Gov­ern­ment must give mean­ing to anti-do­mes­tic vi­o­lence rhetoric

Stabroek News - - LETTERS -

In­dia’s Supreme Court ear­lier this month, struck down a le­gal clause that per­mits men to have sex with their un­der­age wives. The judg­ment stated that girls un­der 18 would be able to charge their hus­bands with rape, as long as they com­plained within one year of be­ing forced to have sex­ual re­la­tions. Should this not be an in­struc­tive case for na­tions like Guyana where the age of con­sent is still 16 but the age of adult­hood is 18?

Ac­tu­ally, two years ago The Caribbean Voice launched an on­line pe­ti­tion for the age of con­sent to be raised to 18. Now we are root­ing for the re­al­iza­tion of the Di­rec­tor of the Child­care & Pro­tec­tion Agency, Ann Green’s plan to have a registry of sex of­fend­ers in 2018. As well, we ap­peal to read­ers to please sign our pe­ti­tion and urge oth­ers to do so by click­ing on the ‘Age of Con­sent’ link at the bot­tom of the in­dex page on our web­site – www.carib­ so that we can boost the registry’s chances.

Mean­while, it goes with­out say­ing that with re­spect to is­sues like sui­cide and abuse, lan­guage is a crit­i­cal fac­tor. Thus when a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter de­fends the use of the term “de­flow­er­ing” to re­fer to the bru­tal act of rape, that is an in­sult to rape vic­tims and a san­i­ti­za­tion of the ul­ti­mate act of vi­o­lence against fe­males. Surely the Hon. Min­is­ter must be aware of the mes­sages in­her­ent in such lan­guage?

As well, we strongly urge that the lan­guage used to talk about abuse be re­shaped to ensure that the fo­cus is on the per­pe­tra­tors and not the vic­tims. Thus in­stead of how many women were raped we need to talk about how many rapes were com­mit­ted against women by men. And in­stead of vi­o­lence against women, we need to talk about per­pe­tra­tors of gen­der-based vi­o­lence. The idea is to ad­dress the vi­o­lence and its per­pe­tra­tors while help­ing vic­tims to heal and take con­trol of their lives in a safe and em­pow­ered man­ner.

Then there is the is­sue of myths and mis­in­for­ma­tion. Re­cently, Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Ram­jat­tan, stated that his min­istry is work­ing to­wards im­ple­ment­ing anger man­age­ment pro­grammes coun­try­wide, to help ad­dress gen­der based vi­o­lence. How­ever, gen­der based abuse is not caused by anger, oth­er­wise abusers would abuse every­one who make them “an­gry”. In fact, abusers are very much in con­trol be­cause they can/do usu­ally stop when in­ter­rupted. So while we laud this plan, we hope the Min­is­ter will also ad­dress the real causes of gen­der­based abuse. Other pre­vail­ing myths in­clude: ► She can al­ways leave: The most dan­ger­ous time for an abused woman is when she tries to leave, as that is when the abuser usu­ally fa­tally in­jures her. Other fac­tors pre­vent­ing the abused from leav­ing in­clude hav­ing no safe place to go, fam­ily and so­cial pres­sure, shame, fi­nan­cial bar­ri­ers, chil­dren, re­li­gious be­liefs. Anti-vi­o­lence ac­tivists also point out that putting the onus on the abused to leave is vic­tim blam­ing. ► Abusers are un­der a lot of stress or un­em­ployed: Since do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cuts across so­cioe­co­nomic lines, do­mes­tic abuse can­not be at­trib­uted to un­em­ploy­ment or poverty. Sim­i­larly, ad­vo­cates note that if stress caused do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, bat­ter­ers would as­sault their bosses or co­work­ers rather than their in­ti­mate part­ners. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence flour­ishes be­cause so­ci­ety con­dones part­ner abuse, and per­pe­tra­tors learn that they can achieve what they want through the use of force, with­out fac­ing se­ri­ous con­se­quences. ► Abuse takes place be­cause of al­co­hol or drugs: Sub­stance abuse does not cause do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. How­ever, drugs and al­co­hol do lower in­hi­bi­tions while in­creas­ing vi­o­lence to more dan­ger­ous lev­els. But drugs and al­co­hol use/abuse is an is­sue that also needs to be ad­dressed any­way. ► Do­mes­tic abuse is none of my busi­ness: Like sui­cide, all abuse is ev­ery­body’s busi­ness. We would like for oth­ers to help if some­one close to us was the vic­tim, so we must do the same for oth­ers. Be­sides, si­lence and pas­siv­ity would send the mes­sage that abuse is ok. Guyana’s women abuse rate is 57 per 100,000, but over 50% of cases go un­re­ported each year, be­cause women feel a sense of shame and pre­fer to suf­fer in si­lence, blame them­selves (some­times tak­ing their own lives) or re­main silent be­cause of the high tol­er­ance for vi­o­lence. In 2015, the Amer­i­cas Barom­e­ter sur­vey, re­vealed that ac­cep­tance of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in Guyana is rel­a­tively high. The data showed that Guyana was ranked third glob­ally among in­ter­viewed coun­tries, with 35.6% of in­ter­vie­wees in­di­cat­ing ac­cep­tance/nor­mal­iz­ing of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and re­in­forc­ing the view that Guyanese so­ci­ety is abu­sive. In fact, daily news­pa­per reports of fight­ing, in­juries and even fa­tal­i­ties, is one man­i­fes­ta­tion of this. The on­go­ing spate of rob­bery with vi­o­lence with fam­i­lies of per­pe­tra­tors giv­ing tacit sup­port and ben­e­fit­ting from the ‘spoils’ is yet an­other man­i­fes­ta­tion. As well, stud­ies have in­di­cated that many Guyanese women equate a cer­tain level of abuse with love.

