I have not mentioned the recent case of a woman who, after suffering violence at the hands of her spouse, went to a police station and was turned away because she was violating the COVID-19 curfew. She was refused help.
Domestic violence is insidious. It eats into your very soul. It is not only the physical harm; it is the mental trauma and the psychological upheaval. A sense of shock and intense fear sets in after such an incident. To be denied assistance when you turn to someone in your hour of need for help multiplies that sense of despair and abandonment. Besides, it must be the responsibility of the police to help the victim of a crime and to record what happened.
WMW Jamaica (formerly Women’s Media Watch) is calling on the Government to promote greater awareness among law enforcement officers, among other measures, below. And yes – can we have an update on the promised shelters? I understand one is up and running, and two more pending, according to Gender Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange in a July media report.
Justice delayed, denied for domestic violence victims
We’re lucky Christine Donaldson is still alive. A police officer refused to take a statement from a visibly bruised Donaldson – a victim of intimate partner violence – and sent her back home. That incident could have turned out differently. We know of cases where women have been killed by angry partners who get even more violent when the woman tries to defend herself, report the abuse, or leave.
Even though the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has now clearly stated that citizens can make reports to the police at any time regardless of curfews, the incident indicates a lack of awareness by an officer of the legal framework for reporting a complaint to a police station, which the abused person, in her right, attempted to do.
A deeper problem lurks in the incident. It highlights with stark clarity the failure of the Jamaican State to properly address the issue of domestic violence over the years. Domestic violence is a deep societal problem that includes spousal abuse, intimate partner violence, child abuse and elder abuse. It’s not just a women’s issue. It damages men, women, children and families across all social classes, urban and rural. It can turn homes, communities and workplaces into dangerous and unsafe spaces.
Too many barriers
It is disheartening that an officer at a police station equipped with a specialized Domestic Violence Mediation Unit could show such limited awareness of the right of an endangered citizen to report a crime, and of the Domestic Violence Act.
According to Jamaica’s 2016 Women’s Health Survey, 27.8% of women are affected by situations similar to this one. That’s more than 1 in 4 women. Yet many of these cases go unreported and unaddressed because of the many barriers that these women face when they try to get help. These barriers include systemic legal challenges, inaction by first responders, or not having a safe place to go to escape the abuse. These factors contribute to the low rates of arrest or prosecution of abusers even where there is substantial physical injury.
Where do we expect people to go when home is no longer safe if we do not provide them with more and fully operational crisis shelters? How do we expect them to trust our justice system if we don’t have first responders who won’t treat their complaints trivially, or worse, take the law into their hands and further victimize abused persons. How will they get justice if we don’t have a legal system that ensures that their real and immediate needs for safety and protection are prioritized and met?
Call to action
We therefore call on the Government to:
· Address the inadequacies in the segmented legal approach to domestic violence and ensure an approach that caters swiftly to the needs of victims
· Operationalize promised shelters as a matter of urgency
· Run a media campaign to showcase the rights of the citizens in reporting offences, and how the police should treat citizens in times of emergency, given that the police have a duty to assist the process towards justice at all times.
· Implement mandatory signs in police guardrooms that clearly state the basic rights of citizens.
· Provide ongoing training and sensitization for the police force as it relates to rights of the citizen, including the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act.
We all have to work as a team—NGOs, government, community-based organisations, the police, Church, schools and the private sector—if we want to reduce the level of domestic abuse in Jamaica and avoid an even more sobering repeat of this grievous incident of justice delayed, and ultimately denied. Especially at this time when many persons are trapped at home with their abusers.