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Fearing for life

by Latoya Burnham

A survivor of domestic abuse, who was also shot four times after she left her abuser, says she is more vigilant now since his release from prison this week.

Cynthia [not her real name], had an audience, including members of the Church of God, The Garden, St. James on the edge of their seats last night as she once again recounted her ordeal that began more than a decade ago and ended up with one of her sons witnessing her near murder.

In the forum, hosted by the Business and Professional Women’s group, Cynthia stood and told her story of being a survivor, in the most basic sense of the word.

Asked by a member of the audience how she felt about her attacker being released, Cynthia smiled wryly and confessed it was the one question that came up every time she told people about her story — about how she would deal with his eventual release.

Now it has happened, she said: “He is out on Monday that just gone. He is in society. There is nothing more I can do other than be protective of me and my surroundings. There is nothing in place for me to do other than protect my life and limbs to the best of my ability.”

And to say that still does not come easily for her, is an understatement. In fact, she confessed to Barbados TODAY that before this point she had allowed her face to be used as she told her story, but this time around, she gently requested that her image be protected now that he is on the street.

The reason is there is still an element of fear for her own life, after it was almost taken from her.

Cynthia’s story began back in 1999 when she met a man she thought was whom she had been looking for. Renting with her four children then, she told of how the man, who owned his own home, suggested she move in with her children to help save her money.

She said she worked in a gaming establishment at the time and trouble began to brew when one of her regular customers hugged her while in Bridgetown in the presence of her boyfriend.

“He was like who dis man is? Where you know he from, that kind of thing. Me, my mout’ always big, so I said you know where I work and when I meet he I was working, so I don’t see de point. Anyway, I figure that was over and done wid and I ain’t debating it any further, but later on he would have found out information about the guy and warned him not to talk to he woman because I belong to he.”

He began to check up behind her, calling her regularly to find out where she was. If she was going by a friend he would call the friend to find out when she got there.

Because of his seeming obsession with her and continuous calls to her job, she got fired and then was home, dependent on him.

After this point she said the verbal abuse started and she would always answer back. Then the verbal turned physical, and again she would fight back, or try to. The physical also escalated to the use of weapons, she said, and anything he found he would use to hit her.

“I used to defend myself. I would not take it sitting down. But one day we had this really big flare up and I said, you have to realise you have a problem because my fear was that my three sons would think this is the way you treat a woman and I wasn’t accustomed to that kind of living.

“I said you have to get help or I’m through the door. So he did, went … to one session,” she finished sarcastically, as there was some mumbles of laughter in the audience.

She said then began the period of “walking on eggshells”. When she decided to start going about looking for a job, she knew something was brewing in the house, she just did not know what. So she warned her children not to come home from school, but to go to their father for the weekend, as they sometimes did.

She began to make plans to leave, but it seemed some force had different plans for her. Each plan she devised that would see her easing out and never coming back was somehow waylaid by her watchful boyfriend who seemed to have a sixth sense that something was up.

So on Friday night he questioned why the boys were not home. She told him they were spending the weekend with their father. So that night he kept her close, legs draped over her as they slept. On Saturday he did not allow her to leave the house, followed her everywhere, even to the bathroom, and that night again slept with his body draped over hers.

On Sunday, the same thing happened, but then her best friend stopped by to check on her and she revealed what was happening. He started to chase her friend off his property, so she threatened to go get the police. From then he moved into action, she said, shutting down the house and forcing her into a back bedroom and stifling her sounds with a pillow over her face. She fought and was able to scream to signal the police who forced their way in.

She was able to escape, but did not press charges because as she said, she just wanted to move on with her life.

“When we ask women why they don’t leave? The fear of the unknown.”

But then he began to follow her and threaten that he would kill her, she said, and anyone in the way would follow suit.

She finally filed charges, but he refused to return to court to answer them. When he was finally arrested, he was remanded for a short period but then granted bail.

Cynthia told how she had to pull her children from school for a period and seek a restraining order, but even when her children returned to school she did not feel safe, and would collect them each day at the end of school.

One fateful evening however, all her precautions went out the window. After repeated calls by an unknown persons to the house where she was staying asking about her movements and her children, she rushed to pick up her two youngest children, but barely missed the bus. She flagged down an “unofficial taxi” and told the man she would pay for the seats if she had to, but she needed to get to her children urgently.

The man agreed to take her, so she collected one of her sons and the driver said he would take her directly to her house when she got the other, but he needed gas. So he pulled into a service station, with her and her 10-year-old in the vehicle and proceeded to go in.

“After he drove into the station, who should I see approaching but the same guy. I was in the front, so I get to roll up the window but not lock the doors, so he pulled open the door telling me he want to talk to me…

“I told him you say you gine kill me so whatever you gine do do here. So a struggle ensued and I fell in front of him and I remember seeing him go into his pants waist and pull out this thing that turned out to be a gun. I got the first gunshot in the middle of my head,” she said, as the audience gasped.

“The second one went through here,” she pointed to her left temple, “and lodged somewhere in my nose. The last two I got as I was trying to get into the store section of the gas station. My concern was that my youngest son was in the back. He was really small so he crawled under the seat and stayed there. My concern was getting my second one.”

She spent more than a week in hospital under protective guards because she said she later found out her attacker had dressed as a guard and tried to get in to her.

She had to undergo a number of surgeries, one in an attempt to save her eye which was damaged, but it was too far gone she said and doctors could do no more.

Even after she was released, she said he continued to call her friends to try to get to her and even had persons come to the house to her. It was so much, she confessed that she attempted suicide. It was back in hospital the second time that a nurse told her about the crisis centre for abused women.

Her attacker tried to commit suicide, but was saved and eventually charged and later sentenced to 12 years for serious bodily harm, with the three years he had served on remand taken into consideration.

It was not over however for her and her children. They had to go through counselling and her 10-year-old who had witnessed the entire incident became withdrawn and angry. Through counselling where he was able to draw what he felt, she said he eventually was able to handle his feelings.

A member of the audience asked if she did not know before the situation escalated what was happening, about the signs.

Cynthia admitted some signs presented themselves shortly after she had moved into his home, but she confessed that most women don’t really know what those signs mean or what to do about them and she was no different. “I did not know what was red flags. I only knew what that was after I got counselling. The normal woman does not know what a red flag is. If you ask what is a red flag in a relationship no one can tell unless you get education about it and know what to look for.”

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