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Meet rise in sexual offences decisively

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

As he delivered the feature address at the national consultation on the Domestic Violence Act at the San Fernando City Hall last week, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Clifton De Coteau noted there had been a steady increase in the reported number of sexual offences against females over the past five years.

The police Crime and Problem Analysis Branch, he said, has reported steady increases in the number of charges for sexual offences between 2009 and 2013, with 200 cases reported in 2012 alone.

This is isn’t news. Mr De Coteau had already warned about the trend in October, 2013 when the still-to-be-implemented National Gender Policy was a matter of public discussion.

There has been no discussion of the national domestic violence action plan since Nafeesa Mohammed, chairman of the San Juan Laventille Regional Corporation, reminded the nation in 2012 that it was drafted in 2007.

Still, the Gender Minister’s warnings at the consultation seemed muted. In 2013, Mr De Coteau had warned that there were 940 reports of domestic violence in 2010, of which 673 were incidents of rape, incest, grievous sexual assault or sex with a minor female.

One contributor to this trend has been the positive work that Margaret Sampson-Browne has been doing with the Victim and Witness Support Unit, which has empowered many victims of abuse and domestic violence to come forward to report difficult circumstances.

Inquiries about social services provided by ministries and NGOs accounted for 16 per cent of the 681 calls answered by the National Domestic Violence Hotline between 2012 and 2013.

“Our society is reaching out to us,” Mr De Coteau said, “and we must heed their call for intervention and preservation.”

To that end, the Gender Minister suggested that the consultations on the Domestic Violence Act will play a critical role in ensuring that the legislation is “both relevant and current to our times and our people.”

But Shereen Mohammed, a member of the Islamic Ladies Social and Cultural Association, pointed out that changing laws means little when existing laws aren’t being effectively implemented. Ms Mohammed, a lawyer, noted that existing agencies were understaffed and the police still needed proper training in order to do their job as needed under the existing laws governing domestic violence.

“He was very much on point with regard to what is happening right now in society,” said Ms Mohammed of Mr De Coteau’s presentation, but she added, significantly,” I hope he will be able to improve the situation.”

On the rise in domestic violence and abuse, Ms Sampson-Browne noted, after being named woman of the year in 2013 by the activist group Aspire, “Some of us didn’t act fast enough, we didn’t have the networking enough, the networking system wasn’t effective enough.”

That call wasn’t specific to police officers. Ms Sampson-Browne saw a need for improved engagement by communities in building awareness and general intolerance for domestic violence and abuse.

A clear commitment to and rapid, sustained implementation of the protection of victims and investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and abuse cases is long overdue. Mr De Coteau would do well to acknowledge the need to move beyond simply discussing and lamenting the surge in cases to decisive action.


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