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Originally published by The Royal Gazette.

Tina Laws’s boyfriend gave her a black eye; she told people she was hit by a golf ball.

She’s sure no one believed her, but no one questioned her story either.

“We talk about cancer, we talk about lupus, we talk about all kinds of things,” she said. “But domestic violence is a secret. It is such a hush-hush conversation. Why?”

The 44-year-old’s support group Underkonstruction, has put abuse on the discussion table.

Females who get in touch are initially provided with a listening ear. Group therapy and counselling comes later.

According to Mrs Laws, a lot of women are reluctant to go to organisations targeting domestic violence because the first advice they’re given is to “leave”.

“Some women just aren’t ready,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to get the victims to a safe space in their life, far away from their abuser, but as much as I would like for abused women to pack their bags and leave, the reality is it is not going to happen overnight. Underkonstruction is here not just when they are ready to leave, but also while they remain in their circumstances.”

She stayed in her dysfunctional relationship for six years, mainly out of fear.

“It got to a place where I couldn’t leave because it got crazy,” she said. “If I left [he would say] I was looking for licks. He would show up at my job or my house at any time and take me wherever he [wanted].

“I would be walking down Front Street and his hand would suddenly be behind my neck. No one would know. Abusers put you in a position of being so intimidated. That’s why they are able to do it for so long.”

They met as teenagers. The beatings started two years into the relationship.

“He was charming,” she said. “And he had a great family. I don’t think his father would have ever raised a hand to his mother. I was shocked. I thought we were so close. He apologised uncontrollably [but] that is what they do.”

The abuse continued. At 17, Mrs Laws got pregnant and dropped out of high school.

“I left the relationship and came back countless times,” she said. “The last time I came back it was a year before he gave me another ringing slap.

“Then that was it. I called him at his job and told him he had to leave. It was soon after the event and he was still sorry about it, so he did leave.”

She went back to school. She followed her general education diploma with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in criminology.

She volunteered with two agencies for battered women and children during university.

Once she returned to Bermuda she got a job in social services and joined Centre Against Abuse and SCARS as a volunteer.

“After personally experiencing domestic violence and working with the women, I knew I had to someday provide that safe space for them,” she said.

“Women would approach me in public settings about their challenges with domestic violence/relationship issues. Some of them had good jobs or were managers. Some had doctorate degrees. They always said, ‘What would people think of me if they knew?’. They always think people will think less of them.”

She believes every employer should have procedures to help staff deal with domestic abuse, even if it is just information about the resources available.

Many victims feel isolated because the abuser puts a wedge between them and their family and friends. The greater the isolation, the more control the abuser has.

The best thing a loved one can do is not be judgmental.

“If the victim only calls once or twice a month, don’t fill up that conversation with demands that she leave her abuser.

“The victim needs their family to provide support and be open and understanding.

“That individual will have to make that decision to leave for themselves.”

She married Mr Right 16 years ago.

“It wasn’t easy to trust again,” she said.

“Sometimes we’d be having a disagreement and I’d flinch. He couldn’t understand why.

“I am thankful for him as he has shown me love without the abuse.”