Mala Du Barry wept during a walk from her home to the Fyzabad Constituency Office of MP Lackram Bodoe last month. On January 9, her daughter 28-year-old Gabriella was murdered near her home. Gabriella's estranged partner has been charged with the killing. What does she think of the new Gender-Based Violence Unit (GBVU) of the Police Service?
"It is good," the mourning mother said, "but is if something would come out of it.” At a rally held in advance of Women’s Day, president of the Coalition against Domestic Violence, Roberta Clarke called on the government to act on a list of issues, enumerated in a petition, related to gender-based violence.
Among them are needed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act, more financial support and resources allocated to survivors and victims, and social reform programmes to change cultural attitudes that enable domestic violence.
The GBVU, though recently appointed, seems well aware of the enormity of the task it has been formed to address and has begun some sensible first steps. First up are efforts to make the reporting of domestic violence incidents more effective for anyone making a report to the police.
According to the Manager of the GBVU, Shireen Pollard, the unit has made representations to the Attorney General in the form of an amendment to existing law that will allow officers at and above the level of Senior Superintendent to issue a protection order, making a visit to the district magistrate’s court unnecessary, and reducing the time before the law protects someone in dangerous circumstances.
Pollard believes that if the police handle interim protection orders; they will become familiar with the particulars of the situation and that will inform the quality of their response.
The GBVU intends to back such protection orders with more proactive policing and clearer intervention strategies, which will involve the Victim and Witness Support Unit in a more holistic response to these situations. Among the proposals being considered by the GBVU is the use of location tracking bracelets to improve police capacity to monitor abusers in extreme circumstances. That will require the creation of an electronic monitoring unit and call for supporting legislation to support the initiative.
Counselling plays a critical role in both investigating possible domestic violence and in managing situations when they are discovered.
At a forum at the Eastern Credit Union on Saturday, panellists agreed that it can take more self-esteem to leave an abusive relationship than a victim may be able to muster. Support, the panellists concurred, is necessary to strengthening the resolve of the abused in confronting their abuser. That must come not just from the police, but from concerned friends, neighbours and family.