Let's take another look at the Domestic Violence Act

Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
May 14, 2000

Baby battering: The mere thought of it fills you with horror. Yet the practice seems to be fairly prevalent in some countries. According to a news item in the Stabroek News of May l, 2000, the Sunday Telegraph said that at least one baby was killed every fortnight in domestic violence in England and Wales.

It was reported that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was launching Britain's first advertising campaign warning about the dangers of baby battering. It seems that the most common reason given for baby battering was that the baby would not stop crying. Research shows that in a 12 month period, 92 babies in Britain suffered serious brain injuries caused by shaking. It is to be noted that battering is not confined to one specific social class.

The battering of babies in this country would fall under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and so would the merciless whipping of children.

A Handbook on the Domestic Violence Act prepared by a group of women can be used as a Household Guide. The book defines Domestic Violence thus:

Domestic violence includes verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse between the members of a family/household. Abuse can be, for example, the malicious damaging of a person's personal property, placing fear into a person or sending someone unwanted messages. Domestic violence can take place between a man and a woman, a parent and a child, a sister and a brother, etc.

It is possible for an adult to seek relief from domestic violence, but what about children and infants? While baby battering does not appear to be a problem in Guyana, the merciless whipping of children for such reasons as poor results at school or in examinations, failure to eat meals offered, disobedience, is not unknown. It was certainly very prevalent during our years of stress when one could observe parents purchasing canes that were on sale on the pavements.

How can a child react if it is subjected to domestic violence? There are no hot lines to the children's welfare department. In our society, would not complaints make matters worse?

To my mind, there is need to take a second look at the Domestic Violence Act to see whether it has had any impact and to find out to what extent children and infants are exposed to violence. In introducing the Domestic Violence Bill in the National Assembly in 1996 the Minister responsible for Human Services and Social Security reported that "a study on Domestic Violence by Danns and Shiv Persaud found that two out of every three women experienced at least one incident of some form of physical violence from their husbands or partners ranging from pushing, slapping or battering and maiming."

What about the other side of the picture? How many men have suffered at the hands of women? How many men or children have been harassed by women? In the Act "harassment" includes -

The intimidation of a person by
(A) persistent verbal abuse
(B) threats of physical violence
(C) the malicious damage to the property of a person
(D) inducing fear of physical or psychological violence

It also includes such things as the persistent following of a person from place to place, the hiding of any clothing, the watching of a house where a person resides, the making of persistent unwelcome communications to a person and using abusive language.

In the light of all this, should we think of the Domestic Violence Act as being limited to violence against women? Should we not perceive that women themselves may be guilty of harassment and even physical violence?

When we note that the Act provides for imprisonment for not more than twelve months, should we not stop and take stock? Will imprisonment improve the situation? Would it not be better to study behavioural patterns and have corrective institutions? It would certainly be more costly but we may be ensuring improvement in family life.