Domestic violence courts should be set up

Dear Editor,

I am horrified at the extremely high incidence of murder of Guyanese women at the hands of their husbands or intimate partners. Over the past two months twelve domestic homicides have been reported by the local media.                Editor, we are in a public health crisis and we need immediate action to stem the flow of blood of women in our dear land. Even though men are victims of IPV, the World Health Organization’s (2012) statistics show global victims of IPV as overwhelmingly women, with estimates as high as 95%.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is an insidious and deadly problem in Guyana, as it is internationally. IPV is not limited to physical abuse, but incorporates any behaviour that harms, threatens, or has a negative impact or effect on the victim.

Such behaviours may include stalking, destroying someone’s property, psychological aggression, threatening to or actually injuring their pet or loved one. Editor, it is not unusual to hear IPV trivialized as a private matter and the two persons should go home and make up. This response may potentially discourage victims from making a police report or seeking sensitive and non-judgmental intervention.  In addition, systemic and cultural norms oftentimes allow for victim blaming, shaming and disbelief.

Studies have shown that IPV is generally associated with a wide range of physical and mental consequences that are potentially life altering. For these twelve women it has resulted in death and for many more they suffer disabilities, reproductive health issues and other serious physical injuries. Additionally, victims of IPV may experience a range of emotional issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, and depression.

My heart hurts for our children, the future of our country, who are oftentimes collateral damage from IPV they witness in the home. The violence in the home engenders a wide range of negative, distressing, and overwhelming emotions for young children which may follow them into adulthood.

It is time that we take comprehensive and informed actions to reduce and prevent the incidences of intimate partner violence in Guyana.  As a Guyanese who has received extensive domestic violence prevention training and education, and has been advocating and working for several years with victims of domestic and sexual violence and sex trafficking I have the following suggestions:

•   There is need for a coordinated community response. If there is not already a task-force in place one should be formed and members receive comprehensive training in domestic violence prevention and intervention.  Members of the task-force should include responders, service providers, community leaders, and faith leaders.

•  Guyana has a domestic violence law which should be reviewed and a concerted effort made to implement and enforce these laws. The police should receive training on the provisions of the domestic violence law and it should become standard practice to effect an arrest if there is probable cause. This sends a message and reinforces that domestic violence is a crime and will not be tolerated in our community.

•   It is not unusual for victims to refuse to file criminal charges against their abusers or ask that those charges be dropped.  However, victims could be provided with other remedies such as a protection order. It is necessary to set up domestic violence courts presided over by a dedicated magistrate who is trained to work with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.  All the staff of this court should also receive domestic violence sensitivity training.

•  A batterer’s intervention programme should be created to provide services for men and women who abuse. All men who are charged or have an order of protection against them should be mandated to attend a batterer’s intervention programme.

•  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. An education campaign that focuses on modeling and highlighting healthy relationships would be of immense benefit.

My fellow Guyanese it is already too late but we must still act. We must break this deafening silence and stem the flow of blood that results from domestic homicide. Our children, our families, our communities, our country cannot afford this senseless loss of women’s life.

Yours faithfully,

Carlotta Walcott


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