Up to May this year, 755 domestic violence cases were filed across four of ten magisterial districts, Acting Chief Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus related on Friday at a conference on the problem.
Red Thread hosted a one-day conference to facilitate the sharing of the findings of their project titled “Engaging Commu-nities for Improved Implementation of Domestic Violence Laws”. In attendance were members of the police force, including Crime Chief Paul Williams, Acting Chief Magistrate Isaacs-Marcus and civil servants working to promote the eradication of domestic violence.
The project, which began in March 2016, was aimed at fostering a systematic and holistic approach to addressing domestic violence in Guyana. Its objectives were to “help change communities’ attitudes and perceptions about domestic violence and to interrupt the cycle of violence”; “to examine the performance of the police and the court in the implementation of domestic violence laws”; and to “make recommendations to develop the capabilities of responsible institutions and systems—specifically the police and the courts—to respond to domestic violence reports/case”.
The Project Researcher, Jewel Thomas, reported that not only were females most likely to file for restraining orders, but in most instances, the person against whom the order was filed was male.
In 2014, approximately 81% of the protection orders filed were by females while 17% were filed by males (it was stated that the remainder could not be determined because the relevant information was missing from the case jackets). On the other hand, that same year, as it relates to the persons against whom the orders were filed, 83% were males while the remaining 17% were females.
It was further stated that husbands and wives, whether married or common-law, are the ones who most frequently request for protection orders, with “child mothers” and “child fathers”, along with ex boyfriends and girlfriends also frequently being mentioned.
The report found that 92% of the 2017 applications mentioned some form of emotional/psychological abuse, which included stalking, cursing and destruction of property, and that 44% of the 2017 cases reported that applicants were threatened.
Further to that, up to 40% of applicants in 2017 reported experiencing more than one form of emotional and psychological abuse.
The findings showed that 48% of the cases coded (the 2017 cases were a sample of all the cases filed) mentioned physical abuse.
According to a release from Red Thread, over the past five years, the Guyana Police Force has received and investigated over 2,000 domestic violence reports each year.
Addressing the conference, Magistrate Isaacs-Marcus related that there have been approximately 755 domestic violence cases filed across four of ten magisterial districts up to May of this year.
Giving an example of the “burden” under which the magistracy operates, she noted that there are 22 magistrates along with a Chief Magistrate serving the country’s ten magisterial districts.
She further related that between January and May 2018, there were 3,067 matters filed in the East Demerara Magistrates District, of which, 333 of those cases were domestic violence matters.
For that same period there were reportedly 3,084 matters filed in the Essequibo Magisterial District, of which 35 were domestic violence matters. In the Georgetown Magisterial District, there were 7,972 matters filed, of which 352 were domestic violence based and in the Berbice Magisterial District, 35 of 1,947 matters filed were rooted in domestic violence.
Isaacs said the magistrates then, are led to perform a “balancing act” to determine which matters should be given priority, while at the same time, avoiding the creation of a backlog.
Red Thread’s project, funded by the US Department of State, did not only focus on research, but sensitization as well.
Ten project monitors carried out work in five communities (although it was reported they extended their work beyond the initial scope). Those communities were Lethem, Bartica, Anna Regina, La Parfaite Harmonie and Plaisance/Better Hope.
According to a Red Thread release, over a 24-month period, the monitors, along with four trainers, engaged 5,946 persons in one-on-one and house-to-house visits; met with 196 community leaders; held 277 community meetings that attracted 6,255 attendees; and supported and assisted 743 victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.
One of the monitors, Shirley Ault, who was deployed to Bartica, explained that the work conducted included sensitization sessions with residents and accompanying victims to institutions such as the police stations, courts and hospitals.
Ault, who said that they saw a change nearly instantly, stated that they found that many persons were involved in violent relationships and were scared to speak out.
Their work has birthed two support groups in the community, and according to Ault, they received an invitation from the Commander of the F Division to work along with the police.
Alexandra King Pile, Chief of Political and Economic Affairs at the US Embassy, noted that although the project was geographically limited, it was the intention that the impact would be widespread so that persons would be aware of what domestic violence is and who they can turn to for help if the need arises.
“Domestic violence, not just in Guyana but in general, can be something of a quiet crime. Many people assume that domestic violence doesn’t occur in their neighbourhood or in their family or in their friend group because perhaps they hadn’t heard much about it, but that unfortunately is not the case. Domestic violence does not discriminate, it does not discriminate by age or gender, age group, social class, education, status and so on,” Pile remarked on Friday.
“Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent forms of violence in Guyana and it occurs almost exclusively against women and girls. It is the most widespread human rights violation and it’s a pervasive and systemic public health issue, legal issue, social issue, economic issue, it touches every part of a society,” Pile said.