Today’s Opinion: On domestic violence

POSTED: 05/9/11 1:47 PM

The message was of course not new, but the messenger was certainly powerful. Pop legend Dionne Warwick addressed a large crowd at the Bel Air Community Center on Saturday evening about a thorny issue called domestic violence.

Somehow, we all know about domestic violence. We know it happens, and there are many among us who even know where it happens, who the victims are and who the abusers are. But when it comes to taking action, most of us suddenly have better things to do, or we simply do not know how to act.

Warwick’s message was loud and clear: start talking. Report abuse to the authorities. Don’t ever just take it, she said – and that remark was of course directed at women who are the victims of domestic violence.

It seems so simple, yet the reality is awfully stubborn. The fact is that a lot of people don’t talk and another fact is that a lot of women (and some men) indeed just take it.

Many abusers and abused have the warped idea that they are in love with each other. Hence the stories, aptly put forth by Warwick, along the lines of I promise I won’t do it again.

It is not too long ago that a woman in St. Maarten filed a complaint against her husband because she alleged that he had fired shots at a house where she was staying. When the prosecutor’s office decided to take the man to court, the woman was first in line to say that she did not want her husband prosecuted.

That weird story came to an end when the man was acquitted for lack of evidence. The happy couple is still living together, but one may well wonder about what happens in that household behind closed doors. It is, in fact, a typical example that confirms a point Warwick was making.

We’ve all heard about so-called love-hate relationships, wherein partners are constantly at each other’s throats – sometimes literally. But in spite of all the dog fights, they do not consider for a moment that they would be better off without each other.

The reason behind this is not always love. It is dependency. When one partner is depending on the other for income, the thought easily comes to mind that it is impossible to leave. Where will you live? How will you pay the rent, or buy food?

Those considerations trap many victims of domestic violence in abusive relationships. And when the abuse goes on long enough it becomes a fact of life.

Warwick, and with her the Peridot foundation that invited her, obviously want to encourage victims to take action, to leave those abusive relationships.

And the good news is: that is feasible, because there is help available for victims of domestic violence. The shelter for abused women Safe Haven offers protection and a temporary roof. The Peridot Foundation has made the fight against domestic violence its core business. The office of the public prosecutor is taking a tough stance on the issue.

And yet, we see how the topic of domestic violence is mostly ignored. We remember all too well how Safe Haven had to organize a press conference last year, almost literally screaming for help from the community to fund its efforts. On Saturday there was some good news for the shelter, because Angelique Martis-Roumou received a $2,000 check from the Peridot Foundation for Safe Haven.

The thing is of course, if all upstanding citizens cared about domestic violence, Safe Haven would not be struggling financially.

That brings to mind a statement Women’s Affairs Minister Cornelius de Weever made on Saturday. When we go home in the evening, he said, we ought to look in the mirror and think about our actions and their consequences. That does not only apply to the act of domestic violence, or to our selective silence about it. It certainly is also valid for the way we do (or don’t) support valuable social institutions like Safe Haven.

As the minister said: look in the mirror, and think about it. Then act.


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