State must protect domestic abuse victims

Domestic violence victim Samantha Isaacs. -
Domestic violence victim Samantha Isaacs. -

It took the brutal murder of Samantha Stacey Isaacs, a known victim of domestic violence to bring overdue light on the multiple failures of the State to protect her.

On May 16, after reviewing the case, Justice Robin Mohammed found that the rights of the victim, her mother and child were infringed by the inaction of the police and the Judiciary.

Despite the oversight of the Domestic Violence Act and the Police Service Act, every step taken by Ms Isaacs to protect herself brought inadequate responses. She begged a magistrate for a protection order and custody of her child. Justice Mohammed found that the magistrate "strayed from legitimate concern" in denying the plea, considering it a ploy for child support.

Police received four complaints about the conduct and abuse of her former partner Kahriym Garcia but initiated no investigations or enquiries.

Trinidad and Tobago has a long and infamous history of patriarchal responses by male police officers to the complaints of women in distress. For decades, officers faced with the untidy details of domestic altercations took the position that it was better to "not get involved in husband and wife business."

The passage of laws that explicitly require a response from officers should have exerted a corrective force on this position. For Ms Isaacs it did not, with lethal consequences.

In considering the case, Justice Mohammed wrestled with the law's position that it has no "positive" obligation to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens under the Constitution, so his ruling in favour of compensation makes explicit the carelessness of the State and its agents. It is clearly not enough for the law to passively promise protection. The words must find traction in the actions taken by officers of the law when they were called to help.

Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein argued in defence that neither a protection order nor an arrest might have guaranteed Ms Isaacs' safety, but no real world action cost the young mother her life. He further argued that Justice Mohammed was creating new laws, and it might be argued that the judge did introduce precedent to better define the scope of legal responsibility.

Mr Garcia – who killed himself when confronted by officers after murdering her – had harassed Ms Isaacs at work, shared nude images and threatened to kill her in the presence of officers. What's unwritten in the court transcripts are the personal hurdles that Ms Isaacs would have had to surmount before making her first police report. The shame she would have needed to swallow, the embarrassment of public judgment, the fear of making the situation worse with her ex.

To face that down only to be repeatedly ignored and left to fend for herself constitutes another kind of abuse, and Justice Mohammed's ruling should encourage an end to it.


"State must protect domestic abuse victims"

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