MP for La Horquetta/Talparo Foster Cummings had a stern message for men in recognition of International Women’s Day on Monday: “To those men who are abusing our women and our children; just stop it.”
Cummings was speaking at The Purple Bench domestic violence awareness campaign, an initiative of the Tobago non-profit organisation Women of Substance at the Rose Park, Arima. A concrete bench was painted in purple, the signature colour that symbolises domestic violence awareness, in the park and inscribed with messages for survivors of domestic abuse and contact information for those in need.
Community leaders, domestic violence survivors, and other members of the Arima borough were gathered to acknowledge victims of abuse and launch the community awareness campaign in the area to support survivors.
Cummings used the opportunity to reveal to his colleagues that he too was the victim of abuse as a child.
Cummings said he had not decided whether he wanted to share his story until he got up to the podium.
“My mother was a very strong woman. As a matter of fact, I credit my mother for who I am today, but she was the victim of domestic abuse for almost two decades and I was witness of this abuse and many times as a child I fell victim to that abuse as well.”
Cummings said he shared his story with those gathered because he knows many are experiencing the same hardship.
“Abuse is not something you can tolerate under any circumstances,” he said, adding the Purple Bench had his full support.
MP for Arima Penelope Beckles commended her ministerial colleague for his bravery in speaking about his experience.
“I know it must not have been easy for Foster to share his own personal experience with his mother,” she said. “It is harder for men to share…There are a lot of men who would love to be as brave as he was this morning…and I am sure his mother is so proud of him today.”
President of the organisation Onika Mars said although the campaign was launched in Tobago in November of last year, Rose Park was a significant landmark in her own survival story.
Mars recalls sitting on a bench in that very park “broken and in tears from abuse,” as her sons played, and she prayed to God for a way out.
“I am extremely thankful to God for sparing my life so that I can once more stand in this Rose Park ground not as a victim, but as a survivor.”
She said she has now committed her life to helping survivors, women, and children, and those affected by domestic violence in some way.
“The purple bench campaign is a public awareness initiative that aims to increase the community’s knowledge about domestic violence and aid in bringing (it) to the forefront of the conversation while providing permanent reminders of the seriousness of this issue and the urgent need for co-ordinated community response.”
She said the aim is to paint existing benches in every community and place domestic violence messages and contact information (including TTPS, 800-SAVE, and Women of Substance) so that people requiring assistance can reach out.”