marlienebastien_fc.jpgDomestic violence is a problem in all communities, and has been for some time. 

On Dec. 20, 1993, The U.N. General Assembly designated Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Members invited international and non-governmental organizations to hold activities and raise public awareness of domestic violence.

The importance of this action became paramount after the bestial 1960 assassination of three sisters (named the Mirabal sisters) from the Dominican Republic, on order of their ruthless leader, Rafael Trujillo.

In Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties, not one month passes without us reading about a husband killing his wife, or a horrendous murder-suicide case.  Most of the victims are women and children. That’s not to say that violence does not impact men.

Our community seems desensitized. The story of a husband or partner murdering his entire family then killing himself – or trying to do so – leave most of us untouched, unshaken.  Not a tear is shed for this woman’s shattered dream, not a concern for the children who will never grow up. No outcry from our leaders, policy makers, families or impacted communities. 

As the economic crisis worsens, social scientists predict more ills to befall our families. In times of war (at home or throughout the country), there is a constant, no matter where it is brewing:
Women and children are the most impacted.  In our center, we’ve seen an increase in both spousal and child abuse.  Public schools seem to be at their wits’ end dealing with violent, troubled children. 

Teachers who should focus on lesson plans and educating our youth prepare their school days as if they are going into a battle field.  They must have a survival plan to complete their teaching day unharmed.  In school, children replicate what they witness in their home environment.

Batterers always have an excuse to explain their actions. They say, “I had a bad day at work’’ or “I was drunk.’’

The victims enable them.  They internalize and reinforce the same poor excuses: “My husband/partner loves me,’’ they might say. Or, “He hurts me only when he is under the influence.’’

Ladies, this is a hoax.  Your husband/partner beats on you because he knows he can.  Drunk or not, he will not stand in the middle of the road and be run over by a truck.  He will not attack someone twice his size, his boss, or a police officer. He beats on you because he can and you let him. It is about control.  

Why do women accept it?  Why do they continue to make excuses for chronic abusers?  Why don’t they leave?  We’ve heard the answers:  They don’t leave because of their children.  They worry about survival.  Their religion does not condone divorce. Marriage is for life.

In my culture, they say “nou se fanm, fok nou soufri, se kwa n-ap pote’’ (Creole for, “We are women, we must suffer, it is our cross to carry.’’)

Really!   In my 30 years of social work, I find that victims who stay longer are those with very poor self-esteem.  They have no self worth, a very poor image of themselves.

They may say, “He beats me because I failed him’’ or  “I did not prepare dinner on time’’ or “I was negligent, I deserved it.’’

Counseling is fruitless for these women unless they are able to develop a sense of self-worth.

Men who batter, on the other hand, believe that women are inferior.  Most men are raised in an environment where their ego is constantly stroked.  They are taught to believe in themselves. 
Even the less accomplished man is full of his importance. I experience this so many times during my constant travels.  I’ve been approached by undesirables in Nassau, Brussels, Switzerland and other places.

Last January, I confronted a man at a train station in Brussels who grabbed my arm to convince me to consider his offers after I ignored him completely for two minutes. The spirit of Toussaint L’Ouverture must have drummed into my head. I planted both my feet on the ground, squared my shoulders, and gave him the “get out of my face now” look.   He got the message.   He disappeared like smoke.

In the eight hours train ride to Switzerland, I mused over the incident.  I wondered why this toothless scoundrel thought that I could fall into his cunning trap!  Well, he is a man, thus full of his sense of superiority no matter how undesirable he appeared!

We can have as many days as we want to eliminate violence against women. But as long as we continue to raise our daughters to be victims, the violence will continue.

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.