Moving to a foreign country naturally brings with it a lot of challenges. Some are constructive challenges and some, not so much. These other destructive challenges are often ones we turn a blind eye to, especially when we fail to talk about it in an a very open, real and healthy way, whereby the issue starts to take root in our communities until we can no longer remain silent about it. This is emotional, mental and physical abuse in marriages and partnerships, here with us Fijians in the UK. We come from a culture that often normalises the subjection of women. A culture that will base its beliefs from biblical texts while at the same time omitting the texts that allows for the respect and love of women or wives. A culture where men rule their wives. A culture that often sees us women perpetuate the abuse inflicted on us by how we choose to talk down on other women and how we think a women should be dealt with by their partners. Thankfully we are living in a time where we're coming to the realisation that for a marriage or partnership to thrive, love and respect has to be forthcoming from both sides.
I think I have battled for years about sharing a story like this. I was so often told not to meddle in other peoples business or to stop being a "busy body", whenever I felt an undeniable urge in my heart to do something about domestic violence or any other sort of abuse for that matter. Of course my heart won, because I have found that in matters where God has placed in your heart to speak out about something you know to be wrong, God will always win.
I was brought up in a home where alcoholism, womanising and domestic violence was very rife. Now I'd be lying if I said it did not affect me because the effects are endless but bit by bit I try to recognise and weed out certain things that have become so habitual.
However, through everything I've always looked at it as the foundation on which so many of my beliefs on what a marriage should NOT be, came from.
Our stories are all different, and what would work for one may not work for the other. However, it is vital to share our experiences, because in the grand scheme of things, your story could a lifeline for someone. The battle lies in your ability to share your story despite the judgement because truth be told, to judge is so human, and we will all face and take part in it day in, day out. We're so geared as human beings to be the judge, jury and executioner. It is unfortunately, the way we are. But to constantly worry about people judging you for your experiences would be to stop such a great impact you could make in the life of others. To that end I have been absolutely blessed to have someone close to my heart who was more then willing to share a part of their story and doing so provided avenues which she sought help from. If you are someone out there living in an abusive relationship I hope this story might provide an inkling of hope for you in mending your family or in moving forward. Please read her story below.
"I suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the father of my children. I often wondered if I was ever good enough for him as he criticised my weight, told me to work so I can pay most of the bills while he would save his money. All too often, I would dismiss the thoughts that he was having extramarital affairs. When I confronted him, he physically abused me, I reported him to the police, but I reconciled with him as I had no other support. I did not have a supportive network as we had only moved to a foreign country. I was not aware of any available support for domestic violence survivors. The emotional abuse was continuing, and by this time, he was onto his next extra marital affair and had been involved with another woman in 2017.
The cycle of abuse that I endured involved his returning home after a short stint with his new girlfriend then attending church. He even became a lay pastor. However, that didn’t last as he continued his abusive behaviour that caused so much hurt in our lives. I kept forgiving him each time, but 2 years ago was a defining moment for me as I decided that I will not entertain his behaviour any longer. I thought I had to get out of this relationship for good.
I was depressed, but the faces of my children and my faith in God gave me strength and self-determination to get up in the morning. I had to take on the role of both mum and dad. I had to pick up the pieces and let them know that their father was not coming back home so that they could process this loss and understand what’s happening for them. For my kids, I saw the school counsellor and had to let them know what was happening at home, and this I found is one of the reasons that my kids are doing well at school. Additionally, giving a platform for my kids to thrive in a happy, healthy and safe environment was my main goal, and we have achieved that as a family. My children are taking an active approach to education. Further, my kids are representing their school in academia and sports, and I am so proud of them.
I want to share my story so that women who are living in a domestic violence relationship need to know that help is out there. I was not able to move away the first time because I was so fearful and didn’t know any support services available out there. I think the first point of contact that I reached out to was the police and then the citizen advice bureau where I was able to receive legal advice regarding our visa and immigration status as well as entitlements such as legal aid.
My children and I were then placed in a women’s refuge under the grounds of domestic violence and moved into council housing later. The support services that are out there include the police, citizen advice bureau, council housing, NHS health, YMCA counselling, charity organisations that provide weekend trips such as school trips for single mums and kids, and Rainbow Arc just to name a few. In addition, there is single mum benefit, which includes allowance, tax credit benefit and even discount flights. Journeying away from domestic violence takes its toll on all of us but I kept going.
Even though when I was faced with depression and seeing my children’s faces, I went out there and got involved in my community and did volunteering. I took up free courses to upgrade my skill set that would help me get employment such as food & safety, maths, English, computer, child care, business studies, social and health, first aid and youth mentoring. Acquiring these skills led me to get an employment with the organisation that I was volunteering with.
Within this journey, there were significant people in my life who provided me with emotional support and that included people from my family, local church community who admired me for my strength; my high school bestie who is currently a master of social work student at the University of Sydney, in Australia. Monika Koroi who has been my mentor and friend will make an awesome social worker as she has given me so much insight into self-determination and my achievements as a woman and mum journeying away from a domestic violence relationship. Monika has helped me see what I am capable of in terms of what I have achieved now compared to before.
In a nutshell, my highlights so far include, holidaying in Spain and Morocco with my children on our own, getting a diploma, getting a job and losing weight. I have a great relationship with my neighbours and make good connections with them as well as people from my local church. I also joined my local gym and made new friends and I work with an amazing group of people.
I hope that my experience can help you with your journey on whatever situation that you need changing. When people choose to be abusive, journeying away from such violence is the only choice. You can stand on your own two feet too."
(Originally posted on Women's Talanoa group on Facebook on 8 July, 2019 by Suli Tuiteci Lotawa)