Businesswoman Onika Mars and mother of two sons, and who describes herself as a survivor and not a victim, is encouraging women who are in abusive relationships to “seek God and get out of it.”
Mars, who founded Women of Substance in 2017, a non-governmental organisation that offers support to women in abusive relationships, said the organization was a result of her experience of years of domestic abuse and attending a domestic violence support group.
She said she stayed in a relationship despite advice from other persons because “I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and the longer we stayed together, the more invested I became in him and the relationship.”
“The abuse, which began as verbal abuse, started maybe four or five years into the relationship,” she said.
Despite the abuse becoming physical, Mars said that she stayed in the relationship, always hoping that things would get better. But she that even after the birth of two sons, the abuse only got worst. With support and encouragement from family, friends and coworkers, she finally got a restraining order against her children’s father and returned to Tobago.
“To some degree, I was blinded by what I thought was love. Not only that, I grew up thinking the ideal family meant getting married, especially if you have children with someone. I wanted that traditional home for my sons and myself. So, I tried to make things work.
“After I had my second son, that’s when the physical and verbal abuse got a lot worse. Because of the abuse, I was becoming an increasingly angry person and so were my sons. At home there was a never-ending cycle of arguing and fighting.
“At times it was even in front of our kids. As a mom, I knew I couldn’t keep my boys in that kind of environment. I couldn’t let my fear of starting over or having to leave a relationship after so many years, keep me in a dangerous situation.
“Survival became my only concern. I didn’t worry about what people would think or say about me. All I cared about was getting myself and my kids out of that situation alive. And while it didn’t happen overnight, I eventually packed up my boys, left everything behind, and moved back to my home island to start all over,” she said.
She added: “I had everything, the only thing I didn’t have was peace of mind … I uprooted the children and I left because I was just seeing survival. I want to live, I was tired of being cooped up, I was tired of been spoken down to, I was tired of the beatings, I was tired of the cursing,” she said.
Back home, as her life gradually got better, Mars said she grew closer to God, attending church regularly and becoming close friends with her pastor’s wife.
“She became my prayer partner and one of my biggest supporters. I also started counselling for both my boys and myself and was intentional about spending quality time with them.
“I started opening up to my parents and my sister about my abuse in its entirety. That transparency became a big part of my healing process. The more I talked about my experiences, the more at peace and whole I became,” she said.
Her advice to women, especially mothers, who are in abusive relationships, is to ‘seek God and get out of it.’
‘Don’t make excuses as to why you can’t leave. I think sometimes people downplay how damaging verbal abuse can be, but any abuse - whether physical, verbal, or otherwise is totally unacceptable. Abuse has nothing to do with your race, gender, income, education. Abuse can happen to anyone.
Don’t worry about the years you’ve invested or what other people may say about you. Don’t worry about how you will survive financially.
“I know what it’s like to want things to get better in the relationship. But sadly, if you stay, things will only get worse. Your abuser is the one with the issues. And because he or she doesn’t recognise the need to change, they will continue to blame you for their behaviour.
"God will make a way for you somehow! I mean, look at my situation. I had no plans to pick up my entire life and move back home. But since leaving, God has given me double for my trouble. So, whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s important to know you deserve better! Get back to loving yourself and become the great individual God created you to be,” Mars said.