Domestic violence Editorial
Stabroek News
February 8, 2002

The murder of Taijwantie Sooklall, who was only twenty-two years old at the time of her death has passed by without comment. She was killed on January 26, and her murderer has still not been apprehended. The police have also not located the murderer of twenty-seven year-old Jennifer Dyal, who was stabbed last November while viewing the Diwali parade with her children and a man at the Kitty seawall. What connects the cases is that the attackers were men with whom the victims had allegedly had relationships. In other words, these are instances of domestic violence.

In both cases, the women had fled their own homes for fear of their safety; in both cases they had been attacked previously by their assailants; and in both cases they had had recourse to the police on account of not just threats, but physical violence. According to her brother, the last attack on Ms Sooklall prior to her death had left her with a sizeable wound on her head, and another on her arm. That experience, together with the death threats she had received had sent her into hiding for a time. Subsequently she came out of hiding and went to live with her brother.

In Ms Dyal's case, the victim had taken refuge with her sister. The latter related a tale of physical abuse, and told this newspaper that only six weeks prior to Ms Dyal's death, a complaint had been made to the police about threats to her life. In other words, had something been done at the time of the complaints, perhaps both women would have been alive today.

Members of the police force themselves, of course, are recruited from a society which insists on regarding domestic violence as a private family matter, and not one which requires official intervention. It is not that there have not been efforts to sensitise the police to questions of domestic violence, and advise them about procedures. The Felix Austin College, for example, has taken the issue on board, while the Gender Equality Programme has held two-week seminars to train identified individuals in the police stations. These were the trainers who were to return not only to their stations to work at the police level, but also to go out into their communities in an outreach effort. Some of them, it must be said, have done this very conscientiously.

However, according to Ms Janice Jackson, the problem is not that there is not a pool of people in existence who have an understanding of domestic violence issues, it is that there is no system in place which would allow them to function effectively. She says, for example, that there is no record of who has been trained, and there is no data base on which to ground assessments of progress or otherwise.

While the police have been issued with copies of the Domestic Violence Act, Ms Jackson says that it remains a problem that not every police rank really knows what they should do when faced with complaints of family violence. Some posters had been printed for stations listing procedures which should be adopted in domestic violence cases in order to achieve a consistency of approach. However, not enough of them seem to have been produced, and many stations do not have them at all.

For a woman who feels her life is under threat, she can apply to a magistrate for a protection order. At a seminar on domestic violence involving the magistracy, the latter had indicated that an affidavit presented to the court through a lawyer was the preferred way to go. However, in many instances the victims are women of little education, no work experience, no life outside the home, no financial resources, and absolutely no knowledge of the mysteries of the bureaucracy. Exploring ways of helping such women is something which the Ministry of Human Services could look at. It would seem that some resources need to be diverted into setting up arrangements which would allow potential victims access to information about their rights, and how they should proceed when their lives are under threat.

Ms Sooklall and Ms Dyal cannot be brought back to life again. However, with imagination, with information in the hands of the right people, with workable systems in place, and with co-operation between the various agencies, perhaps we can reduce the number of deaths and injuries from domestic violence in the future.