Mean­while 2017 has seen the con­tin­u­a­tion of an­other man­i­fes­ta­tion of an abu­sive so­ci­ety, the ‘mas­sacre’ of our wom­en­folk. Here are but a few in­stances: ◊ Sav­itri De­o­lall, died from third de­gree burns that were in­flicted by her re­puted hus­band.

◊ A 39-year old po­lice­woman was chopped to death by her al­leged lover who even­tu­ally com­mit­ted sui­cide.

◊ 37-year-old Lin­dener, Shenika Lon­don, was stabbed mul­ti­ple times by her hus­band at her home.

◊ 26-year-old teacher, Tishaun Bess, was found hang­ing from the ceil­ing of her apart­ment. Rel­a­tives claimed that the re­la­tion­ship shared by the woman and her part­ner was an abu­sive one.

◊ Dhan­wantie Ram, 29, who had to leave her mar­i­tal home with her three chil­dren, a few days be­fore, was found stran­gled on a sofa, with a bed sheet wrapped around her neck. Her abu­sive hus­band of 12 years was ar­rested for the crime. In fact thir­teen re­ported do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­lated mur­ders have been com­mit­ted for 2017 thus far. As usual, calls for a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion and stake­hold­ers’ col­lab­o­ra­tion con­tinue to be trot­ted out. How­ever, there has been a sur­feit of talk shops, which eat up re­sources and pro­duce noth­ing con­crete. Even the re­cent three-day In-Ser­vice Vi­o­lence Against Women’ train­ing work­shop was an ab­stract talk shop ori­ented in­stead of hands-on ap­proach ap­pli­ca­ble in real life sit­u­a­tions with con­crete pos­i­tive im­pact.

