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Domestic violence continues to escalate because of the “go-slow” approach by the criminal justice system in dealing with the issue. That, coupled with poor intervention strategies, is why lives are still being lost to domestic violence. That’s the conclusion of criminologist Renee Cummings. She said the criminal justice responses to domestic violence and interpersonal violence were flaccid. “We need focused, long-term intervention strategies to treat with domestic violence before it leads to domestic homicide,” Cummings said. “On a national level, we have also got to develop violence-reduction strategies to reduce domestic violence and the overall frequency of interpersonal violence.” She suggested swift prosecution, robust anti-harassment and anti-stalking legislation; offender rehabilitation programmes that treat with men and women who use violence in relationships; and multi-agency approaches and co-ordinated interventions to domestic and interpersonal violence, as some of the answers.
She said there was need for evidence-based programmes to assist men in understanding and managing their anger with strategies for self-regulation. “Men need to know they can access help and treat with issues such as anger, rejection, jealousy and the fear of being alone after a relationship is over—therapeutic interventions to help some men recognise that there is life beyond a relationship.” Her views were supported by lawyer and child rights activist Hazel Thompson-Ahye, who concurred that there was a “drag-foot mentality” on issues of domestic violence.
She said there was a need for a more structured and organised approach to prevention. The Domestic Violence Act needed to be revised and then actively enforced, she said via e-mail. Under the act, a protection order is the main remedy for victims of domestic violence.
But Thompson-Ahye said protection orders clearly do not work. What was needed was swift co-operation and continued interaction with victims by response units, she said. “I made a call last year for the police to be held accountable whenever they do not respond in a timely manner. “I strongly suggest that every report must be recorded and investigated, no matter how many times the woman recants her story.” Ways must also be found of continuing the prosecution of offenders even when the woman refuses to give evidence, she said. “Domestic violence is a crime and must be treated as such.” Cummings and Ahye were speaking in light of recent acts of domestic violence which had tragic endings. On January 9, a murder-suicide involving schoolteacher and Pennywise Cosmetics stores heiress Dian Paladee and her estranged husband Sanjeev Rambarran brought the issue to the forefront once more. It is believed Rambarran shot and killed his ex-wife before turning the gun on himself. That murder brought the number of domestic homicides to five between late December 2013 and January 2014.
Understanding domestic violence; beware of signs
In order to fight domestic violence, its dynamics must first be understood and victims must become aware of the warning signs, both Thompson-Ahye and Cummings said. Thompson-Ahye noted domestic violence was a copycat-type crime. “I say that because in the past I have had clients tell me that when there is a report of domestic violence in the newspapers, their husbands have waved the newspapers in their faces and told them they had better watch out, they might be next,” she said. She said the ultimate act of spouse murder is never the first act of violence and women need to take very seriously the first hint of violence even when the man appears to be contrite afterwards. “People who are experiencing domestic violence must be taught to recognise the triggers that precede the acts of violence and how to devise a safety plan for a quick getaway,” Thompson-Ahye said. “There are women who even during courtship experience violence and proceed to marry the same man. There are cases where the one act of violence is never repeated, but that is very rare and one would have to examine the perpetrator’s personal history to determine if that act was an aberration.”
Empower victims, reduce the cycle
Sharing a tragic story of a client who lost her life to domestic violence, Thompson-Ahye said the Government needed to do more to empower victims. She said the Government needed to spend more money on resources for victims, as too much is left up to NGOs, which are constantly begging and fund-raising. “Victims need shelters, training to become self-reliant, if they are unemployed, money to help them until they get on their feet and, very important, counselling for them and their children. “Domestic violence is a drain on our human and financial resources. It impacts the quality of life of victims, affects the effectiveness of the parenting, impairs the mental health of not only the victim, but also has a profound effect on the psychological health of her children who witness the violence. It also has implications for our health services, impacts employment, as days may have to be taken from work while the victim is healing or the bruises remain too visible to prying eyes,” she said. She noted that children were the most vulnerable in the midst of domestic violence and can become psychologically messed up later on and also become perpetrators or victims of domestic violence. “There is an increased risk in their being involved in abusive dating relationships and of their getting into conflict with the law. “Violence is learned behaviour and we need to teach children from early that violence is not an acceptable way of dealing with conflict,” Thompson-Ahye said.
More Recent Incidents
January 4: Shedrick Toppin, 38, was stabbed by a relative who is said to have been acting in self-defence.
December 26, 2013: Angel Persad, 21, of Siparia, was shot in the chest by her uncle, PC Lutchmansingh Pooran, who then committed suicide.
December 28, 2013: 44-year-old Steve Bain is believed to have committed suicide after trying to poison his wife.