Members of the Police Service need to take domestic violence cases seriously and do their part because without them any social intervention would have minimal success.
Clinical and educational psychologist, and president of the TT Association of Psychologists, Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, expressed concern about whether or not the police understood the concept of domestic violence, or respond to cases effectively.
She told Sunday Newsday she recently attended a conference on domestic abuse and violence in general where she heard a police officer say some deaths were more acceptable than others. Since she had to leave at that point, she did not hear any further explanation. However, she said it could refer to people from a particular class, poverty, economic status or background. Either way, she did not believe the police should have that attitude at all and wondered why some reports were not attended to in the manner they should be.
She said because some police officers and some members of the public misunderstood domestic violence, people ignore it or tolerate at as accepted behaviour. She said she had several clients who were victims of domestic violence and when one tried to report the incident she was told to, “Go home and make love to your husband.”
“Perhaps there is a perception by some policemen and others that domestic violence is merely an argument and not a serious situation. They do not see that it is the control of one person by another through different kinds of abuse.”
Chatoor added that there were high instances of domestic violence among members of the protective services, and women found it difficult to report their partners for fear of reprisal as officers usually want to protect their own.
She said the low conviction rate and insufficient protection for victims from the police also did not help.
“People no longer feel confident in our protective services because law enforcement has not provided credible deterrents against violent behaviour... I think people just say, ‘What’s the use? It’s best you just stay in your corner and shut your mouth.’”
She noted that individuals and civil society try to address the issue of domestic violence through marches, campaigns advising people what to do, empowering women, sensitising the population to the problem, and more, but said it made little difference when the police were not doing their part.
In addition to the police, Chatoor said society had to change their ideas of gender stereotypes as well as their acceptance of violence.
“Our society is one where certain things are tolerated. There are a lot of gender constructs around domestic issues. Unless we address that I don’t think much could happen with regard to domestic violence.”
She said people were not born with the idea of gender violence so it was related to the social environment. TT, she said, had a patriarchal power structure where “constructions of masculinity increases the chances of boys growing up to be violent men.”
In other words, women were allowed to practice emphatic feelings as they were expected to be soft and nurturing. Men were taught to be aggressive and that if they cry they would be considered effeminate.
“I believe we can not empower women or address this kind of toxic masculinity unless you redefine the concept of what masculinity is about. We also have to change society’s tolerance and acceptance of violence.”
She said many times, when men killed women in domestic disturbances, it was not themselves but their masculinity that was threatened or compromised. She said, under certain circumstances, an abnormal rage emerged, possibly because of rejection, resulting in a lack of self-control and regulation of emotion.
In addition, Chatoor said the dynamics of long ago had changed so it was not reasonable to use tools of yesteryear to treat the issues of today. She said people were witnessing violence on a large scale right in their living room through social media, on television, and on their cell phones.
She said although approximately 90 per cent of murders were committed by men and about 77 per cent of victims were men, male violence was under-recognised and nothing had been put in place to turn things around.
“I don’t think it’s about mental illness at all. I think the constructions in our social environment is the key. Unless we change that perception of what violence is, no matter what we do, nothing positive will happen to any significant extent.”
Chatoor stressed that domestic violence was a public health issue that affected every sector of society, including education and social welfare. She said it was a public health issue because of the serious, permanent consequences to women including disabilities, reproductive and sexual problems, as well as depression and suicide.
“Unless we address it as such it will continue to have serious consequences that rebound, down to the economic constraints. Because every person who goes to a clinic as a victim of domestic violence, who pays the cost of the doctor’s visit, the medication, the social worker coming to counsel that family? The State.”
That is the reason why, she said, every stakeholder should take the issue of domestic violence seriously and work towards reducing the number of cases.