I am a proud abuse victor

I am a proud abuse victor

...but the Domestic Violence Act did not protect me

Friday, January 17, 2020

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The year 2020 has barely started and already so many women have been victims of femicide in this country. My heart hurts. I also noted former Deputy Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant opined that the Domestic Violence Act is weak and her plea is for us to do better to protect our women.

There is nothing recent about gender-based and intimate partner violence. Every year there are periods when there is an upsurge of brutal crimes against women and we start to highlight and talk about it, then it dies down, victims are forgotten, until it rears its ugly head again. Every time it happens I am forced to remember my own struggles with this issue.

The Domestic Violence Act of 1995 should protect the victims of domestic violence. It allows for a protection order to be put in place against the perpetrator of the crime. But, as a woman who currently has a protection order against an abuser, I felt it my duty to educate about the realities of enforcing such an order. In fact, I know there are other women who face the same, and I would hope that they too find the courage to speak out.

I obtained a protection order a few years ago after my life was threatened twice by my intimate partner and after several spates of emotional and physical abuse. After the protection order was put in place it has been breached countless times and such breaches have been reported to the police. Every stipulation on the protection order has been ticked, preventing the person from entering or remaining in my house or area of my residence, place of work, education, and from molesting, besetting, waylaying, using abusive language, damaging property, and making persistent phone calls to me. Yet, I have been stalked, harassed, assaulted, and verbally abused in many incidents and the person has left with warnings, sometimes multiple warnings, from the same police station. Every police officer has a different interpretation and I have been given conflicting information, including: the order does not say the person cannot touch you, there must be physical damage to you for it to be a breach, the order does not say he shouldn't come near you, and there must be witnesses (not a member of your family) or the breach cannot be verified.

Practically speaking, if a person is committing a crime it is many times done when you are alone and most vulnerable or in front of family members. I have even been asked what I did for him to threaten me, among other chauvinistic comments – victim blaming. After the reports, the perpetrator was warned over and over again despite previous warnings.

What does the Act say about breaches of the protection order? Breaches render the offender liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding $10,000. So why do I have multiple receipts from police stations for breaches of this order? Who is responsible for enforcement or is it just another law we have gathering dust?

Major loopholes in the Act include the lack of a distance that the perpetrator should stay away from you, and clear wording that says the person cannot touch you. The officer has to deem it a breach before he/she brings it before court, but isn't that subject to interpretation? Maybe what is needed is instructions to police officers on how to handle breaches and what is a breach, because obviously there is confusion. I am currently frustrated with the security forces' and judicial system's disregard for the document. I am also fearful for my life.

What they don't understand is that they are sending a clear message to the perpetrator and others that this order has no teeth, emboldening him to continue to toe the line, finding all the loopholes, every time taking it a step further because nothing will be done about it. What will they tell my family when he goes too far? This is not a joke. This is my life.

I am a law-abiding female citizen of this country. I am gainfully employed, I pay all my taxes, I have no prior arrests, no allegations of criminal activities, no criminal background, yet I am not being assisted and I am left vulnerable. What about my basic human right to life, to safety, and to security of person? Or am I a lesser person because I am a woman?

Unless you have been in one, you will never understand the complexities facing women in abusive relationships. I am a proud abuse victor. I left, I am alive but our law, order and justice systems seem to want to take my victory from me and reduce me to being another victim that they could not protect. If the State and the laws it has developed cannot protect our women, who will?


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