You Can Rebuild And Live A Happy Life Again

This article was originally published on Bernews.com.

In honour of Domestic Abuse Awareness Month in October, one woman tells her story of verbal and physical abuse as a way to encourage others: you are not alone … In 2008, Emily was at a friend’s barbeque when she was introduced to a man.

The two started talking and exchanged phone numbers that day. He seemed like a “really cool” and “down to earth” person and a friendship developed gradually over the next four years, with them even working together at one point. Then one day he asked her on a date.

“It was like a whirlwind,” she said, “because although we had been friends for a long while as soon as we crossed that line into a relationship he became very full on and wanted to do everything for me and buy me everything.

“For Valentine’s Day he gave me the largest bunch of flowers I had ever seen. He wanted to repair things in my house. It kind of threw me and made me feel uncomfortable how full on it was. He told me he loved me repeatedly and that he wanted to marry me.”

Emily gradually got used to the attention and began to open up to him more, but without warning things changed.

He did less and made less of an effort to see her – then once Emily became pregnant he became more distant and grew verbally and physically abusive.

Emily, not her real name, shared her story as part of October’s Domestic Abuse Awareness Month.

Her advice to anyone who finds themselves in a relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive is to take a stand and leave.

“At first it can feel worse before it gets better as you have taken away their control over you,” she said. “But in the long term and with the right support you can rebuild your life and live a happy life again.”

Emily admits the relationship started turning sour gradually after she told him she was expecting his child.

While they had talked about starting a family and made the decision to stop using birth control, once she told him she was finally pregnant his response was disappointment and anger.

“For the first few months of the pregnancy he wouldn’t spend the time with me and stopped wanting to go out with me,” she said. “He would stay out late and come over at 1 a.m. to jump into bed. He was less attentive and I was really scared that I had made the wrong choice in taking it further.

“He withdrew his attention and became very critical of me. He went out of his way to put me down in front of people. I felt like there was something wrong with me, I was doing something wrong and I needed to correct it.”

During the birth of their child, Emily said she had to beg her partner to take her to the hospital.

He was reluctant to stay, he complained about how long the delivery was taking and was verbally abusive to her. The experience was so traumatic she eventually couldn’t push anymore and had to have an emergency C-section.

“Shortly after, he saw the baby and left,” she said.

From there the relationship became worse. He grew more aggressive; she felt extremely isolated and alone.

One day, after she found drugs in his possession and confronted him about it, he got violent and lashed out hitting her many times in the face.

“At first I didn’t want to press charges because I was scared and thought it would make matters much worse,” Emily said.

“A friend had told me I was trying to protect him, a man who over the last couple of years was slowly demoralizing me, putting me down and creating a lot of self-doubt about myself and my self-worth.

“But it came to a head that day when he really hurt me physically. Things had escalated previously in a violent way, but not like that. He had pushed me, would throw things around and damaged my property.”

“I couldn’t live in denial any longer,” she continued. “It was too serious to ignore. I had to protect both myself and my child. This had to stop. My child was not going to grow up witnessing this abuse and thinking it was normal.”

Once Emily decided to press charges, she went to the Centre Against Abuse to get more information on how to obtain a protection order. They were helpful and she admits she’s extremely thankful for the support and guidance they provided.

“I had no idea when I pressed charges and put matters dealing with my child through the Family Court, just how tough a situation I was up against,” she explained. “I thought the hardest part would be making the statement, pressing charges and starting the court process, but that was only the beginning.

“I thought the relationship with my ex was bad and what happened when it got violent was awful, but nothing prepared me for the resistance I would be met with once I took a stand on things. I thought I could pick up the pieces and move on, but my ex was still able to manipulate and control things through the court system. At times I felt powerless and doubted my strength to carry it through.”

Emily enlisted the help of Tina Laws, the founder of abuse support agency UnderKonstruction, after the Centre Against Abuse suggested Mrs. Laws as another resource.

In the beginning, Mrs. Laws listened to see if she could help; then she started walking Emily through every phase of the court process.

“Tina was a listening ear when I needed it and would check in with me from time to time,” Emily said. “She knew I needed legal help and managed to get a lawyer who offered her services probono to help me. Tina arranged the meetings and stayed at the office while I met with the lawyer.

“The lawyer helped me with every piece of paper I had surrounding the criminal trial and the family case. Both Tina and the lawyer stayed by my side through the whole process, which was a saving grace.”

Thanks to that support, Emily was able to rebuild her life.

She encourages other women going through similar abuse to get the right support and not try to go the process alone.

“The court process can be just as traumatic as the abuse itself,” she said. “It’s a different type of trauma, but it is still traumatic. You are in this position in the first place because you may have low self-worth and that’s why these men prey on you, but if you have the courage to leave, just know that you do have the strength and support there to build yourself back up, to create healthy boundaries, better relationships and a happier life.”

For more information on abuse support services provided by UnderKonstruction, visit https://tinalawsconsulting.com or call 533-8857.

October Is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month

Originally published on Bernnews.com.

It is 4am, you’re returning from the bathroom to get back into bed for a few more minutes of shut eye.

Until, you hear the front door open and slammed closed.

You quickly pretend to be asleep, however, your partner decides that you are going to “wake up” and attend to their needs.

It soon turns into a shouting and punching match, as you explain your need to rest and be up in time for work in a few hours.

This is just the beginning.

It soon turns into a bloody match with a threatening, punching, kicking and verbal debate.

You are now faced with having to defend yourself from being beat, tortured, choked, spat on, and called obscene names for the next few hours.

In some instances, you are forced to leave the home, being locked out of your shared accommodations until your partner decides to let you return.

Imagine having to deal with this lifestyle on a daily or weekly basis… until that one day, when you decide that enough is enough. You finally garner up enough courage to call the police and follow through with the legal process and pressing the necessary charges.

You’ve kept the abuse a secret from your friends and family for the past few years. Now you’re answering the most personal questions, having pictures taken of your bruises and living environment, being assessed by a nurse at the hospital, talking to a lawyer or agency, and are giving an expectant date and time for your court appearance.

After you’ve returned to your safe space, your partner removed from your shared accommodations and served the Domestic Violence Order [DVO], you are back to your daily regime.

But now what?

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Under Konstruction is an independent agency providing education and therapeutic support for those looking to take the first brave steps out of an abusive relationship.

As a human services professional, and with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, masters in criminology, and the various domestic violence trainings, I assist women who are currently in, recently out off, or continue to cope with the ill effects of an abusive relationship.

Going to court can be a trying process for most survivors. In their weeks leading up to their appearance before a judge they start to rethink the abuse, their visit with police, attending the hospital, how they answered every question pertaining to the relationship etc.

In some instances they have to relocate to a new neighborhood or country and request to have a DVO processed for their safety. They may be afraid to leave their home or work to attend social events; and may be still nursing and covering up bruises from the physical violence.

They are trying to make sense of the entire experience.

Wondering what could have been done differently. Is my partner going to prison? Will they make him or I look bad in court? What will I say when I see my partner? Will I be in a courtroom full of strangers? Will I have to take the stand? Will there be a reporter documenting the information?

As usual, those abused seldom think about their own physical and emotional needs prior to attending court.

Two weeks leading up to their court appearance, individuals find themselves suffering with insomnia, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nervousness, and bouts of crying spells.

By attending court alongside a domestic abuse victim, they are reminded they are not alone.

A Court Advocate can assist with the following: Attend court hearings, inform of processes and procedures, help process the outcome, develop a safety plan, assist with filing necessary documents, individual and group support, education and therapeutic intervention. For more information, e-mail ti**@un***************.org.

Tackling Domestic Violence

Originally published by Royalgazette.com.

As Tina Laws struggled to get out of an abusive relationship, her grandmother had faith that God would use the hardship for good.

It took nearly 30 years before Bernice Brangman’s prayers came to fruition.

Mrs Laws offers counselling to people affected by domestic violence through the business she opened this year, UnderKonstruction.

“She knew that I was in an abusive relationship in my late teens,” Mrs Laws said of her late grandmother. “She told me, ‘One day God is going to use this, all of this, for your good’.

“I never realised that would be possible, but I’m here 26 years later and everything she spoke is coming to pass. I didn’t tell other people about the physical abuse back then, but I told her and used to talk to her about it and she would tell me to keep praying. She said, ‘God is going to use every experience you go through in this relationship so that He will get the glory out of it’. I didn’t fully understand it, although I trusted her. Years later and I’m still in awe with how God is working in my business and how it is all happening.”

Mrs Laws had been working in Social Services but didn’t feel she was doing enough of God’s work.

“God’s hand has definitely been on UnderKonstruction,” she said.

“Even though there were many years of preparation for this, last year is when I really started to pray and ask God what’s my purpose on this Earth, what am I here for?

“I loved my job in social services and the clients I worked with, but for some reason I still felt empty.

“I didn’t feel I was doing as much as I was created by God to do and [women] kept coming to me.

“Through my daily interactions in social services I would meet couples that would share about possible abuse and when I would go to certain places, women would just start talking to me about abuse. It was happening so much.

“Then this year while I was sitting down and talking with my girlfriend about what we wanted to do for God and that’s when I got the idea. I said, ‘This is it Lord. If this is what you have called me to do show me how to take that next step.’

“Two days after that I had clients and offers dropping right in my lap.”

Mrs Laws works with everyone from executives to the unemployed, helping them to heal from abusive situations.

“Each time I work with these clients God reveals over and over that He’s using me to bless them,” she said. “I never want to get to a place with UnderKonstruction where I’m comfortable. I always want to rely on prayer and lean on God’s wisdom.”

Mrs Laws was an occasional churchgoer as a child. In 2001 she surrendered her life to the Lord. That day she went to church at her mother’s invitation and felt God pulling on her heartstrings.

“What I was doing in my life up to that point wasn’t working,” she said. “I had broken free from that abusive relationship and was now newly married to a really amazing man, my husband Shawn. But I still felt I needed God’s direction in my life. My grandmother had instilled that in us from children that whatever we decide to do — get married or have children — always put God first in your life because without Him there’s not too many things we will be successful at doing.

“After giving my life over to Christ I stopped partying — I used to love a party — and my language changed. Before, a curse word was so easy for me. My heart just changed. To be really honest, I just stopped trying to do everything myself and trusted God and prayed and He has led me here to this path.”

Mrs Laws will be the guest speaker at Mt Zion AME Church’s women’s fellowship event at 8.30am today. She hopes her message will encourage women to let go of any shame or guilt they might have about domestic violence.

“It’s important for me to share this message with every community because most people have an assumption that because you are a Christian, you either don’t experience abuse or believe they have to stay in that relationship no matter how badly they are being hurt,” she said. “But God commands husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. I tell women if it hurts and doesn’t sit right with your spirit you don’t have to stay or tolerate that. God doesn’t want you to compromise your safety or wellbeing.”

Let’s talk about abuse

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.”

Domestic Abuse Survivor Aims To Help Others

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 https://tinalawsconsulting.com/ or e-mail Ti**@un***************.org.