Beating up women

There have been at least 5 cases in the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court alone for this year already, involving the battering of women by their husbands or partners. And in last Tuesday’s edition we published a plea from a young nurse, who was violently stabbed but managed, by simply being clever, to escape death, that her prison officer husband be charged with perpetrating the said acts against her.

Stephanie Sampson, 22, had her throat slashed, was stabbed six times in the left breast, once in the right breast, one time in her left arm and she also sustained several cuts on her hands as she tried to fend off the knife used in the attack, which occurred at the Mazaruni Prison. She told this newspaper that she had reported the matter to the Bartica Police Station and the man was arrested but released on $75,000 station bail, and since then someone claiming to be his cousin had been sending menacing text messages to her.

Interestingly, in the same issue, we published statements by Minister of Human Services and Social Security Jennifer Webster to the effect that a National Action Plan on gender-based violence was going to be a priority this year. She was also pleased to announce that there had been a “good” response to the national conversation on domestic violence last year. Stemming from that a committee had been set up and was meeting and making recommendations, among which, she hinted, were a possible amendment/s to the Domestic Violence Act.

It is quite possible that it was mere coincidence that while Stephanie Sampson was relating her horrific experience to this newspaper on Monday, Minister Webster was expounding on domestic violence, among other programmes carried out by her ministry. However, it is more than likely that this occurred because regardless of all the talking and stamping that this ministry has done over the past few years under this Minister and her predecessor, gender-based violence is on the increase.

And this is precisely the reason last year’s conversation was “good”; people want to get this monster under control and so they are talking about it and making recommendations on how this can be done. But are the authorities really listening? And if they are, why is this so difficult? Are we to infer, from the foot-dragging, that women don’t really matter?

Minister Webster also said at her press briefing on Monday last that another recommendation coming out of the meetings of the Domestic Violence Committee was to have an arm of the police force staffed by more professional social service personnel. While this is a good idea, the question of whether these professionals will have the authority to make arrests or force the police to do so ought to be addressed first.

Under the current Domestic Violence Act, the role of the police includes ensuring the safety of victims or any other persons in danger; filing an application in the court on behalf of the victim; arresting an abuser without a warrant if he violates a court order; assisting the victim by ensuring that the victim is taken to hospital and gets medical attention if they are injured as a result of domestic violence; ensuring that any person who is afraid of domestic violence and feels unsafe is moved to a safe place. Many of the women who have gone to the police for help after being battered will attest to the fact that in most cases not one of the things listed above is done and not for want of trying. Sensitisation and awareness training have been done with members of the police force and commitments have been made by the police hierarchy that it will be impressed on officers to do the right thing. And while this is done in some instances—hence the cases being presented before the court—there are still too many times when reports are not acted on.

The 1996 Domestic Violence Act despite all of the hype at its passage 16 years ago, cannot be deemed as having been used successfully. It is past due for amendments that would bring it in line with more progressive legislation governing this issue in other places in the world. In the meantime, the training and retraining of police, the talking, in fact any initiative that would put a dent in the rampant beating up of women and girls should continue. But not for too long; action is needed.

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