By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Brockton resident Lovern Augustine and her mother Jennifer walked side-by-side from D.W. Field to the Raymond School as a statement against the continuation of a cycle that saw both mother and daughter become victims of domestic violence—a cycle both want to end with them.
“It has to stop,” Augustine said, holding the hand of her 9-year-old daughter Lailah. “It has to stop for her,” Augustine said.
Augustine and her 59-year-old mother Jenifer—who bears the scars of brutal machete attacks from her ex-husband-- joined about 30 other women, men and children for a 5K walk-a-thon Sunday, June 5 that began at Raymond Elementary School to increase awareness of domestic violence—called the “deadly and silent killer” by those who deal with the beatings, stabbings, shootings and other violence that plague relationships—both heterosexual and homosexual--across the country.
The walk, led by Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart, raised $1,250 for Penelope’s Place—a confidential shelter for women fleeing violent relationships—and Family and Community Resources of Brockton which oversees Penelope’s Place with Health Imperatives and offers a range of services for women, children and families who have faced a number of traumatic experiences, including domestic violence.
Several of the women who took part in the walk from Raymond Elementary School to D.W. Field Park and back are survivors of domestic violence, including Sylvia Leary,(Pictured above, right with Lovern Augustine) who has launched One-Way Treatment, a non-profit that helps women improve their appearance and self-esteem after suffering domestic violence.
Several of the organizers and contestants from the Mrs. Ethnic World pageant--a crown Augustine has held in New England and the world--joined the walk as did Al DeGirolamo with State Rep. Michael Brady's office.
Lovern Augustine, 32, since winning the title of Mrs Ethnic World 2011 and a Brockton Commission on Women "Woman of the Year," award, is on a mission to raise awareness about domestic violence--a subject she and her mother Jenifer know all too well.
Lovern and her five siblings witnessed for nearly 20 years in her native Trinidad their father brutalizing, and in Loverne’s opinion, torturing her mother over and over again—dragging her mother by the hair, punching her in the face and stomach, kicking and often slicing Jenifer (Pictured at right)with a machete—often in the view of neighbors and police.
“Yes, I said machete. In Trinidad the weapons of choice were hands or a machete. Everyone knew it was wrong. I knew it was wrong. My brothers and sisters knew it was wrong. The police knew it was wrong. We all knew it was wrong, but everyone looked the other way,” Augustine said. “A man was the king of his castle,” she said.
Augustine said there is no way for her to count how many times her father beat her mother—what stands out are incidents when her mother was taken to the hospital.
One of the worst, Augustine said was a beating when Jenifer (Pictured at right) was beaten so badly doctors would not allow the children to see her and she had to stay at the hospital for several days to recover.
The reasons for the attacks ranged from not satisfactorily performing some domestic task like ironing or doing the dishes to his just having a bad day at work.
Lovern said she and her siblings didn’t like it when her father came home. Everyone was always anxious and waiting for the violence to begin.
After decades of abuse, in 1998 Jenifer left Lovern’s father, but still bears the scars on her face, legs and arms where she received slices from a machete.
Jenifer got out, but her daughter Lovern fell into the cycle when she came to the U.S. and met a man she loved, but who slowly grew from a jealous lover to a violent and malevolent man who used Lovern as a punching bag kicking and pummeling her during the last of many violent brawls and face slaps that prompted Loverne to get out.
“I was in that cycle—my family, my friends could tell me he was a bad guy, but until I made the decision to leave it didn’t matter what anyone else said about him. I loved him. He was there for me in many ways. Relationships are the worst,” she said.
One thing is clear to Lovern—she doesn’t want her daughter Lailah to go through what she did.
“It has to stop. It has to stop with me—for her,” Lovern said.
While Trinidad has taken steps to curb its domestic violence problems, here in the U.S. many believe laisez faire or entitlement attitudes toward domestic violence have been imported with large populations of men and women coming to the U.S. from islands such as Trinidad, Cape Verde and Haiti and an influx of immigrants and expatriates from African nations such as Senegal, Congo and Angola.
However, those who work with abused women—data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show 73 percent of women are victims of domestic violence—say domestic violence crosses all racial, social and economic bounds and attacks occur every day as evidenced by calls to police departments across the South Shore and Brockton for assaults, attacks and other acts between family members and intimate partners.
“It’s astounding,” said Karen Slaby, director of development at Family and Community Resources, or FCR.
Slaby said educated and successful women have found themselves in the cycle of domestic violence, much like Diane Patrick, wife of Gov. Deval Patrick who told a crowd during FCR’s March 31 that until she met Deval and after her first husband died, she had been in a violent and abusive relationship.
“She’s educated…middle class. She’s a professional woman. She's a successful lawyer and she was abused,” Slaby said.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said.
The number one way to get a woman to leave a violent relationship is not to tell her to leave, advocates say.
“We don’t tell anyone they should leave,” Slaby said. “Women have to make that decision themselves. We give them the tools to make the decision to leave safely,” she said.
One of the main attitude shifts in the battle against domestic violence has been in law enforcement.
Twenty or more years ago a husband beating his wife to within an inch of her life was the business of no one but the husband and wife.
Since, through advocacy and legal action domestic violence is no longer swept under the rug.
“It was a personal matter,” Slaby said. “Now, it’s a crime and people can and do go to jail for it,” she said.
Because many incidents are witnessed by children, Brockton Police have implemented a program, “Child Witness To Violence,” that counsels and helps children in domestic situations because much like Lovern and her mom, children who see domestic violence often fall into the same cycle--even if they know better.
One of the latest movements in the fight against domestic violence is to change attitudes among boys and men toward intimate partners.
Craig Norberg-Bohm, coordinator of Jane Doe Inc.’s men’s initiative, said advocates are hosting programs at schools and with coaches on the practice field to show boys and men that beating up a girlfriend or a wife is not something that is accepted.
“Our social norms say that the best men are big and bad and being big and bad makes them strong, We’re trying to redefine manhood and masculinity,” Norberg-Bohm said.
“We’re trying to show that that perception is a contradiction. We want boys to know that it’s OK to be soft and nurturing—that a father can be kind,” he said.
One activity toward that end is the White Ribbon Campaign that kicked-off its fourth year in March with Gov. Patrick heading a rally on the steps of the State House in Brockton.
Patrick told a large group of men carrying signs reading, “Men for Change,” who pledged not to physically or verbally abuse their partners, that manhood and masculinity needs a new definition.
“Being a man has nothing to do with exerting power over other people. Being a man is about wisdom, about kindness, about understanding, about the courage of showing your own vulnerability, and nothing at all to do with mistreating or hurting or demeaning another person,” Patrick said.
Part of the new parenting, fathering and coaching programs include advocating that men not be “bystanders” to intimate partner violence.
Shunning men who beat their wives or girlfriends or contacting police when witnessing an episode is one way to not be a bystander, Norberg-Bohm said.
Norberg-Bohm said the culture and attitude change among men of all races and colors will not happen overnight, but the more advocates reach more people, slowly, hopefully the menace of domestic violence will decrease and eventually disappear.
“Women can’t change the violence—men can,” Norberg-Bohm said.