WOMAN Inc: Help for victims of domestic violenceMonday, November 25, 2019
Violence against women and girls, the United Nations says, is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. And it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. Today, November 25, as we recognise International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we reflect on some of the struggles still faced by women in their domestic spaces.
WHILE plans are being put in place to open the doors of the first state-run emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, there is one door that has remained open to women who want to flee violent relationships over the years - the Crisis Centre.
Run by Woman Inc - a voluntary, non-profit, non-governmental organisation that was founded in 1984 – the Crisis Centre provides assistance to victims of rape, incest, domestic crisis, sexual harassment at the workplace, human trafficking, and domestic violence. As a last resort in cases of dire emergencies the Crisis Centre allows women to board at a secure facility until they can pick up the pieces and get back on their feet. This is called the Crisis Shelter.
“When a call is received or when a client walks in, whether they will be admitted to the shelter depends on their circumstances,” outreach counsellor Angela Hall-Ingram explained to All Woman. “An in depth screening is done because there are a few factors that determine whether we can admit a client, and one of them is to establish how soon she may be able to transition after being offered the emergency shelter, which is really what our facility is.”
Hall-Ingram pointed out that while every effort is made to ensure that the emergency housing facility is comfortable for women in crisis, it is very small (total bed space of seven) and and as such there is a pressing need for women to move out as soon as they are able to so that more women can be assisted.
“There is a period of time in which a person can stay, however, each case is assessed on its own merit, and so we may be able to offer the client an extension, but that is dependent on the progress that she has made in the initial period to transition,” she said. “We can't afford for a case where persons end up staying way longer than the stipulated period of time (for many cases about two weeks), because other women will come in who need emergency shelter.”
The shelter is a last resort, so a social enquiry is usually done to see whether there are any relatives who may be able to house the victim until she finds a permanent residence.
“And of course,this would be better than putting them in the shelter, and then for them to still have to transition after that period.”
The shelter was upgraded in 2017, to house additional women and children who are seeking shelter from abuse.
The project was undertaken through more than $14 million in funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Among the amenities are bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, housemother's room, consulting room for counselling services, dining room, garden area and reading room.
The building is disabled-friendly.
“With everything that they are going through, we try to add some stability to their situation,” Hall-Ingram highlighted. “All are offered ongoing counselling while they are in the shelter.”
In fact, counselling is a requirement while staying at the shelter, and refusal to be counselled may result in a woman being asked to leave.
Because domestic violence may displace not just women but their children as well, the shelter may also admit the children of women who seek their help.
“If the children are girls, regardless of their ages, we might take them. However for the boys we are a bit more hesitant to take them as teenagers because it is a dormitory style facility and it might not be the healthiest situation for a teenage boy to share such an open space with a group of women.”
There are a number of security measures that are put in place to ensure the safety of not only the victims who are fleeing violent relationships,but also their children and staff members of the crisis shelter.
Firstly, the address of the facility is not disclosed. If a woman needs to use the shelter she will be taken there via private transportation from the Ellesmere Road office.
“One of the things that women are advised to do when they come in is either turn off their phones or change their Sim card. If they have a smartphone, we ensure that the location is off,” the outreach counsellor noted. “If the children are attending school we advise them to pull the kids for a few days. If they work, we advise them similarly to speak with their managers to let them know that they will be out for a couple of days.”
These steps are not taken to prevent instances of the abusers discovering the whereabouts of the victims by lurking at places they are expected to be, then trailing them back to the shelter. This would put the victims, their children, the staff and property at risk.
Since the shelter was renovated and reopened in December of 2017, it has served more than 25 women. Some of them chose to return to their homes and former abusers, while others have chosen to start afresh, but so far no of them have returned to the shelter for a second emergency.
“We use a programme by the Ministry of Labour to try to find employment for those who need it, but it works best for persons who have a minimum of a diploma or an associate degree,” she explained. “Below that it's a challenge, but once they are willing to try then we work with them.”
When it's time for a woman to leave, she comes to a fork in the road with a decision that she has to make on her own - will she start over or will she go back?
“Nobody is here to judge them,” Hall-Ingram said solemnly. “Whatever a woman decides to do that is her decision, and we respect it; however, we have the right to tell them that going back to the abuser might not be the best decision.
“We also have those ladies who are very strong and they get up and decide that they are leaving for good, and no matter how the challenges come, they bat and they make their innings. Those are the feathers that I wear really colourfully,” she said proudly.
Address: 4 Ellesmere Road, Kingston 10
24-hour hotline 929-2997
Address: 53 St. James Street
Phone: (876) 952-9533
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm