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Protect our women and girls from violence

Published:Thursday | October 15, 2015 | 12:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

Violence against women and girls can have detrimental effects on women and girls themselves, their families and the wider communities of which they are a part. Reports are that one in three women and girls experience violence, yet we seem to be pussyfooting and investing more in lip service than actually doing more to prevent these incidents and providing support for those who have experienced violence.

We need to begin to take action to improve mechanisms to address violence and encourage reporting since there is consensus that under-reporting is part of the problem.

The Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) has found that many of its clients - some as young as 16 years - have and continue to experience gender-based violence, intimate partner violence and other forms of violence through its Responding to Violence against Women in the context of HIV Project.

According to Marilyn Thompson, a project manager at JASL, the risk of HIV transmission is one of the many effects of violence against women and girls that is prevalent but rarely spoken about: "HIV risk from violence against women is both direct through forced sexual intercourse with someone who is living with HIV, and indirect given the psychological stress one undergoes which can lead to engagement in high-risk sexual behaviours."

JASL reports that many women and girls they provide services to express a reluctance to report these incidents to the police, and to seek help because of fear of further victimisation. One can't blame them for believing they are better off never coming forward. Can you imagine the fear and pain of a 14-year-old girl who has been raped multiple times by her uncle or cousin and must testify against him in court?

The mechanisms that exist to protect women and girls from physical and sexual violence, and support those who have experienced violence, have been weak and inadequate, leaving key populations of women exposed to discrimination, violence and rights abuses. Some of the inadequacies noted are low capacity of health; criminal and justice institutions to respond; limited clinical, counselling and referral services for vulnerable groups of women and girls, including those living with HIV and those with disabilities; poor coordination of reporting mechanisms and sharing of information between the health sector and the police; lack of sensitivity by some police in addressing incidents, especially among vulnerable groups of women and girls; lack of timely settlement and determination of cases in the legal system; poor implementation and uneven application of existing policies and legislation; and the weak policy and legislative framework to address violence against women and girls.

 

Culturally permissible

In order to chip away at the residual impacts of violence towards women and to improve their quality of life, women should, therefore, seek support and help. However, they won't come forward if we continue to skirt around the issues which make some of these incidents culturally permissible. We also have to improve the mechanisms.

We must also pay more attention to intimate partner violence, as this can and often leads to emotional turmoil, and it is pertinent that women seek professional help to manage stress and anxiety levels, help with any anger issues or other behavioural symptoms that may result, to mitigate against possible suicidal thoughts, among other things. That is, to reduce the impact that these experiences of violence may have on the victim or survivor.

Survivors of intimate partner violence often find that their lives in general are affected by the violence they endured at the hands of their partner. It may, for instance, affect how they relate to others. This may sometimes manifest itself in their inability or reluctance to form enduring and healthy romantic relationships in the future.

Additionally, in the event that children are involved - whether directly being affected by the violence or indirectly through the upheaval of family life - it is important that family therapy be considered in order to ensure that children do not internalise violence and its dysfunction. Play therapy may also be useful for children in this regard.

Many survivors of intimate partner violence have feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment about being a victim of abuse and this may inhibit their likelihood of seeking professional help to deal with the effects of experiencing violence in this way. Coupled with the general cultural taboo and stigma of seeking psychological help, women may avoid seeking help.

Women should understand that it is not a sign of weakness but, in fact, one of strength to be able to remove themselves from abusive relationships and to seek help to deal with the related issues that affect their lives and their ability to remain whole human beings deserving of love and respect.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.