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ACP Margaret Sampson-Brown admits: ‘Protected’ women have been murdered
T&T is an increasingly violent society.
That is the view of Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, head of the Coalition for Domestic Violence, who said in most cases protection orders are useless. She also dismissed the notion that a protection order acts as deterrent. “Everybody has the opinion that what you should do is apply for a protection order and in many cases it’s totally useless because they are not deterrents and if you’re looking for a deterrent you’re not going to get it by a magistrate writing out a protection order,” she warned. Saying there were more weapons, including knives and guns, being circulated in the country, Mahabir-Wyatt lamented the fact that no value is placed on human life.
“Trinidad has become far more violent as a society as it was even ten years ago,” Mahabir-Wyatt said.
“People’s general attitude towards life is very cavalier in a lot of places and in a lot of situations.”
She said when the Domestic Violence Act, 1999, was passed, one of the philosophies behind it was to keep families together. She said the theory that a protection order means a person must be kept away from someone is not always the case.
“That is because perpetrators are so emotionally obsessed with what they are doing that the thinking part of their brain isn’t functioning and they’re not thinking about the consequences if they break a protection order,” Mahabir-Wyatt said. “There are about 15 different protection orders and our approach to the act is not as effective as it should have been when it was passed. “It was perhaps the best we could have done at the time and it was appropriate in terms of those circumstances,” Mahabir-Wyatt said.
Public education campaign
Mahabir-Wyatt is calling for a public education campaign to be implemented through the Ministry of Gender Affairs. “The police need to be educated regarding protection orders... The public needs to be educated regarding the causes, effects and dangers of domestic violence and what remedies are available, and there are very little,” she said. She added that there was “a great misunderstanding regarding legislation,” as there already exists “hundreds and hundreds” of acts regarding violence against a person. The key, Mahabir-Wyatt added, is not implementing more legislation but enforcing what already exists.
Reports of domestic violence
Taking out a protection order has led to the deaths of some women, admitted Margaret Sampson-Brown, Assistant Police Commissioner (ACP) in charge of Community Relations. “I am not going to shift away and say the protection order is a barrier or an armour for applicants... Women have died because of the issuing of a protection order,” she said. “In some instances the protection order has worked and in others it has not. “Whether or not the effectiveness of how the police exercise their role and function with respect to domestic violence... if that had an impact on the murders, I would say no.”
She explained that when there is an application for a protection order, the applicant receives two documents—a summons to be served on the perpetrator and the other to be returned to the court, proving that the document was served. Sampson-Brown said some people kept the documents believing that was the actual protection order. She added there were “horror stories” relating to the actual serving of the summons by police officers.
“A victim would go to the police station so that the summons could be served but you have some horror stories coming out of that where people say they go to the station and the summons is not served because the perpetrator may be a friend or relative of the policeman, or a relative,” she said. “There should be no barriers. It could be the Commissioner of Police because once you get that application as a police officer, you are required by law to serve it and I am saddened when I hear that it’s not being served.”
She said because of the “length and breadth” of the domestic violence legalisation, it allowed for off-duty police officers to also serve the summons. The police, Sampson-Brown said, were aware of the sensitivity surrounding domestic violence reports. “There are certain things we have to do and we do it... I cannot say if it has been done 101 per cent but it has been done a lot,” she said. She said the police were receiving more reports of domestic violence reflecting increasing confidence in lawmen and NGOs.
Police safe house for women
A safe house will soon be established on the compound of a police station for women wanting to escape abusive relationships, Sampson-Brown said. She said some of the women who had gone into already existing safe houses often felt they were “in prison.” “The police have a safe house in one of their divisions and we are going to revisit that safe house to see how we could bring it up to scratch,” she said. “When victims make reports, they don’t report in the day, they report during all hours of the night and we could have challenges in finding a place for them to stay.”
The safe house, she added, would be manned by police officers and counsellors. She, however, noted that more work was needed regarding support systems. Previously, only the victim could apply for a protection order, but legislation gave way for a social worker, teacher or doctor to apply for or on behalf of a victim, Sampson-Brown explained. “When that protection order is applied for, there is a certain procedure that the applicant is supposed to do with speed and clarity,” she said. “Some keep the protection order, but I would advise not to serve it yourself because people have been injured or killed doing that.”
Challenges in serving summons
The serving of a summons for a protection order has posed some challenges to the police. Sampson-Brown said in some instances there was difficulty in locating applicants. “Police officers are having difficulty where identification is concerned... We don’t know the victim and the applicant must make that information clear,” she said. “Some of the applicants have moved and that would mean we have to do some extra work because we cannot be laid back and say we can’t find the perpetrator.”
She said when an application for a protection order is made, within four days the applicant is granted a court hearing.
Urging that actions of police officers be in sync with the action and vision of the protection order, Sampson-Brown said a great deal of urgency must also be observed in serving the summons. “It must not be viewed as an additional burden on the Police Service,” she said. “Crime and domestic violence are inextricably linked and domestic violence is the business of every officer in every police station.”
An interim order is a temporary order made by the court on an application for a protection order, in urgent circumstances, where it appears to the court that it is necessary and appropriate to so in order to ensure the safety and protection of the applicant. Such interim order is made pending the hearing and determination of the domestic violence proceedings, and may be put in place for a maximum of 21 days.
It should be noted that an interim order may be made:
Whether of not the respondent is present in court; or Whether or not the respondent has been given notice of the proceedings. The primary intent behind the making of an interim order is to enable the court, on the application for a protection order, to protect the applicant as a precautionary measure before the hearing of the substantive application between the parties.
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