Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Laws of Eve | Zero tolerance on domestic violence

Published:Monday | February 13, 2017 | 2:20 AM

On February 6, 2017, I received a message in which I was invited to wear black to commemorate the day to end violence against women.

I wore black because I firmly believe that vulnerable persons in this society deserve absolute protection, and that violence should not be the end result of our disagreements.

Unfortunately, all the things that I have heard and seen, in handling cases of domestic violence, have made me cynical about whether there is true commitment to end domestic violence. Below are some of my thoughts.

- Until there are safe houses in which victims of abuse are able to find temporary refuge while they try to put the pieces of their lives back together, they will remain reluctant to make reports to the police because they have no independent means of financial support. Many victims of domestic violence remain with the perpetrators because they are fearful that they will not be able to provide for themselves and their children.

- Until police officers (both males and females) are properly trained to receive reports of domestic abuse, victims will shy away from making those reports, because they do not feel that cases are treated seriously or with the level of sensitivity they deserve. There are often cases in which the victim is encouraged to 'work it out' with the perpetrator because it is the first incident or because the victim did not have to be hospitalised.

- Until the courts are equipped (in terms of manpower and properly trained staff) to handle domestic violence cases with the level of urgency they warrant, victims will remain exposed to repeated acts of violence until their cases are resolved. The courts are invariably overcrowded, and there is no special space on the court's roster to hear urgent cases unless the victim is prepared to sit at court for an entire day.

- Until court orders are readily available when protection and occupation orders are made in domestic-violence cases, victims of abuse will be powerless to enforce the orders made by the courts. There are times when the physical (signed) document is not available for several days after the court makes a protection or occupation order - so it will be impossible to enforce that order if there is a further attack on the victim.

- Until victims have readily available means of counselling once a report is made to the police, it will become harder for victims to provide the necessary instructions to attorneys so that they can get legal redress, and it will be harder for them to recover from violent episodes. While the Victim Support Unit exists, it would be helpful if they work in tandem with the courts so that victims of abuse are immediately referred to counsellors.

- Until the many cases in which police officers are the accused perpetrators are no longer treated differently by their colleagues, the spouses of police officers will continue to feel that they will never receive justice. Quite often, a victim whose husband or partner is a police officer feels hard done by on the part of his colleagues, who try to keep him out of trouble rather than executing their jobs in the same way they would other members of the society.

For all the frantic telephone calls I have received, the buckets of tears I have seen shed in my office, and the paralysing fear that limits the extent to which I can receive proper instructions from victims of domestic violence, I do hope that the recent initiative by the Government will serve to empower victims. The most important thing is to guarantee that victims will find justice when they approach the police and the courts for redress.

- Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com