The Stabroek News editorial on 15 June, 2018 `Mental health and the poor and downtrodden’ talked about the failure of the justice system and the health system to deal with mental health problems faced by those who are in conflict with the law. The editorial also noted “When we consider the level of violence meted out by a wide cross-section of Guyanese particularly against their spouses and other close family members, the question of the mental health status of these perpetrators should be raised in the process of them being passed through the criminal justice system.” The position that perpetrators of domestic violence may not be mentally fit to be accountable for their abusive behaviour and accept the consequences of their actions is a position that ignores that domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence operate in a system which has for thousands of years said it is okay for men to treat women as property and objects, less equal than them. The perpetrators of violence against family members and close ones do so in a rape culture, a culture which glorifies sexual harassment, and which believes female objectification is empowering, a culture of inconsistent police and justice system response and a complete lack of accountability on the part of all agencies who are responsible for responding to domestic violence.
The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network published a data review in May 2018 (Available at http://www.coroners.justice.nsw.gov.au). The report examined intimate partner homicides between 2010 and 2014. The report noted that the majority of homicides came after a pattern of abusive behaviour. The majority of homicides were perpetrated by men against their partners, and were not violent expressions of mental health disorders. Murder is on the spectrum of behaviour which has a high tolerance for violence in many forms, some of which would not leave physical scars, but create emotional and psychological trauma.
The editorial on mental health did not talk about the effects on the mental health of those who survive the abuse perpetrated by family members.
The irony in all of this is that the women and others who have resisted patriarchy, who have stood up to the systemic oppression, have been labelled as ‘mad’ in the past. Toxic masculinity was never identified as a mental health problem, resistance to toxic masculinity though is what is seen as ‘abnormal’. Guyana will only be able to deal with domestic violence seriously when we acknowledge and liberate ourselves from the thriving rape culture and misogyny and the dysfunctions created by patriarchy. It is futile to deal with domestic violence in a culture in which people still believe it is okay to beat children to discipline them. Perpetrators of domestic violence must be held accountable for their actions.