“I am a survivor of domestic violence. My mother, Agnes Richards, my family and siblings—we are survivors of domestic abuse.”
With that frank, poignant admission, Independent Senator Paul Richards yesterday braved a difficult undertaking to do service to country, recounting his family’s domestic violence experience, as he contributed to the debate on the proposed law to deal with such problems.
Richards’ contribution was part of yesterday’s Senate debate on sweeping amendments to the outdated 1999 Domestic Violence law, a debate which saw a sombre tone by some senators, while others politicised it.
Richards launched his contribution stating that he has a visceral aversion to domestic violence and he explained why, citing the experience of his mother Agnes and his family.
Richards said, “It caused me many sleepless nights to see if my mother would be uncomfortable with me speaking about it (in debate).
“I asked my mother if she’d be uncomfortable if I told her story and she said, ‘Of course not. I have no problem’. She said if it would save someone’s life, it’s worth it.”
However, Richards said his mother also told him, “She said ‘I, Agnes Richards am not a victim—I am a survivor.’ She said she shouldn’t be called a victim.
“So Agnes Richards isn’t a victim and there are thousands in T&T who are also survivors.”
Richards said his mother is one of the strongest, most resilient people he knows.
Of his father, he said: “My father was a complex, multi-dimensional man…like many abusers he was an alcoholic, he abused when he was drunk…he was a drunk …. (the word) ‘inebriated’ sounds posh and palatable. His isn’t a singular story… alcohol was his trigger.”
He noted alcohol is a trigger for many other things—from money to jealousy.
Richards said that in listening to Senate colleagues last week, many on every bench said their personal family experiences were very similar to his.
Congratulating Government for the bill, he said it isn’t the panacea to the problem but it will go a long way towards dealing with this violence.
Richards said violence of any kind is learned behaviour and when children are seen acting a certain way, they may be modelling parents’ behaviour.
“When a youth sees a man beat his mother, he may feel that is how you treat a girlfriend,” he said.
He said victims have done nothing wrong and the stigma they suffer in situations must end.
“We need to break this silence and talk about it as it’s happening,” Richards said.
Richards, a journalist, said he once interviewed 15 domestic violence survivors. He said the appearance of one her named as “Tricia” would cause someone to do a double-take due to her scars. Her forearm was severed, she’d lost two fingers and a three-inch imprint lined her left temple, he said. “… Cutlass wounds wielded by an angry man…April 4, 2004 (when she suffered her injuries) is a date she doesn’t forget,” he said.
Richards said Tricia, of South Trinidad, was told by her attacker, “Is man you like!” and she almost met her death.
“He’d tried to kill her before but neighbours intervened. She said the attacker so brutally severed her arm that as she lay on the ground, looking at the arm, she was wondering who else was in the attack. Tricia didn’t process that it was her arm.”
He said another woman, Shanty, also suffered chop wounds.
“Then she saw her husband chop her seven-year-old son to death. Then he killed himself. Women are going through this on a daily basis in T&T.”
He said among the root causes in the issue was how effectively children are socialised to deal with partnerships and conflict resolution. He listed effects on children who witnessed domestic violence: academic and emotional damage, use of violence, suicide attempts, drug abuse, crime, sexual assault attack.
Richards noted Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye’s call for protection for same-sex partners. He also called for police officers to surrender firearms when accused of domestic violence.
“I’ve seen officers kill each other, I’ve known of situations where an officer put his gun on the table (at home) in an intimidating way,” Richards said.
Saying he had amendments for the bill, he said it needed some preventative measures. Richards suggested Parliament’s normal speaking times be used for such important debates.
Communication Minister Donna Cox commended Richards for sharing his personal account. Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh, also commending Richards, said he’d share the account with his students “… and tell them that if he can survive, you can too …”