Home Arts Literary Silent Watchers: Removing cover from domestic violence, abuse

Silent Watchers: Removing cover from domestic violence, abuse

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Domestic violence, trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, child abuse, spousal rape, fear and courage are some of the themes that are deftly woven into this 194-page narrative, Silent Watchers by Dot IkwerreGirl Acheru.

The book tells the story of Dot’s marriage to a friend who became her nightmare. In her words: “It started as a very warm friendship that eventually ended up in marriage”;  a marriage that lasted
seven years that seemed like a lifetime.

While Silent Watchers tells the story of Dot’s marriage to an abusive spouse, whose name is not mentioned, it is, in the words of the author, a “manifesto and self help guide”. Indeed reading through the book, the author tries to guide readers through a labyrinth of life with an abusive spouse, in this case her husband. The story is told through the eyes of the victim and her two young
children.

Reading through the book, one goes through a myriad of emotions. Sometimes I found myself crying, at other times I felt rage and almost wished I could grab hold of the protagonist in the story.

Several times I was overwhelmed with pity and grief at the trauma children – the silent victims in abusive homes – go through. For instance, Dot tells the story of her son’s pregnancy and birth and the effect of violent spousal rape, a verbally and emotionally abusive husband during pregnancy on her son.

Now think about being pregnant with your baby, all the arguments, all your tears, he/she hears and are affected by your negative emotions and hormones emitted. This is why you cannot even think of trying to
raise a child in an abusive relationship you cannot hide it from the Silent Watchers.

She lends credence to this assertion from the story of her son and first child: “Between the ages of 18 months to three years, I noticed a pattern that every time my ex went into his conversations of rage, my son will stand in the corner and wet himself. Now it gets worse because my son proceeded from not just having awe accident to pooping on himself”. She shares many other incidents in the book.

Narrating her story, DOT debunks the old wives’ tale that staying in an abusive marriage is for the sake of the children. She says, “domestic violence is not just a crime to you but a crime to your children”. The book is replete with instances that show this. For example, the author writes, “when my son was in nursery, the teachers picked up on the fact that he was comfortable staying in the corner, not interacting with any children, he found himself a piece of paper and would make senseless scribbles on the paper, inappropriate play with toys, usually just slamming or trying to reap (sic) them apart or if he found himself a calculator where he just punched numbers on it all day and he wouldn’t move. He would stand in the corner pressing those numbers until he wet himself and he wouldn’t want to be changed”.

Her son was later diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Hindsight is 20/20 as the author shares with us. “My son was born with a large wobbly head, breathing and soft belly muscles. Rather than listen to the health visitor who spotted these issues, my ex chose to argue with her claiming that he came from a family of big headed people”.

Learning from her first child, Dot tried her best to protect her second daughter from the effects of abuse. While she tried her utmost, as long as she stayed in the abusive space, she had limitations. We see this as her daughter turns two. “After my daughter clocked two years old, I watched my ever chatty girl who used to try to everyone on the streets during school runs began to act overly shy, run away from people and begin to regress, not wanting to socialise or speak; she would rather just point at things as opposed to using her words”.

Although the author speaks a lot about the silent watchers, the book paints in graphic details the violence the author experienced in her marriage, including sexual violence even during pregnancy.

The book is a manual because she tries to point out the telltale signs that show that someone is in abusive relationship or in a relationship with a narcissist. She is well equipped to share these tips because, although she had been an advocate against domestic violence herself, it took someone seven years after to show her the reality of her situation.

She shares the litmus tests for those in emotional, sexual or physically abusive relationships. For instance, with regards to emotional abuse, she says it is important to ask yourself: “Does your partner or former partner:
• Belittle you or put you down
• Isolate you from your family and friends
• Stop you from going to college or work
• Make unreasonable demand for your attention
• Accuse you of flirting or having affairs
• Tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go and what to think.
• Control your money or not give you enough to buy food or other essential things.

The book however ends on a positive note. The author finds strength to walk away for her children’s sake and shares the remarkable change in her children as a result. “It brings tears to my eyes seeing how much a child changed in a few months to a year of fleeing abuse. The one that melts my heart is how talkative he is. I literally cannot shut him up. One day I had to ask, ‘son, why did you stop talking all those years’?, He responded, ‘it was because I was afraid of the darkness in the house”.

Dot indeed tells a compelling narrative. The story telling is simple, compelling and vivid. It is of course told in first person narrative and, while it speaks to victims of abuse, it is a needful addition to the libraries of everyone – parents, friends and all.

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