Remove the shroud of silence and shame

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The annual observance of the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence began November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ends December 10, the International Human Rights Day.

In April 2015, the pastoral letter Domestic Violence: A Call To Act issued by the Antilles Episcopal Conference of Catholic bishops described domestic violence as an unrelenting “sin, crime and serious social problem” ravaging families across our region.

The Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Women’s Affairs) cite on their webpage: “Despite increased efforts of advocacy and service provision, TT continues to witness the most excessive use of violence against women.”

In March of this year, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh revealed that there have been 6,250 reported cases of domestic violence cases in two years. Minister of Gender Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy in her message for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women said, according to the police, there has been a 42 per cent increase in domestic violence cases since 2021.

However, the great majority of such attacks are believed to go unreported across the Caribbean. This allows domestic violence to fester in many communities shrouded in silence and shame. Behind closed doors, whether physical, sexual, verbal, financial or emotional, abuse leaves couples and youth once full of hope instead trapped in trauma.

For those daring to report attacks, obtaining protection often presents another struggle. Recent years saw multiple women murdered by partners shortly after getting court-granted restraining orders.

Accused abusers frequently get released on bail while investigations and charges stall. Victim-blaming mentalities also persist within some law enforcement. Behind all the tragic data are thousands of human stories – usually muted by stigma and fear until reaching crisis.

While urging collaboration across institutions on legal reforms, the bishops mandate the Caribbean Church itself integrate domestic abuse prevention from marriage preparation programmes through youth ministry and preaching. The Catholic community is called to confront family violence as key to restoring regional stability degraded by crime. Worldwide, the Catholic Church has sometimes lagged behind facing the suffering of battered women and children.

The bishops in their pastoral letter lambaste the violence that “goes against God’s law” and corrodes human dignity and reasserts bedrock doctrine that “every human person has been made in the image and likeness of God and endowed with dignity.”

Thus, “anything that attempts to devalue or destroy our human dignity is a violation of the gift we received through creation and redemption.” All major religions today condemn domestic abuse as sin and demand society empower the oppressed. Our shared Trinidadian identity as a diversity of faiths and families offers not excuse but opportunity. We who call ourselves people of peace must help provide the courage for victims to safely speak out.

We must open our congregations as places affirming human worth to counter dehumanisation. And our interfaith solidarity must pressure government to fix gaps making intervention toothless – inadequate shelters, protection orders without enforcement, and sluggish investigations.

We must collaborate with civil leaders on prevention starting from the schoolyard up. TT can institutionalise a life free from domestic terror. But cultural shifts come first from within – whether households, or houses of worship. What future will we keep choosing by our action or inaction today? Our children are watching.


"Remove the shroud of silence and shame"

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