by Tricia Simon, LLB, BCom, Dip.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines power as the “possession of control, authority, or influence over others”.
In relation to an intimate relationship, one can examine the dichotomy of power from the perspectives of being emotional, financial, social, education and physical. Simply put, domestic abuse is about the perpetrator feeling “powerful” and the victim feeling “powerless”.
“You are nothing without me.” Those words cut like a knife coming from the mouth of an intimate partner. The sole purpose is to exert power and control on the other individual. Dishonesty and lying are common themes underlying my family law files where there is domestic abuse. It is important to note that abusive partners lie actively (saying the words) and inactively (omission). An abuser may lie to “get out of trouble” as opposed to being honest with their partner. At times they deem the victim to be gullible enough to believe the utter dishonesty and ill intent they project. The abuser may do what is coined as “bait and switch”, so today the victim feels like a prince/princess and the next they are meant to feel worthless. My clients have relayed that at times they feel powerless, confused, dejected and self-blame sets in. The victim continually asks, “what have I done wrong, what can I do to make things better?” Cheating is another form of emotional abuse as it shows utter disrespect and no consideration for the other individual’s wellbeing. Blackmail and shaming for one’s actions or inactions are also an indication of emotional abuse.
Typically, we examine domestic violence through the eyes of a woman, and I must say that in my practice I have seen my share of men who have experienced domestic violence. It is telling to note that the hat of an abuser transcends gender and it is not the gender one has to examine but rather the individual and his or her actions. The men who are victims of abuse typically suffer in silence because they feel a sense of shame and society looks at them as being weak and they may feel emasculated. The sad part is that at times with no recourse for assistance they themselves become abusive to their current or future partner.
“No food in the home” because the abuser purchased a new laptop; spent the grocery money on alcohol; the man or woman refuses to be gainfully employed so one partner works long hours; gambling; the money is spent on a new partner; the list is endless. Partners who are financially abusive hold a tight rein on the finances and typically prevent the victim from the use of the joint family funds or even go as far as to determine how the victim would spend the money he or she earns. The financial insecurity caused by this power dynamic resonates with most women who typically earn less and are in more precarious job positions compared to their male partners.
Friends and family members form a key part of a person’s social sphere making them vital for an individual’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. In the beginning, a partner is over the moon that their new partner wants to spend “all their spare time with them”. This can morph into total control where the abusive partner would begin to criticize one’s friends, family members and associates in the hope of alienating the victim from their close circle. Then the abuser becomes the centre of the victim’s world where they are to be doled out emotional and other forms of support and abuse at the whim of the abuser.
There is an old adage, “education lifts you out of poverty”, which speaks to the power of education. At times I have witnessed an abusive partner preventing the victim from attaining a higher form of education. A higher education typically means independence whether financial or emotional and typically with the gaining of such, the power noose no longer exists.
The all too common signs of physical domestic abuse are the black eye, bruises and broken bones although the more experienced partners tend to push, pull and tug so as not to leave the usual telltale bruises. I often ask myself why is it that one person, the abuser, can feel so powerless than he or she chooses — and it is a choice — to maim another individual.
The reality is that we tend to view the victim as the powerless individual when in reality it is the abuser who is weak and powerless. Instead, he or she chooses to use the façade of power to hide their weakness and fragility. It is time that the paradigm switches to when we as a society begin to empower individuals who suffer abuse and make them feel as though they are the strong ones for (a) recognising the signs of abuse and (b) having the strength to walk away from an abusive partner. I say to my clients that forgiveness is for the victim because if one carries the heavy mantle of victimhood then you allow the abuse to continue.
Covid-19 has struck like lightning with a vengeance and almost universal lockdown has ensued. The now familiar terms, “social distance and self-isolation” in the home are for the privileged. In a small space where partners are confined those terms are meaningless. Going to work, school or the ability to leave the home or having a partner leaving the house on a daily basis for some individuals was a blessing. Now on lockdown and with possible job loss and uncertainty comes financial constraints and emotional instability, typical triggers for feeling powerless and so to assert power the abuser may go on a tirade.
In countries such as Canada and the UK with social safety nets which includes housing and financial support there is an increase in the reporting of domestic violence. The BBC in the article, “UK lockdown: Calls to domestic abuse helpline jump by half” speaks to a stark increase in reportings of domestic abuse. Canada has also seen an increase in domestic abuse where an article, “Minister says Covid-19 is empowering domestic violence abusers as rates rise in parts of Canada” by Raisa Patel in CBC News describes this increase.
After consulting with the Royal Grenada Police Force on domestic abuse, the general conclusion from the force is that there is a decrease in the volume of reportings of domestic violence and child abuse. Thus, we must applaud the individuals who in the past have committed acts of abuse and have now ceased. Second, we must commend the authorities for their continued vigilance and education regarding prevention and assistance to individuals who suffer domestic violence and child abuse.
In light of the recent homicide in Victoria, St Mark allegedly committed by the woman’s intimate partner, I am left to wonder whether a partner in a precarious financial and emotional position would report to the authorities their abuse and be placed into an unknown abyss. As we say in Grenada, “better the devil you know than the devil you do not know.”
In these dire times help is available and victims are urged to seek assistance from friends, family, neighbours and the authorities.
United States of America: Call 911; National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
Tricia Simon is an Attorney-at-Law called to the bar in the State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the Province of Ontario, Canada. She practices in several areas of law with expertise in the area of Family Law particularly domestic violence and child abuse.
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