Abuse continues unabated

Stabroek News
July 31, 1999

Recently, it seems, there has been an increase in the incidence of domestic violence as an escalating number of cases in the courts deal with this subject. Or it may be that there simply has been an increase in the reporting of such matters.

Routinely, victims complain that their spouses are in the habit of carrying out such acts. Repeatedly, the guilty party has blamed the excessive use of alcohol. In one such case, the abuser pleaded guilty and attempted to justify his behaviour by complaining to the court that his wife had dared to serve him bread without butter on Father's Day!

In some of these cases once the fine or sentence, usually three months, is imposed and served, the abuser and the victim return to co-habit and the cycle repeats itself.

Women have been known to complain during counselling or conversation that they had left their abusive spouses and returned to their parents' home, only to have their father or mother or both insist that they go back to their marital homes and learn to live with it. Unfortunately, some of the women who have had this experience have not lived to tell the tale.

Some three years ago, a law was passed, which was supposed to help change this. The Domestic Violence Act 1996 makes legislative provision for spouses, co-habitants, children and associated persons to apply for protection orders against domestic violence, the threat of such violence, harassment and psychological abuse, inducement to use drugs, alcohol or controlled substances. When making a protection order, the court may also, if it deems it necessary, make an occupation or a tenancy order. The court may also make interim protection, occupation and tenancy orders and a qualified social worker or a police officer may also apply for such orders in certain circumstances.

An occupation order affords the applicant the right to live in the household residence, while a tenancy order allows the petitioner to become the tenant of the dwelling. In this instance the respondent ceases to be the tenant and the court may also order that the respondent contribute to the payment of rent.

All this seems straightforward, so the question one might ask is why, if this is what is available under the law, hasn't there been a proliferation of applications for protection orders to match the spate of domestic violence cases we have been seeing. The answer is just as simple: most of the people whom this piece of legislation could benefit are not aware it exists.

Perhaps Avril Herod or her mother or aunt would have applied for a protection order against Raul Herod, had they been aware such a channel existed. Perhaps the police officers she insists she made reports to could have applied for such an order or advised her accordingly, had they been sensitised to this legislation.

Help and Shelter, which counsels the battered and abused, had undertaken a sensitisation workshop for police officers in March this year. The organisation says that it is due to review this shortly.

Under the Domestic Violence Act there exists authority for the appointment of a Director of Human Services in the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security. This officer's responsibilities include: promoting and developing educational programmes for the prevention of domestic violence; studying, probing and publishing reports on this problem; identifying groups and sectors in society on which domestic abuse is manifested and educating them; creating an awareness in society as to the needs of victims of abuse; developing strategies to encourage policy change; establishing programmes on information, support and counselling services for victims and their children; training police officers and persons who counsel victims; analysing the need for education and rehabilitation of abusers. Sadly, this key post has never been filled, or even advertised, which is a pity since education and awareness are the first steps towards making this necessary Act work.

The Human Services Ministry must have this crucial office filled. And not just filled, but working. This must be done now for the sake of all the Herod-like families grappling with life in this country; for all the sad-eyed children who watch mommy and daddy fighting and then face the tail-end of those storms; for all the wives and girlfriends who constantly "bump" into doors and wear sunglasses and make-up for reasons other than fashion.

It is time to make the Domestic Violence Act more than just a few sheets of paper.

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