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Gender advocates call for harsher penalties in new domestic violence law

Published:Wednesday | February 19, 2020 | 12:12 AMDanae Hyman/Staff Reporter
Hilary Nicholson
Hilary Nicholson

Jamaican gender advocates are hoping that harsher penalties for ­abusers will be included in the new Domestic Violence Bill piloted by the Holness administration.

The current Domestic Violence Act states that perpetrators are liable, on conviction, to paying a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment of up to six months.

However, lobbyist Hilary Nicholson believes that the 1996 Domestic Violence Act is not sufficient, as it does not have a systematic plan to ensure that perpetrators are prevented from re-establishing contact with abused women who have applied for protection orders.

Also, she argued that the penalties attached are not stringent enough to deter abusers from committing offences.

“It is not adequate nor are the penalties adequate. If you have a law, there also needs to be other systems and mechanisms in place to protect women. You cannot just say something is illegal. Saying it is illegal does not stop men from doing what they do,” she told The Gleaner.

“There is no system for officially monitoring whether the abuser follows the protection order or doesn’t.”

Further, she argued that it is also too difficult for women to obtain a protection order based on the details one would first have to prove to the court.

According to the Domestic Violence Act, the court may make a protection order if it is satisfied that the accused has used, or threatened to use, violence against, or caused physical or mental injury to, a person and is likely to do it again.

“By the time a woman is to get certain proof, a hand can be played by the abuser. Also, the protection order does not stop the man from using his power or threats of further violence to intimidate the woman even further so the orders do not work well,” she said.

Nicholson argued that the episodes of intimate-partner ­violence across the country, including death, could be significantly reduced if the long-promised shelters for domestic abused women and children were rolled out.

According to her, in most cases, women stay in abusive relationships because they have children and have no stable place to go with a child.

“In absence of a shelter, when a woman takes out an occupation order or protection order, she was so brave but disrespectful to him to do this, so she has nowhere to run to when he threatens her further, so she goes back to the Family Court and says I want to withdraw the order,” she said.

Speaking at an International Women’s Day symposium last March, Gender Minister Olivia Grange revealed that a review was done in order to introduce new and harsher penalties for the perpetrators of domestic violence.

The gender minister also advised that greater support would be provided during the 2019-20 fiscal year for women who were victims of domestic violence. The purchase of two shelters valued at $86 million had been planned.

However, several attempts by The Gleaner to get an update have been unsuccessful.

In the meantime, Mazielyn Macintosh, gender advocate and lay magistrate, said that before another Domestic Violence Bill is passed, the Jamaican Government should first make contact with women’s groups to ascertain concerns that only the affected party would understand.

“I would be happy if the prime minister lobbied with us. Him cannot just run and pass bill so ... . We are the people who feel it, so we should have an idea of what these people are putting into the bill,” Macintosh said.

She is also urging women to know more about their partners before embarking on serious relationships, a factor, she said, that could significantly reduce the incidence of domestic abuse cases in Jamaica.