We should look at other measures to curb domestic violence
Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
April 10, 2005

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Can harsh measures reduce the incidence of domestic violence? Obviously the answer is no. Our Domestic Violence Act is harsh on the abuser and has failed to curb violence in the home.

The Domestic Violence Act 1966 is difficult to understand. We are grateful to Josephine Whitehead, Danuta Radzik and Roberta Stoute for interpreting it for us and producing a handbook with illustrations that tell a story.

What is 'Domestic Violence'? The handbook, The Domestic Violence Act, A Household Guide, tells us that "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 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."

When the Domestic Violence Bill was tabled in the National Assembly several weeks were given for comments and recommendations, but little attention was paid to it. When the bill was assented to on December 31, 1996, it was observed that harsh measures were to be employed to put an end to domestic violence.

Enshrined in the act is a provision that persons guilty of domestic violence can be sent to prison. It should be well known that our prisons are not hotels, that conditions in them are inhuman and any person with a tendency to violence will leave the prison even more violent than before.

Anyone who has come face to face with violent situations in a home will appreciate that the woman who lives with a husband or partner who beats her is living in fear day and night. She is threatened that if a report is made to the police the severity of the blows will increase. There may come a time when she summons up the courage to visit a police station, but on second thoughts she withdraws her report. It is understandable.

There is a question of how we regard our prisons. Are they places of punishment or places for reform? A few years ago I listened to a BBC programme Behind Bars. It was reported that a woman who was a director of a prison in India viewed the prison as a "Place for reform." Her prison was organised as a place of learning with a time-table for classes. She had written a book on the subject of prison reform. I sought to obtain a copy of the book through the Indian High Commission but was unsuccessful.

Surely there is need for progress. Our prisons in the Caribbean were not built for the numbers who are now accommodated in them. Many of the inmates are there for domestic problems, such as non-payment of support. To send persons guilty of domestic violence to prison should never be contemplated. They will not leave the prison sweet-tempered.

In addition, there are other considerations. The violent person may be the breadwinner. With-out him or her, the home flounders. There is the stigma of having a husband, the father of your children, with a prison record.

Under the act, certain orders may be issued. An Occupation Order allows the victim with his/her child/children to live in the family home while the abuser must leave. A Tenancy Order gives the right to the victim and the victim's child/children to live in a rented house while the abuser must leave. If you stop for a moment you will appreciate that no violent person is going to acquiesce to such a situation.

One would think that with violence there is need for counselling and treatment. A violent nature may show itself in youth and that is the time to control the violence.

With the increase in violent acts in our society it is time for psychiatrists, social workers and others to pay serious attention to the problem in an effort to find out the causes of such behaviour.

In 1985 while visiting the United States with a group of women we were invited to attend a therapy session where men who had been found guilty of incest met to discuss their problem.

We need to take note of the approaches being made in other countries and make some changes. It needs urgent attention.