Rising levels of domestic abuse

The nation was shocked again on Tuesday, when another brutal case of domestic violence surfaced. Again, another woman and another mother has been snatched from her family and her children at the hands of her partner. In this most recent case, 37-year-old Zaila Sugrim, whose body was discovered on Tuesday in a shallow grave at Crane, West Coast Demerara (WCD), was shot to her head and her body was set on fire before being buried. The brutal attack was one of many for her in her 15-year-old marriage. It was one such vicious attacked last December that had led her to finally make a decision to leave the marriage.

Sugrim’s unfortunate demise is one of numerous cases of domestic violence that have been reported in the Guyanese media. Many other women were also brutally killed, but, unfortunately, domestic violence continues despite awareness efforts and the much touted training of law enforcement officers who are expected to be the first step of recourse in regard to the lodging of complaints.

There is more than a subtle irony in the continuance of this societal scourge in spite of the relentless efforts and the plethora of available mechanisms to inform and educate. The problem is much larger than what appears in the news, including the social media outlets, as many cases goes unreported. This therefore gives much credence to the appearance of an underestimated reality.

In this most recent case, like hundreds of other cases, Mrs Sugrim had reported the matter to the Police, her husband was charged, but she had decided to not offer evidence in the criminal case against him.

Many reasons have been made known for what can deter an abused victim from proceeding with criminal charges laid against an abuser. Among those reasons are aspects of culture, the presence of children, shame, dependency and its redounding lack of empowerment for some; and the lack of confidence in law enforcement itself, precipitated from the reported trivialising of the issue in some instances.

In Guyana, women needed to express outrage against the rising levels of domestic abuse and violence directed against them, and be resolute in allowing the law to take its course. Guyanese women needed to send a stronger message that women deserve better than to accept abuse, instead of facing the reality and standing on their own. With respect to this most recent case, there are five children left without a mother and a father, as their father may very well be in jail for years to come.

From reports in the media, the children stood at the crime scene as the Police dug up the remains of their mother from the shallow grave. The magnitude of such an occurrence on children cannot be underestimated. It is obvious from the reports that the children must have seen their father beating their mother during the tormenting 15 years of marriage. Like these children, many others have cruelly been made witnesses to the horrific assaults on their mothers, and to a lesser extent their fathers. Those ghastly images, especially for some who watched as life was snuffed out, are not only lasting, but profoundly traumatising.

When young minds are so broadsided, the impact, if not managed, lingers for life. Not that they are erasable, but with meaningful and sustained interventions, the trauma can potentially be mitigated, thereby aiding in better shaping of lives.

The entire spectrum of what therefore constitutes counselling then becomes vital. This naturally raises the question of the availability of adequate intervening mechanisms.
While it is always heartening to hear that surviving victims and witnesses to such horrific incidents would be counselled, it would be very informative, for the benefit of all, to know the extent of what is available and offered. Realistically, expectations cannot be for what obtains in the developed nations; however, there must be something tangible in keeping with available resources, with upgrades foremost in planning.
However, counselling can be an extensive process for some, depending upon the circumstances.

Given the plethora of incidents that unfortunately continue, and which would make added demands on the system, the question of adequacy of trained staff, needed facilities and support systems becomes more pertinent.

While there is a disadvantage in being unable to accurately quote figures based on extensive research, if available, on the amount of people lost, injured and disfigured, and those scarred for life as a result of domestic violence, it must be extremely high in proportion to our population. Clearly, the highest number would be those who are left traumatised.

As this newspaper has said before, this therefore must be seen as a serious cause for concern, and a compelling reason for consideration to be declared a national priority. This is an apolitical issue, and is not confined to any one group, thereby making it less difficult to garner national support. In such small societies, the impact permeates throughout and away from just the families.