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Committed, strengthened to protecting domestic violence victims

Major General Antony Anderson

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

JAMAICA is a country renowned for its ambitious and strong women who provide significant leadership within the country. They are able to simultaneously manage the responsibilities of work, home, children and the needs of intimate partners. This fierce independence runs in stark contrast to the persistent abusive situations that some of our women find themselves in, which only come to light when they rise to an unbearable level, but often recedes between events.

It appears that the perpetrators, mostly men, feel that they have a right to impose themselves on their victims and they must be disavowed of this notion. There are far too many instances of physical violence, emotional abuse and in extreme circumstances, murder. The underlying issues in a number of cases are jealousy and the concept of ownership of a person in a relationship, particularly where one of the parties believes they have significantly invested in the other. On a deeper psychological level, the matter of generational violence and the cycle of abuse arises.

While the victims and perpetrators of intentional homicides in Jamaica are overwhelmingly male (a consistent ratio of nine men to every woman murdered), the majority of domestic/intimate partner violence is perpetrated against women. The abusive situations that exist are not confined to a particular socio-economic group or background, or to particular geographic areas. They arise in the least expected places, even involving persons who are highly respected within the community.

This is an issue that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) recognises is under-reported. Feelings of shame prevent people from seeking help and at times perpetrators convince the victims they are at fault and thus deserving of abuse. It is also recognised that if the JCF does not respond to complaints with the required professionalism, respect, empathy and urgency, then the situation is likely to continue or escalate. It is this context that has caused us to review our Domestic Violence Intervention (DVI) policy and protocols and fast track reforms where necessary.

We recognised that during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, persons in abusive situations may be in even greater need than before. The stress of the economic downturn has affected many negatively and the restrictions on movement have forced people into close quarters for protracted periods. Consequently, over 300 supervisors and managers have had DVI training since 2020, with 168 in the last three months as they go through their development courses. This is in addition to the mandatory Domestic Violence Module in place for all police recruits in basic training at the National Police College.

We have established a national coordination unit within the Community Safety and Security Branch (CSSB) that will capture data, ensure standardisation and interface with external partners. We are strengthening the existing processes and procedures for dealing with domestic violence and have instituted additional reporting and accountability measures. Each station commander is required to pay particular attention to domestic violence cases within their policing area and report daily to the DVI liaison officer within the division so that these reports can be appropriately monitored.

Six new DVI centres will be opened this year in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme. Domestic Violence Intervention Centres are hosted and managed by the JCF at select police stations where professional volunteers counsel persons involved in domestic conflict. The four existing centres at Constant Spring, Matildas Corner, Morant Bay and Yallahs Police Stations saw over 1500 referrals in 2020.
While increasing access to DVI centres and facilitators is important, it is critical for every police station to be a safe and welcoming space. We have a duty of care to provide protection to those seeking our help. We must respond appropriately to all reports of domestic violence, remain professional, and refrain from making any judgmental utterances. It is unacceptable that any member of the public in need of assistance is discouraged by an uncaring attitude or poor service. Such matters brought to my attention have been dealt with decisively. Where there are deviations from the standards, Commanders have been directed to take swift disciplinary action. To this end, any person who feels that they are not being attended to satisfactorily, can report this to our internal investigations branch – the Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau (IPROB) – by calling/messaging 876-838-3084 or emailing iprob@jcf.gov.jm.

Everyday police officers deal with domestic disputes, the majority of which are professionally handled and resolved. Where necessary, officers engage other stakeholders such as the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Victim Support Unit and the Dispute Resolution Foundation. It is important to note that in cases of physical domestic abuse, the victims are required to participate in the investigative and court process in order for the matter to be settled. If at any stage of the proceedings the complainant (victim) decides not to pursue the matter, then the judicial process will be stymied. It is for this reason that friends, relatives and social services are critical to supporting victims of domestic violence to get past stigma, embarrassment and economic risk as they pursue judicial recourse.

The JCF is committed to protecting the people of Jamaica. The unique circumstances of domestic violence have been brought into sharp focus within the organisation. We are striving to deliver a consistently high standard of service in this regard and encourage everyone to play their part in addressing this issue. You too can be a Force for Good.

 Major General Antony Anderson is the commissioner of police.