Originally published by Bernews.
It was more than 21 years ago that Tina Laws found herself caught in an abusive relationship. Still to this day, she can remember the frustration, isolation and deep shame she felt during the seven-year on-and-off ordeal.
Mrs. Laws, the founder of a new organisation called UnderKonstruction, which offers individual and group support therapies to those battling with past and current domestic abusive relationships, shared her story in honour of October’s Domestic Abuse Awareness Month.
She tells us more…
Tina Laws was just 14 years old when she met her abuser – he was a couple years older than her, sweet and extremely friendly. She, on the other hand, describes herself as being young and naïve.
“It started really as us being friends, but over time he gradually became my everything,” she said. “He was away in school so we would spend time together whenever he got back in the summers and for the Christmas holiday. He had a driver’s license and access to the family car and would come and pick me up for dates. It was all very exciting at first.”
But gradually things started to change after she became pregnant with his child at 17. She started finding out about other girls he was in contact with and he started hanging out with her less – choosing instead to be with friends or out partying instead.
“He knew I was in a position where I couldn’t just pick up and leave. I was pregnant with his child,” she said. “At that time I was thinking ‘where would I go?’ and ‘who would want me?’. I had dropped out of high school and didn’t have many options.”
Then one day things took a sudden turn after she confronted him outside of KFC about the other girls and where he had been the night before. That’s when he hit her for the first time.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I was looking at this black eye in the mirror and no longer recognised myself.
“I felt lost, confused and I learnt after that day not to ask questions. After that it subsided a bit because he found I didn’t tell anyone. When people would ask I said I got hit with a tennis ball or while playing squash. So he trusted I wouldn’t say anything. He told me things like he loved me and it would never happen again and that I was his world.
“But things only got worse. He eventually started with the shoving, pushing, name calling and threats. It went on like this for four or five years. In between there we would break up. It was on and off so much. I would threaten to leave and then he would stop for a while before getting physical again.”
She had a few different breaking points. One time when she had threatened to leave, he choked her so hard she thought she might black out – her three-year-old son was there to witness it all.
But after breaking it off that time she decided to give him another chance when his behaviour started to improve.
“After about eighteen months of being out of the relationship he would bring me lunch, pick me up and take me on dates,” she explained. “He was so kind and attentive and also became the best father, so I said you can have another chance.
“But a year after being back with him we went out one night and a guy friend spoke to me. Everything seemed fine, but when we got back home he slapped me so hard. It was literally a ringing slap.
“That night I fought back. I knew that was it. I realized we were actually better as friends. After leaving that relationship finally, once and for all, I got my control back. I was relieved after it ended.
“That next day he came back and was fixing a flower pot that got broken during the fight and I looked at him and said ‘That’s it. We are done.’ We had a child together so that was difficult, but I gained my own power back and didn’t give him the power to dictate how and when the relationship was going to function.”
Earlier this year, Mrs. Laws started her own group and individual therapy service, UnderKonstruction, after seeing how much shame still existed around domestic violence on the island.
“Twenty one years later people still weren’t talking about it,” she said.
“It’s always been something that happens behind closed doors and only if you know someone or see it with your own eyes will you know,” she said. “It’s a conversation that has just been swept under the rug.”
Mrs. Laws got to see the extent of the problem back in 2005, when she went to university to get her bachelor’s degree in psychology and masters in criminology. While there she started to volunteer her time at two women’s shelters and noticed that domestic violence wasn’t just affecting one type of person, but rather people from all walks of life.
“Working with those ladies brought all those old feelings back to the surface,” she explained. “I could relate to their struggles and the repetitive patterns of breaking up and then going back to the abuse.
“There were millionaires in that center, people who were poor – all walks of life and what it showed me was we are all going through this and that domestic violence has no face.
“We wear this mask in hopes of covering up what we are really going through – whether it’s a cashier at MarketPlace or a CEO of a bank. I also realized during that time how impactful I could be as a facilitator working with them and their children. They lived at the center until they were able to move out and get away from that abuse.
“I talked and worked with several women and heard their stories of having to run away so far, in some cases from one state to the next in the US. In many cases they couldn’t tell their friends and family where they were out of fear. They also worried about being ridiculed or losing their jobs or their lives being taken.
“They got caught in this vicious cycle of breaking up and making up with their abuser and I wondered how much sooner would they be able to leave that relationship if they had support in place, someone to say ‘You will get through this’?”
That’s where UnderKonstruction comes in.
She works with individuals one-on-one and in small group settings to provide them with empowerment tools so they can leave that harmful relationship and build greater confidence, independence and control of their lives.
“You feel so weak in that situation and you lose so much of yourself,” she said. “I’ve seen several clients at UnderKonstruction who cannot afford the services themselves.
“Often times their money is tied up and they have to ask their husband or boyfriend for funds. Or, they are financially strapped having to pay all of the matrimonial household expenses themselves. In these instances, financial support to help them cover the costs of the programme would be welcomed.
Her advice to anyone in this situation is ‘you are not alone and you can get through this’.
“Being a victim of domestic abuse does not define you as a person, it just means you trusted the wrong person with your heart,” she said.
“Abuse isn’t limited to physical abuse. There’s also emotional, psychological, sexual and verbal and they all require support to heal from. Domestic violence continues to destroying families, friendships and souls and while resources on the island are still limited, there is still support out there.”
Mrs. Laws is currently running a support group for women; in the near future she hopes to roll out a similar programme for men as well.
For more information, visit http://thelovecompass.net/ or e-mail Ti**@un***************.org.