Do government leaders have the will, capacity and expertise to address domestic violence?

Dear Editor,
As Guyana once again is confronted by the domestic violence murders and attempted murders of five women and three children, including the near severing of limbs of children, one has to ask whether we as a nation really care about reducing and eliminating domestic violence and whether our political directorate and government leaders care or have the will, capacity and expertise to comprehensively address the issue.

What we know is that the system failed Tarif Lord (2 yrs), Kimberley Houston (5 yrs), and Vanessa Richmond James, who were murdered, and Bibi Nazruma Houston (21 yrs), Dorothy Blackman (47 yrs), Wanda Fortune (26 yrs), Latoya Wilson (20 yrs) and Donnette Fordyce (12 yrs), who were severely injured.  While the majority of Guyanese join with the families affected to mourn those dead and to hope that the survivors’ physical and psychological scars heal, will these lives just become more statistical evidence of death and injury through domestic violence?

The system failed these latest victims and survivors because best practices of addressing domestic violence prevention are either being ignored or simply not implemented. The implementation of the National Domestic Violence Policy, which was adopted by the government in 2008 and which outlines eight thematic areas, has never been adequately resourced, and the multi-sectoral National Domestic Violence Oversight Committee has suffered from lack of ministerial representation and non-convening by the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security, which is tasked with the formulation of a National Plan of Action for the prevention of domestic violence and which continues to be stymied in its efforts.

The police by their inaction must assume a large part of the responsibility for the recent deaths and injuries as they failed to respond or take action with the urgency that their domestic violence policy mandates and the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) empowers them to do.  Under the DVA, the police may enter a home without an arrest warrant once domestic violence or the risk of domestic violence is present.

Help & Shelter and others have called for specialized domestic violence and sexual assault mobile units within the police force to be established so as to respond immediately and efficiently to domestic and sexual violence crimes.  Research here in Guyana spanning the period 1989 to 2010 revealed unacceptably high levels of violence against women (high of 66% and low of 42% of those reporting). According to UNDOC and the World Bank, three of the highest rates of sexual violence in the criminal justice systems worldwide are found in the Caribbean, and all the Caribbean countries have rated higher than 15 rapes per 100,000, the average worldwide. What other category of crime in Guyana has comparable figures, and yet the allocation of resources for domestic and sexual violence prevention in the police force does not reflect this epidemic of violence.

Services for survivors of domestic violence continue to be under-resourced, limited in scope and concentrated for the most part in Georgetown and ‒ to a lesser extent ‒ other urban areas. The state, which is mandated by international conventions such as CEDAW,  Belem do Para and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to provide services to all victims of domestic violence, allocates limited human and financial resources to carry out its responsibilities of protection and rehabilitation.

The recent tragedies painfully expose the deadly risk to children from domestic violence. Even as difficult and challenging as it is for many adult victims to overcome the domestic violence entrapment process, it is worse for children, who cannot leave even if they want to without some form of sanctioned state intervention. We already have laws in Guyana that state very clearly that any child at risk from domestic violence must be protected by the state.

It is no surprise that these latest victims and survivors of domestic violence are women and children, as are nearly all former victims and survivors here in Guyana, because the root cause of domestic violence is the real or perceived inequality and subordination of women, which extends beyond the individual and family to the wider society. Seen in this context domestic violence will not receive the attention it deserves until the majority, and those in positions of power are prepared to reset this historical inequality and provide adequate resources as a priority for comprehensively addressing this problem.

Help & Shelter extends sincere sympathy to all survivors and those who have lost loved ones and stands ready to help survivors and other family members in whatever way we can.

Yours faithfully,
Danuta Radzik
Josephine Whitehead
Denise Dias
Salima Bacchus-Hinds
Margaret Kertzious
Colin Marks
Gaitrie Shivsankar
For Help & Shelter

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