A petition calling on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to amend the Domestic Violence Act and set aside special funding to keep shelters for abused women and children open has been signed by 1700 people.
Yesterday it was delivered to the Office of the Prime Minister at Whitehall by three activists representing the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV), the Shelter for Battered Women and Children and the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO): Sex and Gender Justice. An alliance of 20 NGOs drafted the petition and circulated it online.
Their call for the state to act comes after six females—Rachel Logan, Gabriella Dubarry, Jezelle Philip-Fournillier, Polly Ann Chuniesingh, Naiee Singh, Nicole Hackshaw and 8-year-old Mukeisha Maynard—were killed in domestic violence-related incidents in the first two months of this year.
“We have to, have to, as a matter of urgency, address this epidemic of violence,” said CADV president Roberta Clarke just before she delivered the petition.
Clarke said there is no doubt that the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police and other officeholders are concerned about the alarming rate of domestic violence killings, but that concern needs to spur on targeted action.
“We understand there may be a draft, a Domestic Violence Bill. If that’s the case, we are heartened by that, but we have to fast forward and fast track consideration of that draft and the enactment of it to Parliament,” she said.
She said advocates were not consulted on the draft amendments.
NGOs have been crying out for amendments that would allow zero tolerance of domestic abuse, strengthen protection for victims and hold police and the courts more accountable for how they deal with abusers.
In November 2017, the Equal Opportunities Commission proposed ten changes to the existing law that would, among other things, remove the abuser from the home, mandate police to respond to all complaints and charge people for breaching protection orders.
Executive member of the management committee for the Shelter for Battered Women and Children, Sherron Harford, said another part of the problem which the petition calls on the Prime Minister to address is the closure of shelters.
“The shelters need funds. Two shelters are closed, one shelter is operating at 50 per cent,” Harford lamented.
Co-director at CAISO, Angelique Nixon, said the state needs to give “budgetary priority” to the two shelters that are not functional so they can re-open immediately.
To avoid future recurrences, the NGOs are lobbying for the state to establish a social fund for shelters.
“We want the state to be held accountable for the services and for the money that is set aside to protect citizens, so one of the big messages that we have for today and for this petition is that the state should have prioritised budgetary provisions for the newly-established Gender-Based Violence Unit in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service,” she said.
The petition also calls for public education and content in the school curriculum to help with skill-building and cultural change.