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Tricia’s torture ...life after domestic violence
Tricia St John is a tall chocolate woman with a kind smile and an overwhelming peace that permeates the room when she walks in. But also noticeable is the absence of her left forearm, two missing fingers from her right hand, multiple scars about her shoulders and cascading her neck, with a single three-inch long imprint lining her left temple—disfigurements sustained by chop wounds from the wielding cutlass of an angry ex.
The words “is man yuh like,” left the lips of her attacker before he began chopping away at the woman estranged from him for exactly 10 years.
On April 2, 2004, St John, of south Trinidad, almost met her death as she lay in a crouched position on her neighbour’s front porch feeling each impact of the swinging blade.
Recounting the events of that horrifying evening, St John, who lived in Port-of-Spain at the time, had gone to her mother’s San Fernando property to visit her three sons who were being kept from her by their father.
She explained that the relationship ended due to the non-stop domestic violence she experienced during their union. But she did not have access to her boys as their father would behave “crazy” she claimed, if she only tried to see them. However, the afternoon he agreed she could visit everything would appear to be running smoothly, or so St John thought.
She tells Sunday Guardian she left her sister’s house, also located on the premises, and went into the street to answer a call on her mobile.
“I noticed he was walking as though he was about to go out because he was dressed and I did not see anything in his hand.”
St John continued speaking on her phone with her back now turned to her attacker. Suddenly he comes close, speaks a few words and the next thing St John knows, she is shielding off the first swing of his cutlass with her left arm. It is happening in the presence of their eldest son who is screaming for help to save his mother.
Ruthless in his attack, her ex follows her to the neighbour’s yard to possibly finish her off.
“I will never forget what my neighbour said when she testified against him in court. She said, ‘I came out into my gallery because it sounded like somebody was chopping meat,’” according to St John.
Saved in the nick of time, her attacker runs off when he saw the neighbour walking into her gallery.
Disoriented from the attack, St John said she wasn’t even aware her arm was severed. All she could think of was moving from the spot in case he returned.
“I got up and I remember my neighbour told me to go around to the back of her house and when I was walking around the side of the house, I felt blood spurting on my face. I looked down and that’s when I noticed my left forearm was gone.”
At the back of the neighbour’s yard St John is now joined by one of her sisters who is a nurse; she begins to slip in and out of consciousness as she bleeds profusely.
“I began to feel sleepy. I was literally watching my blood running down the drain. My sister kept slapping me lightly on the cheeks to keep me up. The doctor later told me if I had fallen asleep, I might not have lived.”
St John recalls waiting a lengthy period of 45 minutes to an hour before the ambulance could arrive.
She was taken to the then Princes Town Health Facility to be stabilised and then transferred to San Fernando General Hospital, where she spent a month recuperating. She recalls some unpleasantries and strange events at the hospital, like when the nurse would stand a distance and dash St John with water since she was unable to clean herself at the time. There was also a bizarre visit from a woman claiming to be a social worker who kept forcing her to take some pills; St John refused and the woman never came back.
Ineffective state service/ slow justice system
Discharged from hospital, St John went back to the home where the fateful event took place. With no other form of care, she had to stay with her sisters.
She said during that period she was never referred to a counsellor and there were no follow-up visits from any institution in T&T that deals with battered women.
“To date, I have never received counselling and I could not afford to pay for it,” St John reveals.
The ineffectiveness of state services and its inability to appropriately address domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV)—in its preventive state to post care—was recently highlighted by chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) Lynette Seebaran-Suite in her response to the May 2, Inter-American Development Bank’s report, which found one in three women in T&T have experienced DV/IPV in their lifetime. (See Side Bar) St John’s attacker eventually gave himself up to police after speaking with a priest. However, it took five years before he was convicted and jailed for the crime. That “ waiting” period was the most devastating for St John as she often saw her attempted murderer in public and lived in fear that he might strike again.
She moved with her children between shelters and safe houses via the witness protection programme, before eventually releasing herself.
“I got really tired of that ‘lockdown’ situation especially when I was not the person who did anything wrong,” she said.
St John eventually found an apartment and remained there until she obtained an HDC home in 2007.
Mere days before the actual trial, her ex shows up with another man at her doorstep with an envelope containing ‘hush money.’
“We bring this money for you to drop the case,” says the man.
St John did not respond, she closed the door quickly, locked it and ran to the upstairs, called the police, and kept watch to ensure he left.
He was subsequently convicted of attempted murder with grievous bodily harm and was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years imprisonment with ten strokes.
St John said it was ridiculous the length of time it took before a trial began.
“Within those fives years that he remained free, he could have finished me off at anytime or attack another woman. For victims this is a hellish ordeal and they are made to feel demeaned, appearing before magistrate after magistrate, telling the story over and over for years before an actual trial takes place.”
The aftermath, the challenges Almost a decade after her attacker’s incarceration, St John has authored two books—Before Me, After Me, Now Me and Moving On. The former, St John said, was written during her days spent at a safe house where writing was a form of therapy. She is also one year away from graduating with a degree in social work from Costaatt.
But St John chronicles the impact her imposed disabilities have had on her work life. She said it has been challenging and even near impossible to secure full-time employment as she is discriminated against once she shows up at an interview.
