Wed | May 27, 2020

‘Is she cause it!’ - Domestic violence and human rights abuse in the Jamaican context Part 1

Published:Tuesday | February 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMOberlene Smith-Whyte
The victims of domestic violence are largely women, who tend to experience long-term traum
Oberlene Smith-Whyte

Throughout history, violence, either from the domestic perspective or between states and empires, has been, unfortunately, a regular part of life. It has destroyed communities and brought about long-lasting traumatic experiences for individuals, especially victims of violence from within the family setting.

The term ‘domestic violence’ has been defined as a pattern of behaviour which involves violence, or other types of abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation.

Surveys conducted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have found that domestic violence occurs in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and involve violence against children and the elderly.

The nature and scope of domestic violence can take various forms, such as emotional, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. The victims of domestic violence are largely women, who tend to experience long-term trauma.

In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women called for greater focus on marginalised groups of women, who face increased risks of violence.

This is because in many countries, there are perceptions which justify domestic violence or tolerate it, based on culture. With the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of DiscriminationAgainst Women by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, domestic violence now constitutes a human right violation/abuse.

Despite this development, domestic violence, including child abuse, has remained a daily occurrence in many countries, including Jamaica.


...Early encounters and manifestations of domestic violence

Growing up in a rural district in Jamaica, from a tender age of six years old I became aware of incidents of domestic violence.

Albeit I was oblivious of what was happening at the time, given my immaturity and lack of experience. My young mind thought nothing of it.

The term ‘domestic violence’ was never mentioned, nor was it part of the cultural vocabulary. What I heard, for the most part, were statements such as, ‘The woman must hear when man talk to her’; ‘Is she cause it’; ‘If she did hear we de man say, dat wouldn’t happen to her.’

I remember a neighbour had a baby girl. The child was a different complexion from the parents, who were of a darker hue. The district people started talking. ‘This is not Mr Joe’s child. This child is Mr Jones’, who is the only brown man in the district.’

The district people did not mince words to Mr Joe, demonstrating their consternation at the terrible occurrence.

Ms Mel was a wicked woman to give the man a ‘jacket’ (a child that was not his), they said. Mr Joe was ready to throw mother and child out of his house.

It was my grandmother who saved the day. She told the man that the child’s brown complexion was a result of medication the woman had taken. I don’t know if this was a fact or if my grandmother made up that line to protect Ms Mel.

Mr Joe relented. Ms Mel lived with constant verbal abuse and being reminded in no uncertain terms about the ‘jacket’. She could not live with the abuse, I reckoned, and left the home and district, leaving the baby behind. I never saw her again. The child grew up without her mother.

A young woman who was a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church met and fell in love with a young man, who was not a churchgoer. They became engaged despite the criticisms and objections of the church board, who said the union was unacceptable and unequally yoked, as the man was a non-Christian.

The district church refused to endorse the marriage ceremony, but it went on at a church in another district. The union seemed perfect for a while and Shane seemed a happy young bride.

She started coming to church less often and finally stopped. Her husband was abusing her. I was 12 years old at the time, but my friends and I would run to the door of the couple’s house soon after the man came home and shut the door behind him, as we knew Shane was being beaten.

We would hear the muffled cry of Shane and the shouts of Donovan who referred to her as his ‘dog’. Shane did not complain or resist. She did not speak about the abuse. Possibly, she was embarrassed and did not want to be judged, as the church was not in favour of the union.

It was also evident that talking about domestic abuse was a social stigma and Shane simply conformed. All the neighbours knew what was happening but nobody said anything. Everybody minded their own business.

One night, Donovan came home drunk. He left the bar where he had been drinking, telling his friends he was going to kill his ‘dog’. As was customary, he set about to beat Shane.

Only on this occasion, it was the last time. It was about 7:30 p.m. one Friday. Donovan came home as usual, locked the door behind him, and by 8 p.m., we could hear the muffled cry of Shane, shouting, pushing, shoving, and slapping. Shane used a knife that was on the kitchen counter to stab Donovan in the chest.

There was silence and Shane came from the one room they shared crying, ‘Him dead, him dead’.


The crowd gathered quickly. The police were summoned and Detective Corporal Watson responded. He went inside the room where Donovan was slumped on the ground near the door with a knife wound to his chest. Detective Corporal Watson was judgemental. His first words were, ‘A weh di bad woman deh?’ Shane was taken away to jail in her nightgown.

She was not even given a chance to change her clothes. Shane was acquitted as the neighbours came to her rescue and gave evidence in court on her behalf. She, however, had to leave the district as she was no longer welcome. She was a woman and she was a murderer. She was stigmatised and humiliated.

Maas Fitzroy lived with Ms Mam for several years. They were both in their fifties. Every day Maas Fitzroy would find some fault with Miss Mam, either with her cooking, her dressing, her ironing or her general housekeeping.

Ms Mam was a small, quiet, petite woman who obviously was not keen on everybody hearing her story. She kept muttering to herself, ‘a what happen to him so, him can’t talk quiet’ when Maas Fitzroy came to the front of the yard and blurted out that Mam ‘can’t cook’ or referred to her as ‘worthless uuman’.

On one occasion, Ms Mam was not feeling well and went to bed without having a bath. Maas Fitzroy filled a kerosene tin with water and threw it on her in the bed. He proceeded to compound the abuse by telling the neighbours and calling the woman derogatory names.

Although I was a child, I was convinced that Miss Mam was afraid of Maas Fitzroy. My mother was always questioning their relationship although she never discussed the issue outside of our home.

Ms Mam was always scurrying about and appeared very busy and seemed intent on doing everything to please Maas Fitzroy, but the more she tried pleasing him, the worse the abuse became.


Maas Fitzroy eventually chased Ms Mam from his house and she went to live with her daughter at another part of the district. Maas Fitzroy started living with a young woman, Merle, who seemed to me at the time not more than 17 years old.

Merle soon had a child for him and they got married but she could not leave the home. She was not allowed to have friends, nor could she visit her relatives. Maas Fitzroy would buy everything the home needed, from baby nappy to grocery.

Merle lived with Maas Fitzroy for about five years, then took her child and went to the United States, and only returned to Jamaica on the death of Maas Fitzroy.

Don’t miss Part 2 next Sunday.

- Oberlene Smith-Whyte is a superintendent of police. Feedback: