I got to work last week to find a weeping pregnant woman waiting for me. Her husband had beat her the night before, inflicting multiple injuries, so she’d come to the hospital for treatment.
When I asked the lady what had happened, she burst into tears afresh. Apparently her husband had come home and asked for chicken with his evening meal, but she had cooked the meal with beef since that was what they had. The man descended on her with a flashlight and his fists, giving her many bruises and rupturing her eardrum.
To make me more angry, the husband was hovering around my consulting room, acting all concerned for his wife, like he wasn’t the same person who hurt her. I was like, “Sir, please go take one of the several seats outside. When I’m through with seeing your wife, I will call you in.”
While I was consulting with the woman, my colleague came into the office, and I briefed her on the case. The first thing out of her mouth- I’m not kidding- was, “What did you do to your husband?” I was aghast. I asked my colleague, “What is it that a person would do to deserve this abuse?” The reply was, “Oh, you know women and their sharp tongues, she might have said something to set him off.”
When a woman is abused and reports it or seeks help, the first thing people ask is, “Well, what did you do?” The woman has to prove that she is worthy of empathy, worthy of compassion, worthy of not being beaten like an errant dog.
After I did an ultrasound scan to confirm that the fetus in her womb was alive and well, and described the extent of her injuries, I asked this woman why she stayed in such a situation. I know why, of course, but she needed to say it. She told me that she kept it secret, that she didn’t tell anyone in order to keep the peace.
I had to tell her the truth as I know it: There can be no peace between two parties when one party has unilaterally declared war.
I don’t know what happened to that woman after she left my clinic, but I thought about her a lot. I hope she started taking steps to protect herself and her children- born and unborn- from that man. There are too many news stories written about women killed by their partners, by their husbands, by men who promised to cherish and protect them.
Until societal attitudes towards spousal / intimate partner violence change, the work of protecting herself still falls to the woman.
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