Abuse prevention requires political will

Combating the brutal war against our womenfolk, as so many have pointed out over time, requires police capacity, necessary reforms, and political will.
The current widespread perception that going to the Police is a waste of time is based on the far too many instances of Police refusing to act on complaints and/or coercing victims to not take legal action. More often than not, bribery dictates such attitudes. Thus building Police capacity entails oversight to eliminate these behaviours; provision of sensitivity training, including empathic communication and first responder skills.
Another impediment is the twofold roadblock – otherization of the call to action and a culture of double-victimisation. Otherization says that abuse is ‘not my business’ and/or ‘I know what needs to be done, but somebody else has to do it’. Double-victimization encompasses the victim believing that she deserves the abuse; that abuse is normal and may reflect spousal love; that being abused is a shame that must be hidden; and/or that walking away is not an option, because of fear.
Thus reform must include widespread information dissemination to combat otherization and double-victimization, and provide a roadmap of to dos: a ladder of contacts starting with the local Police and including counselling access – welfare officers, psychologists, social workers. In this respect, lay counsellors can be the critical first responders; and so, once again, we urge the return of the Gatekeepers’ Programme.
In fact, TCV has been offered the free services of a lay counsellor trainer from India through the auspices of the NGO Seva International.
Reform must also include a national support network, so that women do not continue to stay in abusive relationships because of economic dependence, or children, or family and societal pressure. In fact, the Ministry of Social Protection’s Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Policy Unit (MSSODVPU) seems to already offer such support: shelter and temporary accommodation, financial assistance, rehabilitation, skills training, counselling, social work services, legal aid…but are these services accessible nationwide? And are Guyanese generally aware of these services? Neither seems to be the case currently. Thus there is URGENT need to set up satellite offices countrywide and engage in a national sensitization campaign, so these services can be taken advantage by all victims of abuse to pre-empt femicide and other fatal consequences.
Other components of reform should include establishing a database of all stakeholders on the social landscape, to build much needed collaboration, and a national stakeholders’ conference to activate a national intervention and support network; bipartisan legislation mandating that all cases of abuse should be prosecuted, even if the victim withdraws the complaint and/or refuses to testify; setting up a domestic violence unit in the Police Force, with members posted at all stations; and stringent application of the law, instead of disdainful dismissals and/or mere slaps on the wrist.
Additionally, there is need for mechanisms to enable abused victims to break the silence by sharing their experiences and publicly calling out abusers as well as seeking help. A hotline would be one such mechanism. Or perhaps the Suicide Helpline can be expanded to include abuse. As well, the Government should facilitate the creation of an app that would enable sharing and reporting of abuse.

About caribvoice

Free lance journalist, educator and community activist. Guyana born New York based.
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