The withdrawal of domestic violence cases by victims should not stop the police from investigating, according to human rights activist Karen De Souza who also notes that there should not be any instances where reports of abuse are not taken at police stations.
De Souza yesterday made comments during a special session on domestic violence for police prosecutors, probation, welfare and childcare officers, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and other key stakeholders.
Over the years and within recent times there have been many complaints mainly by women that reports are not being taken when they go to the police.
De Souza told those gathered at the Guyana Pegasus Hotel that if deficiencies about what is happening in the police station are not criticized or pointed out to the senior officials nothing will change. “I am not saying that we don’t get responses from the police or that every response made is met with resistance…we should have none of it. The only way we are going to have none of it is if there is systems within the police station that ensures we don’t have any crazed police ill-treating people who come into the police station to make a report”, she declared.
She pointed out that there will continue to be instances where cases against men are withdrawn or victims refuse to give evidence. “That is not a reason to stop taking the reports, or stop investigating …” she stressed.
`A’ Division Commander George Vyphuis in response said that there is continuous training in the Force with regards to domestic violence. He said that he is not going to defend the statement the some ranks do not act the way they should in respect to the taking of reports but “what we would say is that the Force has a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence”.
He said that there are cases where persons go to stations to make a report and leave saying they don’t want any further police action. He said that in such circumstances the police prefer the matter to go before the court and be dealt with there. He pointed out that there have been many high ranking officials who have gone before the court for domestic violence-related matters.
Crime Chief Seelall Persaud added that when someone makes a report, police can advise that they not return to their homes. He said that the police cannot put persons in protective custody because the Force does not have the legislative power or the facilities to do so.
He said that out of reports made there is a 55% charge rate. The others, he said, do not reach the courts because statements were not given and there is no other evidence of the assault.
During the interactive session, police court prosecutor Shellon Daniels noted that often police are heavily criticized but she questioned what is being done to help those men who are the perpetrators of domestic violence. She said unless ways are found to help them, the issue will persist. According to Daniels, there are cases where organizations such as the probation department are involved in domestic violence matters before the court but the perpetrators keep coming back. “If we continue to look at the victim then what happens to the perpetrator? He may be a victim too but he is violent”, she stressed.
Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh while noting that all in attendance were key stakeholders in the seminar said in his introductory remarks that it has been a stomach “churning experience” within recent times to read of the many reports of domestic violence in the media. “It is horrifying and appalling”, he said, while reading out some of the headlines of domestic violence stories that have been published.
He said that the incidence of domestic violence is at an alarming level in Guyana. For last year he said 29 domestic violence-related murders were recorded with 21 of the victims being women and girls. He said that it has been noted that domestic violence damages the prospects for economic and social development in every country and not just the lives of the victims.
The Chancellor stressed that domestic violence must be seen as a critical human rights issue because it impacts upon and infringes upon the constitutional guarantee to the right to life, liberty and security of the person. In the elimination of this scourge he said, the role of the central government cannot be ignored.
He said that it is not only the laying out of policies and programmes that are important but implementation coupled with meaningful interventions at all levels of society is what will make the difference.
He stressed that it is in this regard that he believes that every participant has an important role to play; the police by their timely intervention, the welfare officer by counselling and mediation, protecting the children of disturbed homes and saving lives, and members of civil society and NGOs by being more proactive.
Emphasizing that the court should be the last resort for domestic violence issues, he said that it was felt that there should be a wider compass for participation; thus the involvement in the seminar of the police, court prosecutors, probation and welfare officers, NGOs and civil society groups. He said having a better understanding of the offence and the offender was key to being better able to deal with the issues related to domestic violence.
De Souza re-enacted the life and difficulties of a woman who had been the victim of domestic violence before turning to her organization for help.
She said that women approached the justice system with the hope that it can make the violence stop. She said generally a woman only takes action when there is physical violence which would mean that some women who need relief will be making frequent reports to the police station.
She said that there is no telling how dangerous an abuser might be and it is because of this reason that the laws, guidelines and protocols and their implementation are important.
It must be recognized too, she said, that women can also be violent. “There have been a few cases where we see women have killed men and if we don’t get it right we are going to be seeing a lot more of those cases”, she stressed, while noting that women often say that they are frustrated.
She added that one must be careful that the power of the police, the probation officers and the medical officials is not used to the disadvantage of the victim.
Mark Guthrie, Legal Advisor, Justice Section, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK in brief remarks noted that the seminar is all about the rule of rule and some of these principles will be discussed.
He called for an interactive and stimulating session in which experiences are shared.
Justice Shamin Qureshi, Director of Programmes for Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, London, UK pointed out that domestic violence is a difficult topic of discussion and is a worldwide issue. He noted that based on reports two-thirds of the women here have suffered some type of domestic violence noting that the death of a woman is one too many. He stated that domestic violence can be prevented but there is need for a proactive approach to it.
According to Justice Qureshi domestic violence is “no longer a private family problem” and he briefly spoke about the Domestic Violence Unit which has been set up here.
The special session was organized as part of a two-day seminar for members of the local magistracy. The session ended at noon following which a session with magistrates began. That session will continue until tomorrow afternoon.
Among some of areas that will be discussed are the sentencing of the convicted domestic abuse offender; recommendations for future action and the rehabilitation of the domestic abuse offender.
The Supreme Court of Guyana in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association based in London, England are hosting the seminar.