It is the evening of October 28, 2015. Shauna-Kay Pitter is at her home in Salt Spring, St. James with her two-year-old daughter Shanay, who is on the bed but awake. Shauna-Kay is 21 years old. She is HIV positive. She is eight months pregnant.
Shauna-Kay has a single gunshot wound to the head. She and her unborn baby boy are dead.
This news hardly hit the headlines. Shauna-Kay’s death was mentioned in passing along with the murders of three young men in the crime-plagued parish of St. James during the same 24 hours or so. Their deaths were all lumped together. Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor, sounding weary, reported to Nationwide News Network that Shauna-Kay was probably “the victim of a domestic dispute” and that people close to her were assisting with the investigation.
Shauna-Kay was shy, Neisha told me (Neisha is not her real name). Neisha was the young woman’s “Mentor Mom,” working with the non-governmental organization Eve for Life. Mentor Moms are a key part of Eve’s program to support and empower girls and young woman (mostly HIV-positive) who are mothers. They are there ready to assist with every detail and the many challenges in the girls’ lives. Whenever they are needed, the Mentor Moms are there, on the end of a phone, with advice or simply to lend a listening ear – helping them get stronger again, step by step. Mentor Moms are more mature, knowledgeable women, trained through Eve’s programs. Eve provides counseling, life skills and sexual and reproductive health training, family interventions, vocational development and educational support as well as emotional, spiritual and physical support (regular food and care packages). Eve has around 160 clients in Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Ann and western Jamaica.
Shauna-Kay had family: a stepmother, father and four siblings. She became pregnant, left home and went to live with her first child’s father at the age of nineteen. He abused her physically, and she left. She had told Neisha that she did not want to get involved with a man and did not want to get pregnant again; but it happened.
Not long after Eve began working with young women in the Montego Bay area, they realized that violence from their intimate partners was a serious issue. The girls who were impacted formed their own support group, called “ROAR” – inspired by the Katy Perry song.
At first Shauna-Kay denied that she was in another relationship. She was always quiet and often uncommunicative – almost secretive – so Neisha did not always know exactly what was happening in her life. One of her friends spoke about her “funny shy laugh” and another said on Facebook: “She was so meek.” However, Joy Crawford of Eve for Life said Neisha “poured her heart and soul” into the young woman; Neisha believes she was beginning to come out from her protective shell. “Your smile whenever it crept out was warming,” said Eve for Life. She was one of the family.
Neisha first met Shauna-Kay at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, when she asked her for some money. Neisha brought her in to the Eve for Life program, and the first order of business was to teach her personal hygiene. She wore dirty clothes. “She had red hair, it was loose and ragged,” says Neisha. She was not looking after her child properly. But “she was loved by the market people,” Neisha told me. She was quiet, but she brought out that love in people.
Shauna-Kay was anxious to come to meetings, however. Neisha was in touch with her regularly, her pregnancy was going well and her new boyfriend, who was “thirtyish,” seemed to be a nice man. Neisha had helped set her up in an enterprise, selling fruit juices, and it was doing quite well. But a few weeks before her death, it appeared all was not well, after all. Shauna-Kay said the boyfriend was abusing her “verbally,” and cried about it. He was not beating her, she said; but they were not getting on well. She appeared “frail,” said Neisha. “She was frightened. Sad.”
There were times when Neisha “lost” Shauna-Kay. Once this happened, literally. Neisha searched for her and eventually found her at the maternity clinic. Since her death, she says, she has been looking for her – in the pharmacy, in places where they would regularly meet around town. Recently, she saw someone who looked just like Shauna-Kay, across the street. She, and all the girls are grieving, and need counseling. The family is trying to raise money for funeral costs.
But Shauna-Kay, and her little baby boy, who was due to be born on November 2, are gone. They were two more victims of the senseless scourge of angry, bitter violence against women (and those who are most vulnerable in society) that continues in Jamaica. Is this the norm, just an unavoidable fact of life? When will we take these young Jamaicans’ lives seriously? Don’t they count for anything?
Women (and men) are too quiet. There is apathy. It is something we don’t like to talk about, a kind of taboo perhaps. Very little money, very few resources are devoted to the issue of gender-based violence; there is not even sufficient data, although we know the problem of gender-based violence is widespread.
I would like to see that change. If only for Shauna-Kay’s sake, and for those women and girls and children who have suffered, and continue to do so. Daily. I don’t want to forget them.
Women, girls – please keep roaring. Let us hear your voices, loud and clear. We can all join in.
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter
Dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!
Katy Perry – Roar