When I first came to Bahrain 20 plus years ago I do believe the GDN was still fairly new then. It was basic and not really deep on whatever items it dealt with. Just one week in Bahrain and the conclusions I came to just reading the GDN were that crime didnt happen here....not even a little bit of crime. The worst thing that I read about were speeders....well, that is a crime actually so pardon me...and btw nothing has changed there....by crime I mean when one or more persons harm another in some way...by mugging, beating, assaulting, or even raping or killing. I just didnt read anything like that....and to tell the truth it was quite sometime before I did ever see such a thing in the GDN.
So here I was feeling like I had stepped onto a little island in the gulf that reeked of harmony and goodwill...everyone got along to the extent that the goods from shops were left outside on the sidewalk over night. I couldnt help thinking those shop owners were crazy...if this were New York all that stuff would be driven away 5 minutes after lights out....or even stolen while the lights were still on. How many times did I see cars left outside stores with the keys still in them...the owner not wanting to turn it off and let all the cool air from the ac seep away...and nobody seemed interested in taking a little joy ride. (I must admit the temptation hit me a few times when said car was a Merc or BMW....we dont have those parked in front of every other house where I grew up). To tell you that I was amazed by the serene atmosphere...the casual eye on goods left unattended.....the lack of violence as daily fodder in the paper...it was unreal...I could not believe that things were as rosy as it seemed to be. Im sure Bahrainis eventually got tired of me asking the same amazed question..,."doesnt crime happen here?"
20 plus years later I have come to the conclustion that...yes, crime happens in Bahrain....and it probably always did...but the papers just didnt print it when it did most likely....and things have gotten a whole lot worse. Now the paper if full of violence...and its all right here in Bahrain...its like reading about a whole other country...a country you cant believe you have witnessed undergo this metamorphisis in such a short time. From serene and carefree...to "lock up your stuff and dont walk alone at night"...kind of atmostphere. Having said that I just want to focus on one type of crime that seems to be on the rise in Bahrain....or most likely it was always here...just didnt get talked about....domestic abuse rarely does.
Women and children are the most likely victims of domestic abuse but it does happen to men as well....(now thats really not talked about)....but its a crime that doesnt seem to get the attention it deserves here. I am constantly amazed when a woman walks into a room with obvious bruises on her face, arms whatever...and there is just a brief pause in the conversation...and then chatter starts up again. Nothing is said...life goes on.
I want to ask these women who see their "sister" in obvious pain...do you pause and ask yourself..."if I were her would I accept my husband beating me? Would I allow myself to be abused like an animal and not say anything...not do anything...just take it? Im sure your thinking..."whats wrong with her...why doesnt she get out...why doesnt she DOOOO something to change her situation?" For every woman out there that has never had a hand raised to her in anger...let me tell you something...its not as easy as it seems...walking away....speaking out...defending yourself...as the victim of both parental abuse and spousal abuse I will let you take a peek into the mind of an abuse victim......all I can say is...buckle your seatbelt.
Let us first distinguish the three forms of abuse...physical, mental, and verbal. As a victim of all three I can tell you hands down which one is the most damaging...the most lasting...the one that cant be forgotten so easily with time...without exception its mental abuse. You get inside a persons mind you have the key to their soul....you can control them the same way you can control a car or a tv with a remote control. Now there are different ways to control someone but the most obvious way is through fear...fear of future beatings...fear of exposure...fear of being an outcast...fear of losing something dear...fear for life...it all comes down to fear. Fear is a powerful drug...it takes affect and can last beyond anything you can imagine...its like a seed that gets planted in your brain that sprouts and stretches out with questing fingers to seek out the little crevises in your mind...looking for your weaknesses...looking for your soul. Once it takes root...fear is there to stay...it gets comfortable...it makes itself at home...it aint going nowhere...unless something cataclysmic happens to uproot it...but thats for later...
My first introduction to domestic violence was at a very young age...my mother married a man that would later be the boogey man that creeped behind me in my worst nightmares...he reeked of hate the way week old dead fish reeked of rot. His eyes were the eyes of snakes...no emotion lingered there...flat and lifeless....they would absolutely freeze my blood whenever I had the misfortune of being his center of attention...which was often. His beatings were daily occurrences...without warning...striking like lightening on a quiet blue filled sky...we lived in terror...my sleep was the sleep of the wanderer that finds herself lost in the jungle and spends that first night alone with the sounds of the wild all around while darkness crept in to claim the night....his violence was without reason...without purpose...except to terrorize us...and he was good at his job. Hardly a week went by without one or the other of us being beaten for some assumed infraction...he was a man possessed about cleanliness....our house had 3 young children in it but you wouldnt know that by looking...not a toy out of place..not a crumb on the table or floor...not a wet towel in the bathroom or laundry in the basket. I lost count of the times he dragged us from our beds at 2 am to scrub the bathroom as he felt it was disgusting...we were little kids but we were on our knees with brushes and chapped hands when we should have been safe in our beds dreaming the dreams of the innocent.
