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Till death do us part

Published:Sunday | June 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Domestic violence at crisis level
24 lovers kill spouses in five months

At least 24 lovers' quarrels ended in murder in the first five months of this year as domestic violence continued to lead to bloodletting across the island.

A further 39 cases of assault, five shootings and six incidents of wounding with intent were reported to the police as resulting from domestic clashes. However, gender specialists, psychologists and even the cops accept that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of violent incidents that have occurred since the start of this year when love turned sour.

"For every one that is reported, there are at least another five or six cases that are unreported," declared Joyce Hewett, past president of Woman Incorporated.

For psychologist Leahcim Semaj, domestic violence has reached crisis levels in Jamaica.

"It is a major form of violence, because a lot of our people have not learned how to resolve problems.

"In the domestic context, there are two kinds of violence - there is the verbal and emotional violence that the women largely are responsible for, and there is the physical violence that the men are responsible for," said Semaj.

"We don't talk about the women side of it, but both sides are on the increase. Much of it is under-reported, because there is the verbal and the emotional and even what you call the proxy violence, where in some cases they kill the children and even the dog," added Semaj.


Judith Wedderburn, a member of Women's Media Watch, and the 51% Coalition: Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment through Equity, agrees that the number of reported cases is far from the reality.

"If a woman is killed, it will be reported, but there are many instances of just sheer physical and sexual violence that may not result in what the police would call grievous bodily harm, and many of those are not reported.

"While we are very concerned by the numbers quoted of the women who are killed, we would also like to draw attention to the numbers that are not reported," said Wedderburn.

Sharing Wedderburn's concerns, Hewett noted that apart from the number of cases of domestic violence, the extremity of the attacks is worrying, despite a long-running public-education campaign.

"We have done public education really strongly since 1989 and we have also done gender-based violence seminars, where we look at violence in a more global sense. My God! What more do we need to do?" lamented Hewett.

"We have sensitised people, we have worked with the police to sensitise the police. As a matter of fact, there is a domestic violence programme that we work with the police to train the police. The number of cases that continue to exist and be reported is so distressing," said an obviously frustrated Hewett.


She said there needs to be an increased effort to sensitise Jamaicans about domestic violence.

"And I am talking about the children in the schools - everybody, everywhere."

To this end, Semaj has proposed that music be used to reach the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

"I am now devising an intervention using the music in communities; something I call constructive disengagement," said Semaj.

"It is a way of using music to teach people how to resolve domestic problems - all the songs that show them that I will survive, I can make it without you. Persons not going to come to no lecture, but they will come to a dance. I am now looking for funding and I want to take that kind of thing around the country."

Lanny Davidson, founder of Fathers in Action, says men who are inclined to hurt their partners should seek help as even one - let alone 24 fatalities since the start of the year as a result of domestic violence - is regrettable.

"We are hoping that the men will call us first for help before the situation gets volatile."

Wedderburn agrees that a holistic approach needs to taken in an effort to determine what is triggering these acts of violence within Jamaica's houses.

"As a country, we need to have this conversation with our men. Why is it that you feel that this person, who may be the mother of your children and who you say you love, why do you end up treating her like that? It comes down to the issue of power," said Wedderburn.

"I do believe that we are at a point in Jamaica where the relationship between men and women is bad and we need to examine it. Do we have too many images of gratuitous violence around us?"

But Semaj was quick to point out that men are sometimes victims of domestic violence.

"They are not going to go police station with it. It is well under-reported, but we are at a crisis situation now. A lot of people misunderstand the concept 'till death do us part', they take it literally," said Semaj.

He argued that much of the domestic violence is learnt during childhood.

"If a child does something wrong, you beat them. You are teaching them: if I am bigger than you and you disobey me, I am going to lick you; if you do something I don't like, I am going to lick you; if I am upset at you, I am going to lick you; and I beat you because I love you. So for men: woman do something wrong, beat her," reasoned Semaj.