There is hardly a day which goes by in which newspapers do not report an incident of domestic violence (DV) or a matter pertaining to domestic violence. It has been decades since domestic violence has been classified as a type of gender-based violence (GBV).
Guyana has signed and ratified a host of international conventions which criminalise, bind and uphold states (current, former or to be) to prevent, protect against, and prosecute crimes of gender-based violence, including domestic violence. Guyana has made gains in this regard, so it was alarming to read of a perpetrator of a crime of domestic violence being told by the court that he has an anger management problem, and should get help for this.
I was not present in court, and am relying on print media reports. If these are incorrect, then my sincere apologies are proffered to the Judiciary.
The popular belief that DV occurs due to uncontrollable anger is incorrect, because it does not recognise or factor in the gendered nature of intimate partner domestic violence. Physical, sexual, psychological or financial domestic violence, or a combination of some or all, is but the means to exert power and control over the other. Many femicides occur when the abused woman leaves her abusive partner or husband and/or starts/engages in another intimate partner relationship. It is the abuser’s perception of the loss of power and control of that partner — the right of ownership and entitlement to that abused person’s life and body — that leads to murder. ‘If I can’t have you, no one else can’.
I hope that continuous training of the Judiciary and Magistracy on gender-based violence, including TIP crimes, is happening, and that the Guyana Prison Service’s anger management training includes sessions on the dynamics of DV, so as to address root causes.
Partnerships for Peace, a best practice Caribbean/UN Women programme for DV offenders, utilises 12-17 training modules for achieving attitudinal and behavioural change. There is no quick-fix.
Additionally, the discrepancy in sentencing for the crime of femicide (killing of female intimate) seems inconsistent. While most people would agree that domestic violence is everybody’s business and everyone should play their part in its prevention, reduction and elimination, agencies such as the Police have a significant role in investigation and prosecution of domestic violence crimes. Over the past years, an average of about 2 women have died every year at the hands of their partners or husbands, and hundreds of women and some men have been subjected to domestic violence on a daily or regular basis.
No one in Guyana believes that domestic violence is on the decrease, most of us agree that it is on the increase. In this context, the comments of the Police Commissioner at the 6 weeks’ training course on Station Management — advising Police against taking persons into custody for ‘behaving bad’ or abusing alcohol — needs to be clarified.
Domestic violence is often described as ‘behaving bad’; this can range from threats of violence, physical assault, destruction of property, sexual assault, being put out of the house etc, to murder. On top of this, alcohol and drug abuse go hand in hand with domestic violence and increase the severity of the abuse, sometimes fatally. For the Police not to investigate such reports is disturbingly alarming.
The Guyana Police Force’s Domestic Violence Policy states that all reports of domestic violence must be recorded and investigated. The Domestic Violence Act gives the Police wide powers to enter any home where they believe a DVA Protection Order is being breached, or any home or premises where they believe domestic abuse is taking place or has taken place. Police, under the DVA, also have the power to arrest persons without warrants, and are mandated to ensure victims receive medical attention for injuries and are moved to a place safe from harm.
In spite of laws, policies, training, projects, marches, billboards, a month dedicated by the UN to the elimination of violence against women, gender bureaus, dedicated Police units and national task force, not being convened, domestic violence continues unabated in Guyana. What is depressing is that when addressing DV & GBV, instead of building on gains, policies, knowledge, programmes, training and expert available Guyanese human resources, we seem to be in a continuous cycle of reinventing the wheel, going backwards in order to go forward.