Monday, November 03, 2014

True horror

GOING home late, I took a second look at a neighbor’s gate. What I took at first to be a dangling head was a jack-o’-lantern in full regalia: corkscrews of spiraling cobweb and midnight-blue barrettes of bats.

You don’t have to be a kid to smell it in the air: first, Hallowe’en, then Christmas and the Sinulog are just beyond the corner. When I was just this high, just anticipating the holidays was like giving myself a good hug.

Being older complicates the holidays. Christmas also brings in another level of stress, specially for victims of domestic violence. Social workers and advocates even have a name for it: “holiday domestic violence”.

In 2012, CBS News reported that the number of calls to the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline drops traditionally during Christmas because of the social pressure to keep a façade in keeping with the holiday cheer for the benefit of family and friends.

A post on the FindLaw blog also pointed out that holiday stress makes couples flare up more than usual, leading to confrontations. A FindLaw post written by Andrew Lu lists down tips for preventing or escaping from a violent confrontation.

Some confrontations are overdue, though. One wife informed the bosses about her husband’s infidelity. The reason for coming out into the open: long deprived of his financial help in raising their children, she wanted to make sure that his Christmas bonus and other yearend incentives won’t also be going to the mistress.

Some who were privy to the case were harsh in their judgment—of the wife. Mostly men, they said it was imprudent of her to “rat” on him. After all, he could be suspended. Their family would lose more if he lost his bosses’ favor or became the butt of gossip during the office Christmas party. Her husband’s “straying” should be an opportunity for her to be “more Christian,” not “vindictive,” specially for the children’s sake.

Not too long after the wife reported her husband, he became the subject of a customer’s complaint on a serious breach of ethics and professionalism. Looking back, the red flags were up in this case: a mistress, financial abandonment of the children. So why did she wait until the holidays to speak out against the abusive husband? It might have alerted the bosses and prevented the husband from committing one wrongdoing after another.

Later, I learned that the husband had been involved in a previous affair. She endured their union and even had more children after the first infidelity. So it took deep reserves of courage for her to out her husband after he became unfaithful again.

According to the Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS), serious abuse leads to a mental disorder. Victims acquire a coping mechanism called “learned helplessness”. This condition paralyzes victims, prevents them from seeking help, and even absolves the abuser for their “punishment”. Many victims suffering BWS believe that the abuser will eventually realize their mistake and love them back.

Based on domestic violence online resources, it is in the “honeymoon” stage when the victim pardons the abuser and rationalizes the violence. The cycle of abuse continues.

Like the wife who complained about her philandering husband to his bosses, Josefina Tallado broke the cycle by speaking out about her fear of her husband, Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo Tallado. She left him after he reportedly confronted her over uploaded photos showing the governor intimate with a woman alleged to be his mistress.

Facebook and the rest of social media have become the court of last resort for some seeking swift “justice”. Yet, for victims of domestic violence, specially those suffering from BWS, the online portal can easily worsen abuse.

If we know of anyone who is battered emotionally, sexually, physically, financially or otherwise, we should direct them to the authorities, who can issue a restraining order to prevent an abuser from threatening or harming the victim, and non-government organizations that will sustain them in the long road towards recovery and self-reliance. Family law attorneys counsel victims about their rights and legal remedies.

For the rest of us, our greatest usefulness to victims of domestic abuse rests on our capacity to listen and suspend disbelief. Disbelief that the holidays can be the worst times for others. Disbelief that the “more Christian” act is to escape from your abuser and get justice for yourself and your children.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 2, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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