So, I’ve been really reluctant to speak about the recent video making the rounds on social media in T&T, for a couple of reasons. The first one is that I’m angry about it – that something like this could happen to a woman in broad daylight in 21st Century. The other reason is that I feel guilty. In fact, I feel like we all are…
When I was about 12 years old, my mother, brother and I went to see a movie at Caribbean Cinemas 8 in Trincity. By the time we came back out, it was late, and my mother was ready to just go back home and sleep. As we walked out of the cinema and toward the taxi stand, we saw a dark purple pick-up truck park quickly in front of the exit that we just walked out of, and its driver, a middle-aged Indo-Trini man, jump out of the car and grab an Indian girl about my age who was standing not too far away from where we were. He didn’t ask a question at first. In fact, he didn’t say a word. He ran towards the girl and punched her in the face. About 20 minutes passed, with this older man beating this young girl in the middle of the mall on a busy Saturday evening.
I turned to my mom, shocked out of my mind – this was the first time I had seem someone get attacked like this in real life, and to make it worse the victim was similar in age to me. My mother, though, was unmoved. She maybe came to the same conclusions that I did – this girl clearly sneaked out her father’s house, and that means she had this coming to her – but I still thought that beating someone like this, embarrassing the person in front of a bunch of strangers, wasn’t right. So I asked her, “Mom, shouldn’t we stop de man?”
My mother said “That have nothing to do wit you, child…”
We’ve been raised to think this – that other people’s abuse has nothing to do with us. That the neighbor getting beaten by their spouse , the good friend who came to work with a bruise, or even the person screaming for help in the middle of the street on the middle of the night, is not our business. That trying to help is either wasting your time or putting yourself at risk. The responsibility is on the victim to save herself. Even when we know it’s not that simple…
This video angered me immensely when I first saw it (what made it worse was that I was on live television when it was shown to me). It angered me because I know a good friend – a smart, talented, Compassionate young woman – who is in a relationship that by all metrics can be considered abuse. And this video instantly carried my mind to her. I wasn’t angry at the man beating her, though, or the woman being beaten. I’m not angry at my friend’s partner, or my friend. I’m angry at myself.
I’m not angry that something like that could happen. I’m angry that something like that could happen and no one could have stopped it.
We are worse than the man that beats the woman. We are the men and women who know that someone else is hurt or in danger, and watch from a distance saying that we would rather watch someone else get hurt than risk a bruise to make someone else’s pain stop. We are the people who maintain the space for other people to suffer abuse and violence, whether it’s at home, in work, on the streets or in a bar.
Folks have responded with a sort of anger at the woman, who refused to press charges even when her boyfriend turned himself in for attacking her. But, to be honest, I don’t blame her. She, like so many other women, know that they live in a space where no one else will come to their aid. After all, we’re all hearing the voices of our parents, whispering ‘that have nothing to do with you, child…’ It’s that same logic that stops friends and family members from speaking freely to us about their abuse – next to the fact that victims feel powerless, they don’t trust that we or anyone else can be their strength for them. And those victims are right. We would rather blame them for being victims than own our own responsibility as protectors of our fellow men and women.
It is with that in mind that I think we should be angry at ourselves, and I mean all of us, for helping create the nation where abuse is so normalized that a man can beat his significant other in broad daylight among other people without fear, and that the victim could subsequently accept that treatment and stay with the man. Setting aside all the things that complicate abuse all over the world, it is our acceptance of abuse that adds to our syndrome of social decay.
PSI Caribbean’s latest gender-based violence campaign slogan ‘Make It Stop’ summarizes my sentiments about how we as citizens deal with abuse. We mustn’t be the bystanders in the video above, seemingly pleading for the man to stop assaulting his girlfriend. We have to make it stop. There’s no question there. No fear, or self-consciousness. Just an understanding of the duty we have to all people who do and can suffer harm like this, and who can suffer harm. And, from now on, I commit myself to being one of the few that steps up and makes it stop by any means. I refuse to be one of the people that makes abusers feel safe instead of the abused.
What about you?