Frightening Domestic Violence Numbers in T&T (January 17, 2016)

Over 60% of women murdered in T&T are killed by their intimate partners. These alarming statistics are for the 10 year period 2004 to 2013 and come from the TTPS Crime and Problem Analysis Unit. There were 382 women murdered over the period, of which 259 were from domestic violence, and 20 of these cases happened in Tobago.

Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission, Lynette Seebaran-Suite, said generally murders occur when the victim is trying to leave the relationship. “You might be suffering from a chronic situation of abuse, controlling behaviour, psychological abuse, deprivation of resources, beating, etc., but when you try to leave, that is when you are at most danger of being killed. Therefore victims have to plan carefully for exiting, and there are some jurisdictions, for example, Switzerland, where the state will go so far as to relocate you to another city, in another part of the country.”

She said there needs to be intervention with victims to raise awareness that they are going through domestic abuse. “Sometimes they gain that insight only after they have escaped and realize they have been battered all these years and didn’t acknowledge it. So if there are outreaches to women to enable them to recognize the signs of their being abused, that will help.”

Seebaran-Suite also said it would also help if victims learn or are taught techniques of avoiding making situations worse. She gave the example of journalist Marcia Henville, who was murdered, allegedly by her husband, in her home in January 2014, in the early hours of the morning after a quarrel. “There is a certain sense and a certain wisdom in not escalating a problem when you are isolated and help is not at hand. So it may very well be that you have to bide your time and pour oil on troubled waters and de-escalate a quarrel in the middle of the night.”

The EOC Chairman said victims who are planning to leave abusive situations have to make an exit plan. “You have to have your documents of record and your car keys available, and have people knowing what you’re planning to do rather than leave yourself vulnerable to being trapped and cornered.” She also said many murders take place when women are lured back to the relationship with promises of change of behaviour or expressions of love and affection after having left for six months or a year.

“So women have to accept responsibility for their own safety and they have to be given tools, like public education programs which educate women to practical methods of securing their own personal safety, such as knowing when not to escalate, making sure you have your avenues of escape available, not going back and when you do escape, sometimes you have to accept the reality that you may actually have to leave the country, because a very famous saying of my husband is “dead women have no rights.” So when you’re standing up on your rights, the man doesn’t care about your rights.”

Before murder occurs, cases of this type would have been brought to the attention of the authorities before they became fatal, whether as police matters or domestic violence matters in the magistrates’ court. Seebaran-Suite said domestic cases which are handled by the police are usually cases of assaults by beating or threats, and there were over 15,000 reports between 2004 and 2013. However, a far greater number of domestic violence cases go to the magistrates’ court where applications are made for Protection Orders (POs). These applications are brought under the Domestic Violence Act and are filed by both men and women.

Since 2008, there have consistently been in excess of 11,000 applications for POs in the 13 magisterial districts in T&T. In 2008 – 2009, there were 11,620 applications; in 2009 – 2010 there were 12,100; in 2010 – 2011 there were 11,984 and in 2012 – 2013 there were 11,382 applications. Seebaran-Suite said in a given law term year, which runs from September to August, not all these matters might be disposed of and may carry over into the following year.

Disposal of a matter may mean that it is either dismissed, withdrawn or completed. It can be dismissed because the parties or the complainant didn’t turn up, or withdrawn by the complainant who does not wish to pursue it further. The case may also be determined by the consent of the parties or be tried and determined by the magistrate.

Seebaran-Suite said not all PO applications involve allegations of physical violence, but allegations of other types of abuse can be made, including threatening behaviour, stalking, deprivation of property, aggression, psychological violence, applications for exclusive occupation of the home and/or to put somebody out of the home.

The different causes for applications show that not all domestic abuse is physical, but women who realize this should not assume that if they are trying to leave the relationship, they will be safe because “the man never raise a hand to them yet.” This might be the time it happens, so have a contingency plan in place and remember “dead women have no rights.”

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