|Women against Violence: Breaking the Silence (UNIFEM, 1997, 116 p.)|
|Combatting Violence Against Women in the Caribbean|
Women have made considerable gains in getting legislation to address domestic violence since the mid-1980s, including protection orders. The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago now focus on extending protection to battered women and similar legislation is now consideration in Guyana. In most countries there has also been considerable debate about the suitability of the criminal justice system to manage the problem of domestic violence. While some argue the desirability of arrest, prosecution and sentencing, others insist that the appropriate response should emphasize rehabilitation, mediation, and conciliation. In those countries which have recently enacted legislation, a middle way was sought, following the CARICOM model, which increases available options by enabling a victim, whether spouse (which in all countries but the Bahamas includes common-law spouse) or children of spouse, to seek a protection order at the same time as she decides whether to file a criminal complaint. This approach is predicated on the belief that battered women are more immediately concerned with securing refuge and safety than with prosecution, a belief supported by the experience of organisations that work with battered women as well as by women's reluctance to press criminal charges against their batterers. In Guyana, where the only study of women's responses to domestic violence has been done, it was found that only 6 percent of victims went to the police for help and protection while 62 percent sought help in their kinship networks (Danns and Parsad 1989).
Legislation provides that a victim of domestic violence may seek a protection order where a spouse or former spouse, parent, or other member of the household has engaged in conduct of a violent nature, has threatened such behaviour, or has behaved in a harassing and offensive way. In Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, "offensive or harassing behaviour" includes abusive and threatening language, malicious property damage, and threats of physical violence, while in Trinidad and Tobago it also includes stalking behaviour and wilful neglect of a dependent.
In case of harassment, however, applicants must show that this conduct was sufficient to cause fear for their safety. In all domestic violence legislation, provision is also made for counselling; in Belize and Barbados, counselling is mandatory. In Barbados, one of the factors which the court is obliged to take into account in considering applications for protection orders is the preservation and protection of the institution of marriage and the family as the fundamental unit of society.
Legislation regarding domestic violence also makes access to the courts swift and effective, including mandatory hearings within a short time of application; personal service orders; the power to grant interim protection orders; in camera proceedings, anonymity of parties. Most of the new laws also empower the police to make an arrest without a warrant in cases of breach of protection orders.
While evaluation of the impact of the new legislation has been limited, evidence from Trinidad and Tobago suggests an overwhelming use of the provisions by women. Anecdotal evidence indicates that legal proceedings are still agonisingly slow for women in crisis and that the judiciary, lawyers, and police must be continually challenged to fight the causes and not only the symptoms of violence against women.
While in countries with no specific domestic violence legislation, victims of domestic violence are still able to bring civil action against the person who assaults her, in practice, the legal costs of a civil action effectively prohibit the majority of poor and unemployed women from seeking redress. In addition, in all CARICOM countries and in the Netherlands Antilles, assault, wounding, and other violence offences against the person are subject to criminal penalty as well. In Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, where a person is convicted of aggravated assault upon a child, the offender can be fined or imprisoned in excess of that allowed for a common assault.