Over the past week, the local media have reported three incidents of domestic violence that resulted in two deaths and one partner being severely injured. Notably, in all three cases – two in Berbice and the other in Linden – the violence had been ongoing for years.
Domestic violence has been described as “behaviour which causes one partner in a relationship to be afraid of the other. Domestic violence can take the form of physical or sexual abuse, and forced social isolation away from friends and family members.” However, domestic violence has many victims besides spousal partners.
The laws of Guyana prescribe one’s rights regarding this issue, which are laid out in the Domestic Violence Act as “recognised under the law and law enforcement agencies, such as the courts”, and stipulate that the Guyana Police Force must help to enforce the rights of, and offer protection to, any man, woman, or child who may be experiencing domestic violence.
Some signs of domestic violence are described as persistent verbal abuse, such as quarrelling and cursing (one can add to that derogating one’s character and making unjustifiable insulting remarks about one’s self and one’s loved ones); threatening the person with physical violence (threatening to hit the person with hands or objects) as well as actually hitting the person; damaging the property of a person (such as breaking a person’s cellphone, tearing or burning a person’s clothing, among other things); following a person from place to place, even though that person does not want to be followed; hiding clothing or property used by the person (for example, hiding a person’s cellphone, their clothing, their identification card, their passport, and even their money); making persistent and/or unwelcome contact with the person (such as calling the person on their cellphone or home phone many times per day, watching the person’s house, waiting for the person to leave work or place of study, following the person from home or work, even though that person does not want to be followed or watched); and using abusive language to a person, or behaving towards a person in such a way that could result in that person being ill-treated.
For example, cursing and quarrelling with a person in front of others, and then encouraging others to do the same.
A Government initiative to deal with the scourge of domestic violence suggested actions one should take to protect oneself (and possibly others) from domestic violence, and provides a descriptive analysis of a Protection Order. One of the suggestions made is to make a report to the nearest Police station, and therein lies a conundrum.
Those who are supposed “to protect and serve” most often have provided the catalyst for a tragedy to occur by their attitude and attention, or lack thereof, when a complainant drums up the requisite courage (most often with great difficulty) and lodges a complaint.
Guyanese have stopped being their brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers, because, in many communities, neighbours witnessing a continuum of, and escalating instances of, abuse refuse to become involved. They prefer to enjoy the enfolding tragedy, even adding to it with malicious rumour-mongering and strife-making, because the titillation of feuds and wars within families finds a corresponding resonance in the dark nuance resident in every soul, and the average person refuses to rise above their more decadent equivalencies to achieve a higher plane of thought and action, enough to maybe intercede – and probably save a family from ultimate destruction.
And one wonders what part the church bodies and religious leaders play in melding communities into units cohesive enough to fashion strategies for interventions within families and the general society, in efforts to divert energies into more productive and peaceful approaches to conflict resolution – even to the point of empowerment.
The acceleration in violence-prone conflicts within families and societies is spiralling to the extent where many lives have been lost, with many more dislocated, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Unless there is a holistic, proactive approach, where all stakeholders in the nation are made aware that this cause and this fight is a national one, every effort made – valiant and committed as they may be – would prove woefully inadequate, because domestic violence is a national tradition entrenched in the Guyanese psyche.
Persons within communities most often do not think it is their business to report instances of abuse, and many women and children have suffered violations, and even been murdered, when a timely intervention could have saved someone’s life.