Dealing with the scourge of domestic violence

We, in this space, have a vivid recollection of an experience of relationship abuse shared with us by a district constable some years ago.

While visiting a friend late one evening in a prominent St Andrew neighbourhood, he and his friend heard a woman screaming after each crunching blow from what they discerned was a weapon made from wood.

Apparently, concerned neighbours called the nearest police station and, shortly after, a patrol car with two policemen was seen heading towards the house.

On seeing their colleague, the constable driving the patrol car stopped, had a very brief conversation about the incident, then continued on to the house.

Some minutes later the patrol car returned with only the two policemen aboard. When the district constable asked what happened, the cops said the woman refused to press charges against the man who was inflicting the beating.

That, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence in Jamaica. In fact, while we have no data, we are willing to wager that more than half the instances of relationship or domestic abuse are never reported.

In some instances, acceptance of abuse is cultural, as there are women who mistakenly hold the belief that maltreatment, be it physical or verbal, is an expression of love. That warped view is also accepted by some men who not only revel in the practice but regard it as almost a rite of passage, a way to prove their manhood.

Then, there are, too, the cases of some women accepting abuse in exchange for economic security for them and their children.

In other instances, though, shame is the driving factor, and that humiliation can be made worse by the fact that such reports to the police are sometimes greeted with derision.

We recall that some years ago a workshop was staged to sensitise the police about domestic abuse to help fashion their response to such incidents in more sympathetic and effective ways.

At the time, then Deputy Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant stated that it was not generally known that "on average, a woman is likely to be abused and go through the help-seeking process about 35 times before she finally makes up her mind to get treatment".

"That," she added, "is the average time between the woman going to the police and leaving the man. So when the police or social worker keeps seeing the same persons come to report that they are being beaten, and yet not willing to take any action which, from their perspective, seems logical, the response is likely to be inappropriate."

To be fair to the police, we have seen a change of attitude in how they respond to this scourge, and the State has indeed given this matter some amount of focus as just last month it was reported that there are now 10 domestic violence intervention centres at police stations islandwide providing intervention, support and safeguards for victims seeking help.

We applaud that initiative and hope that it is being sustained.

At the same time, the broader society needs to accept that a culture shift in how we deal with conflict is extremely vital, and this spreads beyond domestic disputes.

Additionally, we should look about improving and increasing services to address the psychological impact of domestic violence on victims' self-worth and self-esteem, as that can go a far way in healing those unfortunate individuals.

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