My father isolated us in all ways..no friends over...we couldnt go play with them. We sat forlornly on our steps watching other children play...the only time we could join them is when he was away for whatever reason and our mother would send us to play with cautions to keep an eye out for Him so we could scurry back to the safety of the yard. We went to school and came home..no clubs to join...no dances or parties to attend...no dating when we were older. Just home and nowhere else.
I remember through all of this that I would go to school with bruises on my arms...my face...clearly in pain of some sort...and my teachers would give me a worrisome look...maybe a hug...but they wouldnt ask me if I had fallen down...wrestled with my sisters...nothing. I found it odd even at a young age that nobody seemed curious about my constant bruises...my occasional black eye...but they remained silent..and so did I. You just didnt talk about what goes on in peoples homes.
If I had to describe my childhood in just a few words I would say that it was 16 years of my life "walking on the tips of my toes"....of "holding my breath until I felt my heart would burst" so my father wouldnt hear me...hear my heart beating...my thoughts turning...of "hearing the devil who looked like my father constantly whispering in my head of my failures as a daughter...a female...a human being"...of all the beatings my father inflicted on my young body...despite the countless pain he made me suffer...the pain of those words still linger in my mind long after the bruises have faded and were forgotten. My father is long dead...but he hisses and whispers of abuse constantly snake their way through my mind...I have to fight to keep them locked up tight behind doors in my mind...its a constant daily struggle.
So my father laid the foundation for my future life...he set the scene for anyone who might come along and take advantage of a young girl with no self esteem...no ability to speak out...no feelings of self worth or the right to be treated fairly. Later when I realized a year into my marriage that I had in fact married my father(psychologist tell us that its a trait of abuse victims to marry men like their fathers...its what we know...what we expect)...I realized as well that I must have been walking around with a sign on my back that said..."abused as a child...do with me what you will"....and he did. 20 years of abuse by a controlling...jealous...hypocritical...suspicious "man" who couldnt allow me to enjoy one moment of my life without having some genetically born desire to wipe the smile from my face...to wreak havoc on my life for no other reason then that he could. But I couldnt speak out...I couldnt say no...I couldnt defend myself...because my father had done a good job of erasing all ability to see myself as someone that deserved better than this. It was my life...I didnt know anything different...I stayed silent but I cried when I was alone...I cried alot.
The one thing that set me apart from some of the Bahraini women here who might be abuse victims..is that they usually have family around them that they can turn to(quite often we will find that our families help to perpetuate the abuse by ignoring the signs...ignoring our pleas for help) but most times, whether they advise you or not...at least they are there to comfort you...lend a shoulder...tell you trust in God...things will get better(even if neither of you believe that)....but I had no one. His family never accepted me and so turned a blind eye to his abuse. I had no one to talk to..no one to cry with...no one to tell me to trust in God and have patience. Hindsight tells me that advising someone to "have patience" in the face of abuse is another kind of abuse in and of itself...you are essentially telling someone to "stick your chin out the next time he wants to hit you"...otherwise, what sense does that phrase have...have patience? Patience until he breaks a bone..patience until he sends you to the hospital...patience until he sends you to your grave? Just how much patience should a wife have when dealing with an abusive husband...and why is it that she is always the one who should do something to "fix" the situation. He beats you because of something you did obviously...you have to work harder to make him happy...if you screw up an make him mad then you only have yourself to blame...right?
So...there I was...38 years old...a lifetime of abuse at the hands of the very men who should have cared the most about me...as I told you before...abuse quite often runs its unending course until one of two things happens...the victim is killed...or the victim reaches her breaking point...in which case one of two things can happen...the abuser gets killed...or the victim finds her voice.
