The discussion about gender-based violence continues in the Jamaican media; in fact, it never really goes away. But very often, those who suffer are not aware that help is available.
The Community Paralegal (CP) programme is there to help. It is delivered by the non-governmental organization Stand Up For Jamaica, with grant funding from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC). The programme is geared at providing free legal and psychosocial support to victims of gender-based and inter-personal violence, in particular women and girls.
This is all about justice, and even more importantly, about protection, information, reaching out for and obtaining help. It uses the CVC’s Shared Incident Database.
I hope that you will take note of this important programme, and share this information (including contact information at the end of this post) with any organization or individual who may find it useful. Let’s get the word out that help is available.
The Community Paralegal Programme is powerful, and it operates under strict principles. These are:
Empowerment – a person-centred approach that ensures that those affected feel involved and informed.
Mitigation – through planning, risk assessment and other measures minimising and managing situations where abuse could occur.
Protection – supporting victims so they can take action.
Responding quickly to suspected cases of abuse.
Proportionality – making sure what we do is appropriate to the situation and for the individual.
Accountability – making sure all organisations and individuals understand their role and accountabilities.
So what services can the program provide? It provides emergency medical care, counseling, or other psycho-social support for people impacted by gender-based or interpersonal violence. Qualified practitioners and trained professionals are on hand to provide this support. The program will also provide nominal fees or stipends for Pro Bono legal fees in extreme cases.
What else? In order to seek redress for wrongs, and just to make your way in society quite frankly, Jamaicans need to have the required documents to do business with Government. Tax Registration Number, birth certificate etc. are definitely needed and the Community Paralegal Programme will help people to get themselves sorted out and regularized; and also will help with transportation (often a major headache) to attend court and medical appointments, phone cards to keep in touch, and so on. Yes, these may seem small things, but in Jamaica they are so important, and especially for the most vulnerable in society. They make a difference in empowering victims of violence.
We know there are not enough shelters for “battered women” and girls; however, the programme can help with emergency accommodation and security, if needed. It can also organize community-based meetings that can really help to resolve problems and put clients back on a safe, secure basis.
Those who are to benefit from the program must document their situation in the Shared Incident Database mentioned above. And they must be actively seeking redress for the wrongs against them.
So, what is a Shared Incident Database?
It is a secure (very secure) virtual platform, on which members of any civil society organization that serves vulnerable people may enter, in real time, details of incidents that have occurred.
And who would the vulnerable people be? Although almost anyone may at some time be subject to abuse, some are more at risk than others. These include: men who have sex with men, people living with HIV/AIDS; transgender people; sex workers; people who use drugs; marginalized youth; vulnerable women and girls; and people living with disabilities.
So, what kinds of incidents would be reported in this database – what are the components of gender-based violence? It may be a temporary or permanent situation. Basically, such abuse is a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights by any other person or persons. Commonly recognised types of abuse include:
Physical abuse (including assault, rough handling, pushing, hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, biting);
Domestic violence (controlling, threatening, degrading or violent behaviour between people who are or have been, intimate partners or family members);
Sexual abuse (including rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, inappropriate touching, sexual teasing or innuendo or sexual harassment);
Psychological abuse (including use of threats, humiliation, bullying, swearing or verbal abuse or enforced social isolation);
Modern slavery (including people trafficking, forced labour and forced domestic servitude);
Discrimination (for example with regard to disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race, religion or belief); or
Institutional abuse (maltreatment of a person in a care facility or other institution).
Data is always critically important, we know. Very often, incidents involving breaches of human rights – and in particular those involving stigma and discrimination – are anecdotal and not properly recorded. The database is a great reporting tool that translates all those occurrences into robust, documented evidence. When these things happen, they must be recorded. Otherwise, how do we know what is really happening in society?
Launched in Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Suriname, in March 2017, the Shared Incident Database is to help CVC and other organizations figure out the real problems facing by those mentioned above – a young man living on the street, a drug addict, or a young mother living with HIV/AIDS, for example. The way they are treated by others will affect their ability to find help, whether it is counseling, HIV testing, or treatment, in any of these Caribbean territories.
That is one thing. Another important use for the recorded data is for it to be used to lobby and advocate for changes in policy and legislation – and in fact, much of our current legislation in the Caribbean is discriminatory in some way or another.
Most importantly, too, the Shared Incident Database can be used for the benefit of clients, who may wish to take legal action or obtain some kind of compensation or redress for the wrongs done to them.
So, prevention is one goal of the Community Paralegal Programme. It is responsive, taking actions to make sure that where concerns are raised or situations of suspected harm or abuse are identified, appropriate action is taken to ensure that the victim is assisted and obtains redress – and to prevent this happening again – breaking that cycle of violence that we often talk about.
In every situation, the programme collaborates with all relevant organisations and individuals. Sometimes, responsibilities may be shared with partners or other organizations, in which case this is clearly documented.
Risk assessments are carried out to identify those who may be at risk – and what those risks, or potential risks are; and to identify measures to mitigate these risks. Actions taken are carefully reviewed and monitored.
Jamaica has a duty of care to protect and safeguard all of its citizens. This is even more critical in these extreme times – in the middle of a pandemic, with rising economic insecurity and a sharp increase in mental stress affecting our behavior; not to mention the reported rise in domestic violence since the arrival of COVID-19, with families cooped up together in small spaces and under additional pressures of all kinds.
Let’s be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.
If you are in need of assistance under the Community Paralegal Programme, contact: George Young, 131 Tower Street, Kingston. Tel: 876 356-0343