Colin Mitchell has heard horror stories that he would rather not share.
“It’s something I don’t want you to experience,” he told Guardian Media.
Mitchell runs The Shelter, which, as its name suggests, is a safe and rehabilitative space for survivors of domestic abuse.
“Most times they are badly bruised and damaged because sometimes the situation reaches an extreme before they make the decision to leave and come to The Shelter for help.”
It is a traumatic experience for everyone involved, but Mitchell’s Shelter is being credited as an effective tool to combat the cycle of violence.
But what is the cycle of violence?
Tonni-Ann Brodber, a representative of the UN Women Multi-Country Office-Caribbean said to define the cycle, one must first understand violence.
“We look at it as aggression, harassment, it could be physical, emotional, economic even, but what is the basis of that violence? In some cases, it is gender-based in that you are being violent towards another person because you believe they should be playing a particular role; cooking your food, or taking care of the children. That generally manifests itself into intimate partner or domestic violence,” Brodber explained.
“When the UN speaks about the cycle of violence, they want you to think about how this domestic violence impacts child abuse, violence against the elderly and how this spills from the household into the communities and vice versa.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell explained that generational violence is also a common part of the cycle that is prevalent in the Shelter.
“Your mother saw your grandmother being beaten by her husband, so when you are seeking companionship that seems acceptable or tolerable,” he said.
Brodber chimed in and explained that this cycle of violence is not exclusive to intimate partners.
“If you are a child...and this is what the data from the women’s health survey in Trinidad and Tobago is saying, if you are a child who witnessed violence in the house or even if you are a man who perpetrates violence in your relationship, you are more likely to choose violence in your relationship with other men and this is not an intimate relationship, this just means you are more likely to get into a fight with another man. So it’s not necessarily that if you are a victim of violence, you are doomed to repeat it. It just becomes normalised.”
Tonni-Ann Brodber, a representative of the United Nations Women Multi-Country Office,
So how do we break that cycle?
Mitchell said The Shelter has seen great success with respect to breaking that cycle of violence.
“Basically, we help women and children escape, and we act as a place of protection while they decide how to move forward with life. We do this at no charge and offer them clothing, meals, counselling, medical attention, school placement and legal guidance for protective orders etc.”
Mitchell said one of the key ways to break the cycle of violence is by letting the victims and survivors know that abuse is not acceptable, and they do not have to live in that environment, and for them to realise that violence towards them is a crime and is punishable by law.
“We tell them 'you’re not alone, you have the law on your side.'”
Mitchell, who is The Shelter’s chairman, said they applied for a United Nations Spotlight Initiative grant in March 2022 called Project Reset and that the funds have allowed them to improve their services.
“We have achieved all of our milestones because of the grant, we increased training for our staff and hired additional part-time staff to provide counselling, and we created a data platform, so we’re very grateful for the Spotlight Initiative because I really believe the service we offer to our residents is humane and the gold standard.”
He underscored that “sometimes shelters only offer a temporary respite.”
“We need to be able to have shelters graduate women to places where they are safe with their children and their families, so having that is extremely critical to women, so they won’t re-engage in an unhealthy relationship because of economic reasons. The data shows that women who are initiated into relationships quite young find themselves in violent relationships because they have children earlier, so that puts them in a dependent relationship,” Brodber added.
She said another key way to break the cycle of violence was prevention.
“We have a programme called The Foundations which has been implemented across Trinidad and Tobago, over 1,100 children have benefited to help them understand how best to manage their conflict in a healthy way, help you better understand what it means when you choose violence.
“We also have secondary prevention programmes, so when a perpetrator finds themselves in front of the court system, this was something implemented in Trinidad and Tobago in the past, there is a 16-week psychosocial support programme on accountability. It’s not just blame, it’s understanding that no matter what someone did, you chose the violence, finding out why you chose it and how you can choose something different for the betterment of yourself.”
Meanwhile, Brodber hailed Mitchell’s shelter for being an example of the type of work they wish to continue. She said The Shelter's success can mean more grant money for similar organisations.
"The broader trust fund to end violence against women and girls will be launched soon and that's up to one million dollars and more, so what we're hoping is that what we will see as a result of the Spotlight Initiative is organisations like The Shelter, Cleopatra Borel, The Network for Rural Women and CADV getting more of these grants globally because this is a global fund and, unfortunately, the Caribbean organisations have not been benefiting, only one benefited last year, so we want to see at least three benefiting."