“One violent act can change your life.”
This was the warning from Damian Mills of the Child Protection Unit, Old Grange Police station, to Third and Fourth Form students of the Pentecostal Light and Life Foundation last Friday.
But even as the students were warned about the consequences of engaging in violent acts, they reported that violence was making them afraid to be in school, in public and at home.
Mills and the students were speaking at the first is a series of Round-Table discussions in schools in Tobago. Mills impressed upon the students the damage that an act of violence perpetrated by them can have on the rest of their lives.
In an interactive session with the students at the school’s compound in Scarborough, Mills asked them to share their career paths. The students listed professions such as nurses, lawyers, detectives, actors and midwives.
Mills then advised the students that their goals and hard work could disappear if their characters were tarnished by their involvement in violent activities.
“Do you know or are you aware that something as simple as an eight-letter word, ‘violence,’ can change where you want to be in the future. One simple violent act can change that dream for you and actually turn your dream into a nightmare,” he said.
“When you perpetrate a violent act against a person or persons, you have breached the law because there are several areas of the law where a violent act can result in you being taken before the court and result in you being charged with a bad police record.”
“One of the things you must get in today’s society is the (Police) Certificate of Character. I want to let you if you are arrested and charged for violent behavior or language under section 49 of the Summary Offences Act, you can be charged $200 at least or 30 days hard labour.
“Don’t look at the small fine, look at that fact that you will now have a police record and when you go to the police to get a Certificate of Character, to get a job, start your life or go into college…it shows one conviction, that could mean things will look sour for you.”
The session was hosted by the Division of Sports and Youth Affairs. First started in 2015, this year’s sessions – which will include other schools – is focussing on the topic, “Violence and the Impact on Youth.”
In a segment of the session where Dr Alina Williams, a psychologist with the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA), spoke on the impact of violence, either directly or indirectly on one’s mental health, students said violence was causing them to live in fear and discomfort in school, in the public and at home.
One student said the recent chopping incident on the compound of the Scarborough library, where one student from Signal Hill Secondary was chopped in the head during an altercation with another student, has caused her to stay away from the library area.
Williams described her fear as post-traumatic stress disorder, which she said has caused the student to remain in a state of constant vigilance.
“We have become so accustomed to violence that we tend to mis-attribute or put bad intentions on other people…We all will be faced with situations where we will feel the need to lash out. Especially if we are constantly in an environment where we are exposed to violence, lashing out becomes our default setting,” said Williams.
“Remember that hurt people (look to) hurt people. (But) if you have been a victim of violence, it doesn’t mean you have to carry on the cycle and perpetrate violence, think about your mental health,” she advised.
Also speaking at the session, Guidance Counsellor Anisha Hislop urged the students to focus on their education and keep their careers in mind before thinking of indulging violent acts against their peers.
“Report all violent acts to the police and if you become a victim of a violent act, you should not retaliate, it will still affect you eventually. Not because violence doesn’t happen to you directly, doesn’t mean is cannot affect you in some way or the other, so be a buddy to each other,” she advised.