Domestic violence and the need for legislative reform

All Woman

THE sisters held each other's hands tightly and cowered under the table as their father thumped and shoved their mother. When their grandmother, who lived with them, approached their fighting parents and said to the father, “Harry, stop now. Yuh hurtin' her!” and tried to pull her daughter to safety, she was slammed against the wall. She fell and dislocated her shoulder. When the 15-year-old son, coming in from school, saw what was happening and tried to intervene to protect his mother, his father threatened, “Yuh tink yuh is man? Come any closer and ah ram this knife in yuh throat tonight.”

This is a domestic violence scene. There are multiple victims: the girls, the mother, the grandmother and the son. There is physical as well as emotional and verbal abuse. All are impacted, including the father, who is the perpetrator. All of them need counselling and conflict resolution skills.

Most Jamaicans will assert that domestic violence is a major problem and the definition they offer may vary from person to person, but this should not be the case within the law. The law is intended to establish clear definitions and protection for everyone. Unfortunately, this is not the case, which is why the Institute for Gender & Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office (IGSD-RCO) has received funding under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. Our project falls under pillar one of the Spotlight Initiative. Pillar one aims to promote laws and policies to prevent violence, discrimination and address impunity by advocating at all levels of government; provide technical assistance and capacity-building; and ensure active and meaningful participation of women. Legislative reform is the basis for promoting transformation, and will strengthen legislative protection from sexual and gender-based violence (GBV).

Jamaica's legislative record since Independence shows progression in tackling the societal issues that impact the rights of women and children. However, the enjoyment of rights by Jamaica's women and children is impeded by intersecting forms of discrimination. For instance, one-third of poorer and less-educated women are likely to experience intimate partner violence and the unemployment rates among such women inhibit their ability to escape a violent relationship. Studies also show that there is a link between experiencing family violence in childhood, and experiencing or acceptance of family violence in adulthood. Violence against women and girls remains a high human development priority and any initiative designed to eliminate it requires radical change. The Sexual Harassment Act is currently being debated in Parliament, but there are other Acts for which the IGDS-RCO plans to make recommendations for amendment in order to help combat family violence and GBV. Some of the recommendations to amend the Domestic Violence Act include:

1. providing a definition of domestic violence that provides protection from emotional; psychological, sexual, physical or financial harm;

2. expanding the list of people and relationships protected under the Act;

3.including the Office of the Children's Advocate, Child Protection and Family Services Agency and the Bureau of Gender Affairs in the list of the entities able to make an application under the Act;

4. making it mandatory for police to respond to domestic violence complaints;

5.expanding the grounds on which a protection order can be given;

6.imposing a maximum penalty of a $1-million fine or 12 months in jail for breaching a protection order;

7. allowing the court to confiscate any licensed firearm or other dangerous weapons once the respondent has threatened the applicant's life;

8. allowing the court to order victim compensation or monetary or other restitution;

9. allowing the court to refer alleged abusers to community rehabilitation or community service programme; and

10. amending the Act to include the court's power to order victim support.

The sisters, the brother, the grandmother and the mother, who have been repeatedly victimised by the father, cowers whenever he raises his voice. The girls don't feel safe and so they wet the bed quite often. The son is always angry, walks around with his fists balled up and sometimes, for no apparent reason, kicks their dog, while the grandmother stays in her room and eats very little. Domestic violence is a family affair, and by extension, a community affair, and a societal problem. We all must play our part in helping to end it. Do not remain a victim. Get support and help.

Professor Opal Palmer Adisa is the director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office (IGDSRCO) and is lead on a project under the EU and UN-funded Spotlight Initiative programme in Jamaica. E-mail her at opal.adisa@uwimona.edu.jm.

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