THE PASSING of the Domestic Violence Act, the establishment of a Domestic Violence Unit, the setting up of a Victim and Witness Support Unit of the police, and the tireless advocacy by non-government organisations, religious bodies, community organisations and others are among the many measures introduced in this country to combat violence against women. Yet, the alarming fact remains women and girls are being killed. And they are being killed by males who think it’s their prerogative to end human life.
Make no mistake, violence against women affects us all. It gets at the very heart of our society. The murders of Gabriella Du Barry, 28, pre-school principal Jezelle Philip, 43, and Polly-Ann Chuniesingh, 31, are proof that a terrible sickness is still upon us. A woman’s right to choose is under attack.
According to the head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Dr Gabrielle Hosein, male-partner violence affects one in three women in this small country. More than 10,000 women in TT, she added, are believed to be living in some form of violent relationship. The problem is under-reported and tends to lurk in the shadow for years.
However, we have data from the police that suggests there were approximately 11,441 reports relating to domestic violence incidents between 2010 and 2015 alone.
“It is a problem rooted in norms of male authority and control over women,” said Hosein. She also pointed to inadequate social service provision for perpetrators and survivors and alleged the State has failed to enact a national prevention strategy that challenges traditional associations between masculinity and power.
But the experience of this country, and even countries of the developed world such as the UK, where domestic abuse offences in London rose by 63 per cent between 2011 and 2018, suggest eliminating crimes of passion is no easy task.
Still, the State cannot throw up its arms and abdicate its duties. It must remain responsive when events such as what transpired over the last few days unfold.
Much water has passed under the bridge since the domestic violence law was passed in 1999 and amended in 2006. A review must now be done to consider whether the authorities must now take into account how technology – such as smartphones or children’s iPads and games consoles – have made it easier for men to track women; whether there are adequate shelters; whether the Domestic Violence Investigative and Procedural Manual for police should be updated; whether police budgets need to be ring-fenced for this purpose; whether there needs to be a police unit with sole, exclusive responsibility for this matter and this matter alone; and whether the act, with its emphasis on the court order process, can be improved.
Contrary to appearances, violence against women is not an inevitability. We have the power to change the hearts of men.