It’s Valentine’s Day and the Derek Walcott Square is full of love. Friends and strangers alike, are scattered about on this perfectly clear Thursday. Some lay on the grass, others with markers in hand, are making bold declarations of love on colourful Bristol board.
They are all in support of 1 Billion Rising—a global movement to stop violence against women around the world—organised in Saint Lucia by PROSAF (Positive Reactions Over Secrets & Fear). It’s 12:45pm, and Velika Lawrence and Souyenne Daythorne, founders of PROSAF, are running late. Velika barely has time for a quick hello, before she is pulled in another direction.
It is very unlike the Vel from yesterday who spent over an hour seated at Nail Treats in Rodney Bay Village, revealing her journey of self-love. Broken People From a head styled in a tousled Afro, there is a single lock draped over Vel’s shoulder that she occasionally toys with. “My home was broken.” Vel reminisces, clutching a cushion to her jean clad legs, as she waits for Sou, who is getting her nails done. The cozy salon, with calming lilac walls, is very quiet today and assures privacy.
Leaning forward Vel continues, “My caretaker—my grandmother—would place me on the counter whilst she cleaned fish and tell me how nasty my grandfather was.” She tells of her three aunts who were imprisoned for beating up on their husbands in defense from being abused themselves. She also speaks of a mother who was born from rape, who later suffered abuse from her first husband. “There was a lot of violence around me for a very long time,” she reveals. “Fortunately, my mom had the strength to say this is not going to be our lives.”
Vel’s mother, who has been remarried for 21 years, is a foundation of strength and positive example for the now 27-year-old activist. The Hurt Void of make-up, her brown-eyed gaze is piercing. “The first time, I was three.” The admission is made unflinchingly as if she is determined to tell this story. “I would hurt myself by doing to myself what he had done to me. Like… directly, physically hurt myself.”
Vel is a victim of sexual abuse. First, from an uncle – a child himself – who was eight years old at the time. At 17 it happened again. This time it was a betrayal of her friend. “He was 25 . . . it was all planned out.” There is fire in her eyes now, as she clenches her fist. “I felt totally violated and disrespected. It was scary and horrible!” Sadly, Vel was violated a third time, at 21, by another friend. For a long time, she struggled with feelings of guilt, and “felt like a monster”.
Yet, she never told anyone what she had gone through. Fiddling with her necklace, trying to remember why, she finally admits, “I don’t know what kept me back. I could have always told . . . I had people who supported me.” A bold confession, but Vel believes in being honest even when it exposes vulnerabilities. “It is indescribable how much I locked down on the inside. I don’t know . . . I just wasn’t able.” As a result of the third violation, Vel is living with a condition that can affect whether or not she is able to have a baby. She is able to speak about it now, but still remembers the dark hole she fell into when she first found out. “It was intense. There was one cousin who saw my ugly at that time.” Vel pauses in reflection.
In the quiet, are muted sounds of Sou’s nails being buffed and filed as she speaks softly to the nail technician. Vel breaks the silence with, “I was determined to be a happy person. I saw what my mom went through… being a rape baby and to still have so much love . . .”
Momentarily, Vel is unable to continue as she unravels with tears flowing down her face. Sou immediately disrupts her manicure to quickly grab tissue and console her friend. Abruptly, Vel laughs at something Sou murmurs to her. Wiping her eyes, she continues, “So you see, it’s (happiness) a responsibility to me, because I did not have to be here.” Healing “The first time I ever told my story, I wrote about it in a Human Sexuality class at university.” At the time, Vel’s professor allowed the class to read out their stories to each other. In her words, the experience was ‘amazing’. There was an incident at that same university involving a sexual predator on campus, which caused Vel to tell her story to the school’s paper, in an article.
“I left the article on the bed for my mom to see. I knew it would hurt her, but I was desperately screaming inside to let it out and that was the way.” As a result, the other members of the family were also told. It was from their support, that Vel was able to begin healing. As a Hindu, Vel believes we are all connected. She gives an incredulous account of an incident when she worked as a photographer and had to take a portrait of the baby of one of her abusers. “My Karma visits me very often, so I know not to hold grudges.”
Today she describes herself as an artist, caretaker and a spiritual person. Trust that was once broken, is slowly mending as she is currently in a relationship, although she admits that she can be difficult. Laughing, Vel exclaims, “I’m a bad, bad relationship person!” She continues softly, “When it comes to opening up, I’m so scared sometimes. I like him a lot, so we will see.”
Vel has promised never to allow anyone or anything to make her question her self worth again. She believes in actively working at what you want out of life, and that involves a lot of introspection, forgiveness, being honest and accepting of who you are and being comfortable with all the bits that make up that person. Reflecting on whether she ever wanted justice, Vel had this to say. “Nothing can take back what they did to me. So I let it go so I could heal.” For support and information on sexual abuse, please visit www.prosaf.org