I must point out something here, dear readers, the laws in this country concerning divorce etc really suck if you are a woman. If your a woman and you've tried to get a fair divorce in this country then you know what Im talking about. As a wife I NEEDED his permission to get a divorce...how many abusive husbands out there do you think are willing to give up their nightly entertainment of physical or emotional abuse without a fight? Not many I assure you. So....right there with one quick uncaring stroke of a pen...judges in Bahrain courts are denying abused wives the rights to escape the clutches of their tormentors...are sending them back into the lions den...without even a shield(some form of protective order) for protection. If the husband says he wants to keep her as a wife...she has no choice...no say so in her own pathetic life. At this moment of writing I happen know personally 5 women(non Bahrainis) that are married to Bahrainis....each of them are victims of domestic violence...some have police and hospital records to back this up...and yet numerous trips to the courts have not given them what they want more than anything else...their freedom from fear. Also...fear of losing your children to this abuser is very real and keeps most women in a marriage despite the level of abuse she has to endure...fear of a judge handing her "babies' over the very one that deserves them least is enough to shut her mouth and edure another beating. Would it surprise you to know that if a man can raise a fist to his wife...most likely he can do the same to his children...and yet the law here says they should go to him...unless the parents work something out...an abusive husband never wants to "work things out"...he wants her...if he cant have her...she cant have the kids...simple right? Right....sigh.
I wonder at the judge who gazes superiorly down at this woman before him...this female that cringes at his gaze...that constantly looks at the floor and speaks in a whisper no doubt...does she look like a happy wife who is just there to waste the courts time...do you think she is upset cause her husband maybe didnt buy her some gadget she wanted...or maybe he shouted at her once and her feelings are hurt now....do you imagine dear judge that she is there cause she wants to throw away years of marriage...destroy her family life "just because"? Do you believe that all women are just possessions that are owned...and have no right to be free of that ownership? And yet...you will deny her a divorce..you will reprimand her for not having patience...you will order her to remember she is a Muslim and therefore should have faith in God...and not destroy her marriage...divorce is the most hated of all things halal correct...so where does abuse fit into all this...dear judge...are the ties of marriage more important to you then the destruction of a soul? Cant you see the pleading in her eyes...the shaking of her hands...the quivering of her lips...cant you see the haughtiness in his eyes...the clenching of his fists...the fire in his talk....? Does none of this move you dear judge...is not justice a word in your vocabulary...does not the words from God in the Quran to do justice even if its against your ownself not impress upon your heart when denying these victims the right to shake free from a life of fear and pain? Who do you serve, dear judge, in your capacity as judge...man or God?
At any rate...my moment arrived one night when I least expected it to...surprises do usually do that dont they...he had pushed and pushed...beaten with hands and words for so long...had stomped on my mind..my heart...my soul for so long...it only took that one last thing...and then all hell broke loose...and it very nearly killed him.
One year later and my children and I are enjoying our lives without a "monster in our midst"...we are breathing easier...moving more freely....smiling and laughing at the oddest of moments. We are looking around us and discovering life is not all pain and fear...its hopeful and delightful. Meanwhile...he is alone...without his children...without his respect from those around him...but he chose that path...and eventually...finally...I chose mine.
So, dear readers, if your sister, mother, daughter is a victim of domestic abuse...dont advise her to "be patient"...dont advise her to "fix" herself so that she doesnt make him angry....dont advise her that divorce is the most hated of all things allowed and a divorced women is a shameful position to be endured...better an abused wife then a divorced women...right?....sigh.
Ask yourself dear reader....what does it feel like to spend a life in which a million little pieces of you are broken off with each new shouted word of abuse...each new strike of a clenched fist...each new turned back from an uncaring family or judge. Just how many pieces is a human made up of...how many pieces of yourself can you lose before your lost forever....how often can you gather yourself up again...collecting all those pieces in an attempt to hold yourself together for one more day...one more hour? How many?
Unless we stand up and speak out against it....millions of women around the world will be beaten yet again...sent to the hospital again...sent to their graves...just once..while an uncaring community looks on and shakes their head...then closes the newspaper and goes shopping at Seef for the second time that week. Ive had enough....have you?
btw...for those curious as to what my "breaking point" was...at the top of this blog there is a link to another blog...the first one...it has the answer to this question....go there and see what darkness lies in the hearts of men...husbands...fathers. Think twice before advising an abused wife of "having patience"...you never know what may be going on in her home....try and imagine yourself in her shoes for a moment...and have the courage and strength to tell her..."get out now...while you still can...I will help you". You just might be saving a life...it could end up being his life that you save...even if he doesnt deserve it.