On Thursday, three children pleaded with senior Magistrate Jo-Anne Connor to dismiss charges against their father, charged in 2017 with beating them with a particularly ugly instrument of correction – three lengths of electrical wire taped together.
The children, now 19, 18 and 16, two boys and a girl, begged for their father, seated in the dock. One child told the magistrate, "I need a father figure in my life. I forgive him."
Faced with tearful forgiveness offered by three children and consensus by the mother of the house, police prosecutor Cleyon Seedan chose not to proceed with the case. While this was a touching display of paternal affection and trust, it doesn't align well with the severity of the original crime, a brutal attack on three children with a weapon that's essentially a tool for torture. According to reports by WPC Natalie Ransome, who took the statements by the children after the incident, the incident involved slaps, choking and blows to the head. All three children were beaten with the improvised whip.
A forgiving society might want to handle this matter with compassion and understanding for three children who seem to have healed both physically and emotionally. It's also notable that the crime of wilful assault carries a fine of just $400 or three months in jail, which hardly seems like a deterrent for corporal punishment taken to a brutal extreme.
This court was also apparently ill-equipped to consider and manage what might well be a case of post-traumatic stress disorder of a very specific kind. While the term Stockholm Syndrome is often carelessly applied to victims after suffering abuse, there is cause for legitimate concern when an abuser is allowed time, continued contact and the opportunity to perform minor acts of kindness as a way of addressing an assault. The family unit can be a black box for law enforcement and the justice system, which tends to only interact with it decisively when it is shattered, sometimes fatally.
The Judiciary has acknowledged the nuances involved in such issues with the formation of the Family Court in 2004 as a way to address such issues in a more appropriate environment with legal interventions calibrated for the subtleties of family relationships. The San Fernando Magistrates Court, where the case was heard, is outside the jurisdiction of the Port of Spain-based Family Court, but this hearing suggests that it’s time for the specialty court’s services and presence to be extended nationally. This was up to recently a priority of the Judiciary complete wit the acquisition of property to extend this court which has been seen to be a success.
There needs to be a court-mandated social intervention mechanism for cases like this which ensures that the father's mistake was a lasting learning experience for him and the family moves forward positively from this deeply troubling incident.