Dysfunction and ignorance

The murder of 28-year-old Tovonie Alexce Simmons of Limlair Village, Corentyne, Berbice last Wednesday would have brought the toll of women killed in or as a result of domestic violence situations to approximately two a month for the year so far. Ms Simmons was stabbed at least 12 times by the 30-year-old father of her four children, Imran Lyte, who subsequently took his own life. These senseless acts have directly affected six lives and one would imagine that there are others: Ms Simmons’s relatives and friends and her killer’s relatives and friends as well as the couple’s neighbours and workmates. The murder/suicide will soon become a focal point in their reflections; for a long time, and for some of them forever, their memories will surround what happened before, during and after the tragedy. But the toll will in fact be much worse.

No one can, at this point, measure the impact of the violent loss of their parents on the lives of Ms Simmons and Mr Lyte’s children, who are aged between three and eight years old. Suffice to say that it will be far-reaching, regardless of how much anyone imagines they understand about what has occurred. They may or may not receive some amount of counselling through the government agency responsible. Nevertheless, their lives will never be the same. It is entirely possible that one or more of them will eventually become domestic violence abusers or victims based entirely on the dysfunction and ignorance that would have been part of their lives to date, unless some sort of deliberate intervention is mounted. Does anyone even care?

The answer to that question has to be given in context with any action that has been taken with regard to the children of the other women already killed so far this year, those who were murdered last year and in years prior and those currently being abused who are likely to become statistics before very long.

In Ms Simmons’s case, as in many others in the recent past, reports made to the police were not acted on. It is possible that the police’s lack of alacrity in thoroughly investigating the reports emboldened the abusers, or it may be—particularly in the instant case—that there was a fatalistic outlook, given that suicide was already planned, and rational thought abandoned. Mr Lyte’s anger, and possibly his mental state, transcended any feeling he may have had for his children. His actions made them orphans with mental and emotional trauma; he did not care.       

Guyana has had a Domestic Violence Act since 1996 and while when it was drafted, debated and enacted it could have been viewed as a progressive piece of legislation, all of the necessary cogs were not placed in its wheels to ensure its complete functionality. In other words, it works but not as well as it should. In fact, the best use of the domestic violence legislation so far has probably been politicians patting themselves on the shoulders with it. And in this sense, it can be favourably compared to the Medical Termination of Preg-nancy Act, in its time. In both cases there has been apathy surrounding the regulations that would actually make the legislation benefit those who need it most – women.

Because, let’s face it, patriarchy is still very much in vogue in this country. Let us not pretend that we don’t notice that many men—not all, but many—speak out of both sides of their mouths. In public, they will say what they think women, the community and the outside world want to hear them say. In private, they press hard towards reinforcing the culture that women are less than important, ought not to be treated as equals or should be regarded as property when they are the children of or are espoused by men (in the archaic sense).

It is this culture that fuels the physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse of women and girls; the perpetrators imagine that they own them. 

Over the past two Sundays, this newspaper’s “Women’s Chronicles” column focused on young women who benefited from the teenage pregnancy programme being run by the non-governmental organisation, Women Across Differences (WAD). It was not by design that both of the young women interviewed had been sexually abused as children—one by her grandfather and the other by her father. However, it may point to a pattern in the lives of teenaged girls who become mothers if ever a study is done to try and get to the root of the problem as a means of truly addressing it.

From their accounts, both girls escaped becoming pregnant by their relatives, but neither received any justice for the crimes committed against them, nor support of any kind to help them overcome the trauma. As a result, their lives turned haywire—there was promiscuity, a search for love, more abuse and violence. Being referred to WAD after they became pregnant is what may have halted their headlong crash into the depths of despair. But how many more are there just like them? How many others are there who have not and will never benefit from the support offered by such organisations? How many more will simply become statistics at some point?

The sad fact is that Guyana is nowhere near detecting the real profundity of the problem, nor addressing it. No national studies have ever been done on intimate partner violence, child abuse, or other types of violence to determine any link if any nor are there any national action plans specifically set up to deal with these issues. But there has been and still is a great deal of talk surrounding them. Politicians are good at that. It is easy.

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