JFJ urges survivors of gender-based violence to get legal helpFriday, November 26, 2021
HUMAN rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is urging people who have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) to consider getting legal support in order to claim their rights and access justice.
GBV is a human rights violation and people, including men, who experience violence, face discrimination and indignity.
In its message to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW), which was observed yesterday, JFJ said it stands with other organisations globally fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable and underserved.
The observance of IDEVAW is used by individuals and groups to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women.
Under the theme 'Orange the World: #HearMeToo' this year's focus brought to the forefront the voices of women and girls who have survived violence, who are defending women's rights every day and are taking action.
JFJ, through its 'Justice for Persons Experiencing GBV Initiative' launched in 2020, helped scores of people, primarily women, to access justice.
To date the organisation has been exposed to a vast array of GBV-related cases, with people seeking help with Protection and Occupation Orders while needing redress for correlated matters such as child custody, maintenance, and divorce.
“In Jamaica GBV remains widespread and prevalent across different socio-economic groups. Recent data suggest that approximately 28 per cent of Jamaican women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
“At JFJ, while we provide avenues for legal recourse for people who have experienced GBV, we continue to conduct legal literacy sessions in several communities so that people are not only aware of their rights, but are also encouraged to make reports when they see rights of others being violated,” said Mickel Jackson, executive director of JFJ.
She added: “While non-governmental organisations like JFJ continue to work in spaces where there is limited support being provided, we goad the Government of Jamaica to do its part and provide better governance and legal protection to deal with GBV.”
Jackson acknowledged that the recently passed Sexual Harassment Bill is a step in the right direction, but argued that it is simply not enough to address the significant legislative gaps to respond to GBV.
She noted that the 2018 Report of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament, which reviewed the Sexual Offences Act and other pieces of related laws including the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), recommended that the DVA be overhauled.
“Three years later the Government has moved at a snail's pace to overhaul the legislation, with merely making an announcement on June 8, 2021 that the DVA would be tabled in Parliament for amendments,” added Jackson.
According to JFJ, the current DVA has a plethora of limitations, including:
• No clear definition of what amounts to domestic violence in Jamaica;
• The Act does not itemise a wide range of specifications to define the scope of a Protection Order;
• The duties and powers of the police under the legislation are not clearly defined so as to enable law enforcement officials to provide an appropriate response to GBV victims; and
• The punishment specified for the violation of a Protection Order is a small fine ($10,000) or a short term of imprisonment – neither of which is serious enough to act as a deterrent.
Along with bolstering the legislation, JFJ has also called for Protection Orders issued by the court to be introduced as a material fact, as this could assist persons who have experienced violence in their legal matters such as child custody, maintenance and dissolution of property.
JFJ argued that although GBV is not a new issue, the pandemic has brought a new level of attention and urgency, and there is a need for key decision-makers in the Government to act now to protect victims and survivors of GBV.
“Gender-based violence has not gone away during the [novel coronavirus] pandemic — in fact it has been exacerbated by the current health crisis,” said legal officer at JFJ, Karlene McCallum.
“Although GBV is not a new issue, the pandemic has brought a new level of attention and urgency to the need to invest in prevention and in support and services for victims and survivors. We've been seeing an uptick in the number of women reaching out for support from our organisation in this regard,” said McCallum.