soap-making and lash application courses.

Proud programme participant Nicola Smith, owner of Glam with Glitter and Fabric, which specialises in handmade gifts and decor items, had her handiwork on display.

“These were just ideas, but because I came to the programme and was helped financially, I could invest and enhance my business and get the products I need to kick-start things,” an enthused Smith told The Gleaner.

UNDP Resident Representative Denise Antonio asserted that the EU-UN’s partnership with the Clarendon Municipal Corporation had unearthed economic empowerment for 70 women and girls in rural Jamaica to date - the 20 from Thursday’s ceremony, and another cohort of 40 women and 10 girls in 2022.

“This aligns with the Spotlight Initiative’s aim to foster intervention programmes for women and girls facing multiple forms of violence. This also achieves key targets of the Violence Against Women and Girls Prevention Strategy of Clarendon’s Local Sustainable Development Plan supported by UNDP in the phase one of the Spotlight Initiative,” said Antonio in her address, adding that 60 women had successfully established micro businesses.