A woman’s experience of domestic violence is best not dealt with through the press. It might sell papers and make a good story for a reporters’ by-line, but it doesn’t help any woman to be further battered by headlines.
If you are a woman experiencing violence, you should have the support of family, friends, your communities and the state in order to escape it in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling more vulnerable, ashamed, fearful, exposed or blamed.
Family violence is not private, in the sense that it takes place in an overall society that wrongly continues to accept male domination, in the sense that women’s greater inequality is not an individual issue but an economic, political, religious and legal one, in the sense that violence against women constitutes a crime, a human right violation and a contravention of international conventions which the government of Trinidad and Tobago has responsibility for responding to, in the sense that we are all our neighbours’ keepers.
However, family violence is personal, in the sense that broadcasting a woman’s experience only takes control of her own story away from her, in the sense that it creates intrigue and gossip rather than the kinds of collective support and open dialogue which it is her right to choose, in the sense that it is now the media, the lawyers, the radio callers and everybody else who is speaking, creating fewer confidential spaces for a woman turn to.
I suppose being in national life puts you in the public eye, but a society or a newspaper that decides that what happens to a woman’s body is their right to publicize is not much different from the man who says her body and her life are his to decide what to do with. Forget rights, let’s just go with what seems right. Is a woman being beaten a journalistic opportunity or a moment for sensitive intervention in ways that protect and empower, and can press drama about domestic violence create that kind of sensitivity?
When people are visibly engaged with the state and society, it doesn’t resolve that tension between respecting the sanctity of a woman’s privacy and understanding that family violence is not simply private man-woman business. Because the careless chatter spreads further and faster, it should make us stop and ask about our purpose and our responsibility in breaking silences regarding a woman’s story.
We have to talk about family violence, and especially women’s experiences of violence. We have to speak about the fact that it is experienced by women of all classes, all religions, all ages and all ethnicities. Yet, it also seems that we have to talk about how we talk about it, when and why we make it news, and what it means for those women who may be speaking out, but who also have to face being talked about, potentially for the rest of their lives. Even these women will want to protect their families and children from the violence of public scrutiny.
I had to really sit and breathe this week because every time I hear of violence against women, I get sad and I get angry. I also had to take a moment before writing this because I would not have wanted any media conversation to be about me. True or not, would you want the news to be about you? Even if I was experiencing violence, even if some feel that others should know, I’d end up feeling violated and even more alone. Surely this isn’t how we enable women to feel safer in our own homes.