Violence that haunts the home
The Nation Newspaper (Barbados) – March 16, 2008
by TONY BEST
IT WAS LIKE a recurring decimal.
In almost every country in the Caribbean, the story was the same: physical abuse of women at the hands of their lovers is rampant throughout the Caribbean.
Admittedly, though, the problem is far more serious in some places than in others.
In Barbados, the United States State Department human rights report described violence and abuse against women as a “significant
And the problem exists despite the presence of tough laws which imposes severe sentences on men, depending on the “severity of the charges”.
For instance, penalties can range from “fines for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) up to death penalty for a killing”. In between are prison terms for those who breach court-imposed restraining orders.
But apart from physical abuse, there are the sexual offences, including spousal, for which the maximum penalty is life behind bars. In 2007, about 63 rape cases, seven assaults with intent to rape and 30 cases of sex with a minor were reported to the police.
But women weren’t the only victims of violence in the home. Children in Barbados also suffered, according to the State Department.
Like Barbados, abuse of women and children by lovers and fathers was a serious issue in Belize.
“Domestic violence, discrimination against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons for sexual and labour exploitation, and child labour were also problems,” stated the report.
The numbers tell much of the story: in the first six months of last year, the Ministry of Health recorded 455 cases of domestic violence, of which 385 involved physical abuse of women and 67 were for sexual abuse.
The picture of violence against women was worst in The Bahamas. The report termed it “serious” and “widespread,” but warned it often ended in murder.
Last year, 14 of the 79 homicides in The Bahamas “were related to domestic violence.” To add to the tragedy, the report cited complaints from women’s rights groups that law enforcement authorities were generally reluctant “to intervene in domestic disputes.”
The sketch of Guyana didn’t include homicides but at the core was a triple whammy: violence, rape, including spousal rape, and the trafficking of women.
In addition, Guyanese women face the added burden of a “perception that some police officers and magistrates could be bribed to make cases of domestic violence “go away”.
That’s not all. Despite the existence of laws designed to deal with the problem, the report charged that the real headache was a failure to implement programmes designed to curb domestic violence.
A leading non-governmental organisation there, Help And Shelter, which handled 739 abuse cases of which 538 involved spousal abuse against women last year, demanded sensitivity training for magistrates and court staff to improve the handling of domestic violence.
St Vincent is another country where the source abuse of women is a hard and continuing fact of life.
A human rights organisation there charged that in far too many cases domestic violence went unpunished “due to the culture in which victims choose not to seek assistance from the police or the prosecution.”
As for Jamaica, the situation there too could best be described as dismal, although not as deadly as The Bahamas.
Just as serious and complex was the report on Trinidad and Tobago where “abuse of women” was a matter of grave concern. Like Jamaica, tough laws and programmes to aid battered women are in existence in the twin-island republic but there was a common problem: cops are lax in enforcing the law.
Figures compiled by women’s groups show that between 20 to 25 per cent of women in Trinidad and Tobago were victims of abuse.