Tackling domestic violence through legislation

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George -

Kanisa George

It is said that violence is the last refuse of the incompetent. When this phrase is considered in the modern-day context, one might be tempted to think that collectively we are all incompetent.

Violence is nothing new to civil society, yet it seems we have crossed the threshold of what some might consider a "normal" range of violence. Let's face it, we're all human beings bombarded by a range of emotions, and anger sometimes get the better of us.

It is one thing to experience random forms of violence perpetrated by callous, heinous strangers desperate for personal gain. But when violence is dished out by someone close to you, this can be a harder pill to swallow.

Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, can be defined as a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

This definition, courtesy the United Nations, pays particular attention to the main themes of abuse often present in most domestic violence situations. It continues that domestic violence is typically manifested as a pattern of abusive behaviour toward an intimate partner in a dating or family relationship, where the abuser exerts power and control over the victim.

According to estimates published by the World Health Organisation, about one in three women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

Further, almost 27 per cent of women aged 15-49 who have been in a relationship reported that they have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

Popular thought would have us believe that domestic violence is simply violence in the physical sense and perpetrated against women, but that's far from the truth. Violence can come in the form of financial and emotional abuse and can impact individuals regardless of age, race and gender. Children, men and the elderly also suffer at the hands of abusers but are rarely considered in the general conversation.

As endemic as this issue is to most societies, it appears that we are failing to adequately address it?

The Domestic Violence Act Chapter 45:56 (DV) is TT’s way of tackling domestic abuse. Subject to a number of amendments, the DV act was the first of its kind in the Caribbean community and attempted to keep up with our evolving society. The act defines domestic violence widely and includes physical, sexual, emotional or psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, or any other person who is a member of the household or dependent.

Under the act, victims of abuse by virtue of section 4 (1), can apply to the court for a protection order on the ground that the respondent engaged in domestic violence. The types of protection orders that can be made by the court are vast and is dealt with under section 6 (1). They include prohibiting the respondent from engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that would constitute domestic violence towards the applicant. Protection orders can also prohibit the respondent from engaging in direct or indirect communication with the applicant or approaching the applicant within a specified distance. Interestingly, it even allows for compensation to be paid for monetary loss incurred by an applicant as a direct result of conduct that amounted to domestic violence.

Although the act provides some level of protection, some argue that it simply isn't enough. Many victims report that police and court responses can be inefficient. Even where there is an order, future abuse is still a live issue.

But this reality isn't specific to our jurisdiction, as countries like the United Kingdom are trying to find ways to address some loopholes in domestic violence legislation. For example, in the UK, new amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill will provide more excellent protection for victims and further clamp down on perpetrators.

One issue of concern is the manner in which breaches of protection orders are recorded, along with extending controlling or coercive behaviour offences to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together.

The latter change follows a government review highlighting that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.

Interestingly, in February of this year, a man was convicted and jailed for domestic abuse after being sprayed with Smartwater – a forensic liquid that shows up under ultraviolet light substance that stays on the skin for up to six weeks and clothing for much longer and links the perpetrator to the specific batch of water sprayed. This technology, that is used to assist with the prevention of theft-related crimes is now being used in domestic violence cases to keep women safe.

The victim in West Yorkshire is one of over 200 women across England who now have forensic deterrent packages in their homes. The packages include a hand-held canister for spraying, a gel for door handles and gates, and an automatic trap that sprays the liquid if someone approaches the house.

Detective Superintendent of West Yorkshire police Lee Berry, who spearheaded the use of this technology in domestic abuse matters, indicated that domestic abuse is quite often difficult to prosecute, as it is often one person's word against another and a lot of these crimes occur behind closed doors. By using Smartwater if there is a breach of conditions, the perpetrator can be forensically link.

It has been suggested that far more needs to be done through social intervention policies. Making anger management part of the school curriculum and mandatory for perpetrators as well as compulsory counselling for those protection orders are made against are just some of the ways to address the root cause of violence. Admittedly, there is only so much legislation could do to protect against domestic violence. It's going to take every one of us to root out this evil.


"Tackling domestic violence through legislation"

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