Advocacy groups call for new approach to gender-based violence

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, November 19, 2020

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A number of interest groups have found it unsettling that an obviously battered woman was turned away from a police station that houses a Domestic Violence Mediation Unit, resulting in a call for these units to be unveiled and their locations widely publicised.

Law enforcers are also being urged to focus on ensuring that abusers are booked for the crimes committed, instead of encouraging victims to return home and work things out with their partners.

The call follows on the incident on the night of October 28 involving St Andrew woman Christine Donaldson, who, after showing up at Constant Spring Police Station to make a report against her partner, was refused entry to the precincts on the grounds that a curfew was in effect, and further was told she could be arrested for being out past the time.

According to gender advocacy group Women's Media Watch, even though the police high command has since said the cop in question erred and citizens can make reports to the police at any time, regardless of curfews, “it is disheartening that an officer at a police station equipped with a specialised domestic violence mediation unit could show such limited awareness of the right of an endangered citizen to report a crime, and of the Domestic Violence Act”.

The group, in contending that the woman in question could have lost her life in acting on the ill advice of the officer, has, among other things, called on the State to run a media campaign showcasing citizens' rights in reporting offences, and how the police should treat citizens in times of emergency.

On Tuesday, executive director of Eve for Life Joy Crawford said that she was “appalled” by the reports on the incident.

Crawford, who said she had been unaware that such units even existed at that station, said there were several critical flaws.

“I have never heard of the unit. I guess one of the first things that must be is the knowledge that such a unit exists, where are the sites that have trained officers, what are the expectations of them and the expectations they have of us as the public, because if you have something and nobody knows about it then there is no accountability; and if we can't hold you accountable, right away you become almost like a book on a shelf — that's my first concern,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

She noted, too, that the approach to gender-based violence needs to be re-examined. According to Crawford, while mediation is a critical aspect, it is not necessarily the correct first response.

“Safety and security is the first line of response. If you are coming from that dynamic [mediation], I can understand why, for example, persons will say, 'The police sent me home to work it out', because the concept of mediation is that, 'A man and woman story, so go work it out'.”

“There is a place for mediation, however, if it becomes the pillar of the strategy, inevitably, the person who comes to do the report, the onus is placed on them to go work it out. The first thing that should [be taken into consideration] should be protection, should be safety — because if you just box mi down and kick me down and mi come mek di report and yuh say, 'Go work it out,' yuh ago follow mi go home fi mek sure di man don't box mi and kick mi down again?

“Shouldn't it be a situation where, for one night, you say, 'You sleep here, and you sleep there til oonuh calm dung?'” the Eve for Life executive director reasoned.

In the meantime, she said serious offences continue to be overlooked because of such an approach.

“Again, it is how we teach it. Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, it is about power, it is against human rights, which is protected under law. Are we calling it a crime? Are we looking at what the crime is? Is the crime wounding? Is it aggravated assault? Within every complaint there is a crime, so if we carry out the law and prosecute the crime, then we won't send people back home,” Crawford argued.

She insisted that it is not just a woman and man story.

“It is a crime. We are ignoring the crime. We get all caught up in the story of the relationship... no, a crime was committed. Under law, a threat is a crime, so when I come and say, 'He threatened me,' they say, 'But him nuh lick yuh yet'.

“We need to start treating domestic violence, intimate partner violence, like any other act of violence. If a man takes his gun and points it at you, the police are going for you. So when a man threatens you with his words and yet we don't treat with it, these are the kinds of unfortunate conversations we are not having. It is not okay, none of these things are okay. As a society we should not accept it,” she added.

Crawford also said that the absence of sufficient places of shelter for women represents an added dilemma.

Meanwhile, executive director of Jamaica Network of Seropositives, Jumoke Patrick, said Donaldson's experience is not novel to the community his team serves.

“We are an organisation that serves people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, and the amount of them that turn up and make a report about domestic violence, gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, when we ask them to go the police station they come back to us and say, 'Dem tell mi fi go back a mi yard and deal wid it,' or 'Dem nuh waan tek di report',” Patrick told the Observer, adding that this is especially evident when it comes to their HIV status and being threatened.

“The officer is more interested in whether or not they are HIV-positive than the actual abuse they are facing,” he charged.

He said Donaldson's experience serves as a “call for State agencies to recognise that partnerships with community-based organisations, partnerships with civil society organisations, are important, especially when it comes to gender-related matters”, as “enough is not being done”.

“I know many organisations have training with the Jamaica Constabulary Force, but they need to recognise that serving and protecting is not limited only to murders, states of emergency, and curfews, but recognising that domestic violence matters, those are pertinent matters to be addressed so they don't lead to murders,” Patrick insisted.

“I know of cases in Jamaica where persons are turned away from police stations, ignored and told, 'A dem a di troublemaker and is a private matter, gwaan go work it out wid yuh man', and because of that women have lost their lives, women have been kicked out of their communities and their homes, because no justice, no redress, nobody listens to them. This is a broad issue we have,” he said.

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