“Most times when I attend an interview, once they meet me, they then say to me they don’t think I would be able to handle the job.”
St John has been turned down on numerous occasions by the private sector, she said. (See side bar for T&T on UNCRPD convention) She has also been consistent in writing letters to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley since 2016, detailing her situation and her desire to find gainful employment.
In January of 2017, a call from the Ministry of Labour informed St John she would be placed on a rotating contract, but once her three-month role of supervisor to the school crossing guards was completed, St John said she has not received any call back.
Currently the mother of four survives on a deficit budget of $3,200 per month, a combination of an $1,800 disability grant and a $1,400 public assistance grant.
Her monthly expenses include food, transportation, rent, utilities, and academic expenses (for children). She is barely making ends meet. St John recently completed an assessment exam for social work field officer and her hope is that she gets that job.
Through half a smile she says, “I am qualified to a ‘T’ for the position, so this can be the light at the end of my tunnel.”
But St John had a message to send to the authorities—it is important that discrimination ends against people with disabilities.
“I obtained these physical challenges through abuse. I did not do it to myself. And it does not matter how someone obtains a physical impairment. What matters is that we are still human beings who are still alive and want to live and live the best life that we can.”
IN TOMORROW’S GUARDIAN—Chief Executive Officer of the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) Beverly Beckles speaks out.
The recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), report, which came out on May 2, found in its research that one in three women in T&T have experienced intimate partner violence or IPV in their lifetime. On a national basis, of our 1.4 million people, that translates into approximately 130,000 women in our population.
The 2017 Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Health Survey, the first of its kind in the country, analysed the prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in a survey involving 1,079 women from across T&T.
The study, which was carried out by QURE Limited for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), looked at incidents of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and their effects on women, including their health and their ability to work.
The most common acts of IPV, according to the study, involved being slapped or having something thrown at them, being pushed or shoved, and being hit with a fist or other object.
“Despite legislation, the domestic violence courts, the shelters, notwithstanding the ministerial programmes, the police training and various agencies which address domestic violence, we are not assisting women in a meaningful or practical way to escape from situations of Intimate Partner Violence.—Lynette Seebaran-Suite
RESEARCH BY WOMEN’S AID
According to research by Women’s Aid (London), one in four women experience domestic violence; for women with a disability, this figure doubles. Be it at the hands of their partner, family, or caretaker, almost one in two disabled women will be abused in their lifetime.
Some of their experiences fit within traditional definitions of domestic violence. Some do not.
For a disabled woman, domestic violence can take on unique, complex forms, often specifically related to their disability such as having medicine withheld, being physically assaulted, or deliberately not assisted to go to the toilet.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (A/RES/61/106) was adopted on December 13, 2006, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on March 30, 2007.
The convention is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit social development dimension.
It adopts a broad categorisation of people with disabilities and reaffirms that people with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to people with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for people with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights and areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.
T&T is a signatory to and has ratified the convention in 2015.
In May 2017, at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, Minister of Social Development and Family Services Cherrie Ann Crichlow-Cockburn addressed the Regional Training Workshop for the Caribbean on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), where she emphasised since ratifying the UN CRPD in June 2015, one critical element towards meeting the obligations set out under the convention, was the revision of the Draft National Policy on Persons with Disabilities. This revised National Policy, she said, will provide the framework to guide the T&T Government’s mandate in treating with people with disabilities and other related issues.
As at June 2017, the policy states in chapter seven under the heading Promoting the rights of women and children with disabilities—Women and children with disabilities are more vulnerable to poverty than men with disabilities, and could also be subjected to greater discrimination within the family. Women and children with disabilities should have equal access to health care, education, vocational training, employment and income generating opportunities, and to be included in social and community activities. Women and children with disabilities encounter discrimination as they are exposed to greater risk of physical and sexual abuse, and women with disabilities are often not provided with adequate sexual health and reproductive rights services.
There would be a commitment to empowering women and children with disabilities to understand and exercise their human rights, and to advocacy on anti-discriminatory measures, to safeguard the rights of women and children with disabilities.
To be implemented
• Provide information on available services to all parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.
• Raise awareness of the rights and services available for people with disabilities with all organisations providing services for the family.
• Introduce necessary measures to uphold the rights of women with disabilities, and to protect them from discrimination. In particular, measures to ensure equal access to health services, education, training and employment, and protection from sexual and other forms of abuse and violence.
• Implement programmes to raise public awareness of the situation of women and children with disabilities to promote positive attitudes, role models, and opportunities for their development.
• Develop an awareness campaign on abuse against women and children with disabilities
• Educate women and children in reproductive health and family life education, including on issues related to HIV/Aids and other STIs.
• Facilitate the representation of women with disabilities in decisionmaking positions in the public sector.
Ratification of the CRPD
Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the rights of the Child (CRC) is widespread.
However, it has been more difficult to determine whether there has been effective implementation of these obligations with regard to preventing, remedying, and responding to violence against women with disabilities.
www.womenenabled.org (Forgotten Sisters—A report on violence against women with disabilities. An overview of its nature, scope, causes and consequences.
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