On the other hand, stake­hold­ers’ col­lab­o­ra­tion is just a catch­phrase as suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments reach out to a select few who dis­play po­lit­i­cal loy­alty and are seen as ‘our own’ by the au­thor­i­ties. This was once again ev­i­dent at the re­cent three-day In-Ser­vice Vi­o­lence Against Women’ train­ing work­shop at which many stake­hold­ers that are ac­tive in the field, were not in­vited. That a na­tion­ally em­brac­ing pol­icy to stoke stake­hold­ers’ col­lab­o­ra­tion can make a crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence goes with­out say­ing. Through ‘Voices Against Vi­o­lence’, a loose um­brella of 60 plus en­ti­ties, the Na­tional Anti-Vi­o­lence Can­dle­light Vigil has been gar­ner­ing mo­men­tum with 500 vig­ils held across Guyana over the past two years. Thus, a more struc­tured net­work, sup­ported by the gov­ern­ment, can be­come both proac­tive and ef­fec­tive in tack­ling gen­der-based vi­o­lence. Other needed mea­sures, many of them mooted in the media quite of­ten, in­clude: ● A na­tional safety net for abused per­sons, to in­clude safe houses for women and chil­dren. In fact abused per­sons should have a man­dated right to safe homes while in­ves­ti­ga­tions and cases are on­go­ing and even after­wards if deemed nec­es­sary. ● Spe­cial, manda­tory court sit­tings across Guyana to ensure ex­pe­dited han­dling of all cases with all police of­fi­cers trained to dis­play un­der­stand­ing, em­pa­thy and dili­gence and to be proac­tive rather than re­ac­tive in deal­ing with abuse. In­ves­ti­ga­tions must be car­ried out in such a man­ner that even if the com­plainant with­draws the com­plaint or re­fuses to tes­tify, the case can still pro­ceed. If yet not in place, a le­gal man­date to this ef­fect is needed. ● A mech­a­nism in place to ensure that vic­tims can ac­cess fi­nan­cial sup­port for self and chil­dren so that fi­nan­cial de­pen­dency does not force them to with­draw com­plaints or refuse to tes­tify. As well the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion/Univer­sity of Guyana need to un­der­take a study to iden­tify the range of rea­sons that lead to abused per­sons with­draw­ing their com­plaints or re­fus­ing to tes­tify, so that ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures are put in place to ad­dress these. No amount of rhetoric alone, will not ad­dress this is­sue. ● The Gate­keep­ers’ Pro­gram can also en­com­pass abuse in all its forms. In­ter min­is­te­rial co­op­er­a­tion is there­fore urged to ur­gently bring back this pro­gram to ensure gate­keep­ers/lay coun­selors in com­mu­ni­ties across Guyana. In fact, The Caribbean Voice can ac­cess a lay coun­selor trainer for a year if the gov­ern­ment is will­ing to part­ner with the pro­vid­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. ● In­clu­sion of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in the Fam­ily Life and Health cur­ricu­lum in schools na­tion­ally as was dis­cussed in a re­cent meet­ing be­tween the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and The Caribbean Voice.

Last Novem­ber, the So­cial Pro­tec­tion Min­istry en­gaged in a tree wrap­ping ex­er­cise and a sen­si­ti­za­tion and aware­ness ex­hi­bi­tion as vi­o­lence preven­tion mea­sures. Just how do these ac­tiv­i­ties redress gen­der-based vi­o­lence is any­body’s guess. Like sui­cide preven­tion, abuse preven­tion should cease to be a dog and pony show with scarce re­sources wasted on pageantry and photo ops. As well Ge­orge­town and Re­gion Four con­tinue to be the cen­tre of the vast ma­jor­ity of ac­tiv­i­ties even though is­sues like gen­der-based vi­o­lence are na­tional in na­ture.

The need there­fore, is for a na­tional pro­gramme of ev­i­dence based, abuse preven­tion strate­gies in­ter­ac­tively de­liv­ered, mod­eled, re­in­forced by sim­u­la­tions and role play. This is what TCV does through our var­i­ous free work­shops, all five of which in­clude mod­ules on all types of abuse.

Mean­while we note that the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion’s Sex­ual Of­fences and Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Pol­icy Unit (MSSODVPU) of­fers a range of ser­vices: shel­ter and tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion, fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, skills train­ing, coun­sel­ing, so­cial work ser­vices, le­gal aid... So why is it that many cases of gen­der-based abuse con­tinue to fes­ter of­ten with fatal con­se­quences? For ex­am­ple, a mother of five has been en­dur­ing years of do­mes­tic abuse, threats to her life, and most re­cently rape and an acid at­tack by her 56-year-old ex-re­puted hus­band in spite of re­peat­edly reach­ing out to the police. Even re­ac­tively this Unit should have been able to help this woman and pre­vent the re­cent acid at­tack and rapes.

Thus, The Caribbean Voice calls upon the Min­istry of So­cial Pro­tec­tion to set up of­fices in all ten ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions and en­gage in wide­spread and on­go­ing pro­mo­tion as well as col­lab­o­ra­tion with the police and com­mu­nity based or­ga­ni­za­tions so that its work can be­come proac­tively en­com­pass­ing across Guyana.

The Caribbean Voice can be reached at carib­voice@, or 718-542-4454 (North Amer­ica) and 644 1152, 646 4649 or 697-9968 (Guyana). As well, log on to our web­site at www.carib­ to ac­cess our many so­cial media pages.

(DPI photo)

Res­i­dents from North Timehri at the meet­ing

(DPI photo)

One of the res­i­dents rais­ing a ques­tion

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