Yesterday evening, news broke that Rachael Sukhdeo dropped the domestic violence suit against her millionaire husband Sheron Sukhdeo, saying that they’ve since reconciled their issues. And, right on time, the dozens of folks who think that it’s their place to call Rachael an idiot came out of the woodwork…
On some miniscule level, I can’t blame those folks. Rachael Sukhdeo had a heaping helping of national support when she came out on social media begging for relief from her abusive marriage. By the time it got to the courts, Trinbagonians were both relieved that she was seeking help and inspired that this might encourage others to speak out. Now that she’s decided to return to her husband, things have gotten so bad that she feels she has to answer to the public…
All of this is likely because most of us have no f**king clue about what’s going on in a domestic violence victim’s head.
Firstly, I should say I don’t know what’s changed, if anything. I hope that things have changed for the better. But, of the little I understand about abuse myself, what my gut tells me is that this is more of the same. He beats her, ‘sincerely aplogizes’ and says that he ‘loves’ her, the cycle starts over at the honeymoon phase until something happens to trip him off again. Or, worse, he’s threatened her, or even her children. For now, though, she’s (saying that she’s) okay.
The fact that she’s decided to return to that relationship, though, has nothing to do with intelligence. I have no doubt in my mind that Rachael is an incredibly smart lady; smart enough to use Sheron’s own business page to gather attention to her plight and situate herself in the middle of the national consciousness, at least. That sort of person isn’t dumb. But she is human. That means she can be seduced by affection and scared of retribution, like all human beings.
This gets much more complicated when we start talking about Battered Person Syndrome. Sufferers internalize abuse as their fault, begin avoiding people and places that they think will make their abuse worse, and develop the irrational fear that their abuser is seeing their every move. Someone who is suffering like that will make decisions that we don’t think we can make sense of. And that desires sympathy, not cynicism.
It’s hard enough to put your faith in the justice system without all that psychological trauma, but maybe it’s helpful to start asking ourselves whether we have faith in our justice system at all? This is the same country where a judge granted an abuser the opportunity to spend Christmas with his victim and their children. Are we really going to tell women like Rachael that they’re safer if they reach out to the courts for justice? That simply might not be true.
And that’s not the only state system that treats abuse victims irresponsibly. Only a fraction of our police stations deal with domestic abuse reports, leaving victims to move from place to place just to find a voice who will listen. Some battered women say that shelter staff have revealed their location to abusers. Not to mention the complication that children bring to the equation. All of this is against the backdrop of a nation where women (and sometimes even their children) find themselves mutilated or murdered at the hands of a violently ill partner or former lover. Local activist Sherna Alexander Benjamin has a well-written piece on the issue that was shared on Time Magazine. You should take a read.
Some of us, maybe myself included, looked at Rachael and Sheron Sukhdeo’s case as some sort of shining example of what can happen when a victim speaks out and shines a light on violence. What it is, though, is just another story of a victim trying to find their own way to survive abuse in whatever ways make sense. That’s more difficult than we can imagine, because our heads aren’t filled with fearful thoughts of what someone will do to us and our children if we leave.
We also haven’t been mindful enough to ask where Rachael will go, whether her children can come with her, whether the state can protect her. So we’ve got no f**king right to vilify her for navigating a broken system in order to protect herself and her children. Of course we can say this is not the ideal, but we need to be honest about the fact that there is no ideal place for her here. And then we’ve got to f**king build that safe place for all those like her, instead of yelling at her for not building it herself.