Gender, Youth and Child Development Minister Clifton De Coteau says there has been a steady increase in the number of sexual offences against females in the past five years. Despite this, victims and females on the whole seem to be reaching out to the many services set up to help them.He made the comment while delivering the feature address at the National Consultation on the Domestic Violence Act, 1999, at the San Fernando City Hall yesterday.
"In statistics from the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (CAPA), the TTPS reported steady increases in the number of charges for sexual offences, with females as victims, from the period 2009-2013," De Coteau said."These acts of aggression ranged from grievous sexual assault to rape, incest and serious indecency, with well over 200 reported cases in 2012 alone."
De Coteau said statistics for the same period also showed 93 reported cases in the southwestern region and 161 cases in the southern region, with the victims of domestic violence murders being beaten to death at the hands of their common-law husbands, spouses or ex-boyfriends.He blamed a lack of education and dependency for the high rates, saying, "These cases are prevalent in low-income areas, where the women are dependent on the men to support them."
De Coteau said the only way to reduce the figures was to educate and empower women."When women can educate themselves and no longer be reliant on men to provide for them, then they can be free to break the cycle of abuse and leave abusive relationships."He also said abuse victims were reaching out, as 16 per cent of the 881 calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline from 2012-2013 were enquiries about the services provided by various ministries and NGOs.
"Our society is reaching out to us and we must heed their call for intervention and preservation. We must be the cure for this family cancer," he said.He told those gathered that the consultation was vital to the nation's development."It is imperative that the legislation remains both relevant and current to our times and our people. The national consultations on the Domestic Violence Act are in fulfilment of the first and second pillars of sustainable development: people-centred development, poverty eradication and social justice."
Lawyers should be involved
Speaking to the media after the consultation, a member of the Islamic Ladies Social and Cultural Association, Shereen Mohammed, said there was no point in changing the laws if existing laws could not be implemented.Mohammed, a lawyer, added that lawyers working in the magistrates courts needed to attend the consultations, as they were the ones on the ground and knew what people were going through.
She stressed too that the police needed proper training, as many of their duties outlined in the Domestic Violence Act were not being carried out. "I don't know if they (police) just don't know, but they don't do what they are supposed to in order to protect the victims," said Mohammed."There are also a lot of vacancies in the social services that are not being filled, leading to a serious under-staffing problem."
Mohammed said she hoped De Coteau would be able to practically improve the situation that many women and children in T&T face."He was very much on point with regard to what is happening right now in society. I hope he will be able to improve the situation."