Domestic violence - From the first report, to action

All Woman

ONE in four is a statistic that has come up in almost every conversation on gender-based violence in Jamaica since the results of the Women's Health Survey 2016: Jamaica were published. It's a well-known statistic, and it's important in helping to better understand the magnitude of the problem. But one in four only tells us half the story — about the victims. What of the perpetrators? What exactly happens to them when a report of domestic violence or abuse is reported to the police?

Coordinator of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) Domestic Violence Intervention (DVI) Centres Inspector Jacqueline Dillon says there are a number of potential outcomes for both the victims and perpetrators, depending on the nature and severity of the offence.

Making a report

“Whether it's verbal, such as a threat, or physical, such as sexual assault, the recommendation is that the victim makes a report at the police station. In making the report, the police are duty-bound to collect a statement from you, even if it's just a threat, because there are policies and procedures and laws that relate to threats. The response of the police is not always to effect an arrest, however. Not all the time.”

Dillon explained that depending on the circumstances, the response can be as simple as warning the person not to carry out the threat, or as great as referring the matter to the court for a protection order. In either case, these matters are usually referred to the JCF's DVI centres across the island.

“After giving your report at the station, a statement is taken and you are given a receipt for same,” she explained. “In matters of domestic violence or abuse, they will refer you to the DVI Centre. These are safe spaces that allow you to speak freely about your situation. The role of these personnel is not investigation, their role is intervention. They interview and make recommendations for both the victims and abusers, whether to a shelter, or a counsellor, or to both.

“We also refer matters to the courts in instances where the victim is fearful for his or her life to seek a protection and/or occupation order,” she added.

After the report...

And what of the perpetrator? What happens after he or she is reported, or even charged?

“The maximum penalty for domestic violence right now, outside of another offence being committed, is $10,000 or six months in prison or a combination of both,” Dillon said. “But if it is that you have assault or grievous bodily harm or attempted murder, then the penalty would be for the greater offence.”

Penalties not enough

Director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office, Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, does not believe these penalties are enough. She says tougher penalties are needed to tackle these acts that are usually meted out to women.

“We're asking for much more stringent punishment for domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence,” she said. “But also, when many of these laws were created, they weren't necessarily seeing things through gender-specific lenses, and so a lot of things are excluded, so legislative reform is very important.”

There have been talks and presentations made to the Parliament with a view to making the penalties for crimes under the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Child Care and Protection Act harsher, as a means of deterring such acts.

Both women agree that reform is needed in many areas of the law — not just the penalties.

Victims sometimes don't want to make reports

“Shame and guilt are related to why victims sometimes do not want to make reports,” Dillon pointed out. “Unless the legislation is changed, for example in instances of rape, where victims' recorded statements can be used without them being present to repeat themselves and relive the whole ordeal, some victims will continue to shy away from making reports. They are fearful, they are ashamed, and they are afraid of the stigma that will come from all of that.”

Dr Palmer Adisa added that because of the emotional damage experienced by many victims, and the economic repercussions that many women face if they report their abusers and follow through with them, they often opt not to press charges. This is where, she says, the state must intervene and ensure that the offenders are brought to justice once there is substantial evidence.

Matters should be pursued, with or without the victims

“If a man beats up a woman, the government needs to step in. I firmly believe that. Not just step in and punish, but step in and retrain. Because perpetrators are also, themselves, victims,” Dr Palmer Adisa told All Woman in a recent interview on the work of the EU and UN-funded Spotlight Initiative programme in Jamaica.

“The perpetrators themselves need help so that they don't continue to do it, or go from one woman to the next,” she continued. She firmly believes these matters should be pursued by the courts, with or without the victims.

“In some other jurisdictions, where it has been found that there has been domestic violence, whether or not the victim pursues the matter, the state will,” she referenced. “The Jamaican Government has signed on to several Sustainable Development Goals, and a part of that is to create a safe and just society. It is the government's responsibility if somebody steals to step in and prosecute that person. Similarly, even if a victim decides not to press the matter further, the government has a responsibility to do so.”

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