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When are we going to get serious?

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Tue, Nov 1. 2011

A member of the judiciary has said he is sick of what is happening in this country in relation to violence against women. The daughter of a female murder victim expressed her disgust in an article in last Friday’s newspaper. Editorial writers have expressed their outrage. Non-governmental organizations and quasi-government organizations have issued statements condemning what has been happening, and marches and rallies have been held.{{more}}

So what now?

How do we translate our outrage into action which would result in a transformation in our society?

It is said for there to be real change, the victims of domestic violence need to speak up, as only then will the magnitude of the problem become clear. Only then will we realise that the scourge touches every stratum of our society.

Unfortunately, there is not much encouragement for our women to break their silence, as when they do, they are scorned, even by other women, blamed for what has happened to them, and risk the violent response of the men involved, sometimes even years later.

While local statistics are not available, data from the United States suggests that for each woman murdered by an intimate partner, over 2,400 others are experiencing domestic violence.

If we include the unidentified female found in the Dauphine/ Welcome area over the weekend, between 2000 and 2011, there were 50 female homicides, with about 20 being the result of domestic disputes.

Of these years, 2007 was the bloodiest year, with 10 homicides of women, eight of which were committed by a male lover or spouse.

Based on these statistics and the ratios suggested by US figures, it is reasonable to assume that each year, thousands of Vincentian women suffer domestic violence in silence.

So what do we do?

The experts say that change will not come overnight, as any meaningful education campaign will have to start with the very young. In much the same way that we teach our children about the dangers of drugs, we should encourage them to talk about abuse in the home, and how it can be prevented. The police have a long standing Drug Abuse Reduction Education (DARE) programme in the schools; what about widening the scope of that programme to include conflict resolution and teaching the youngsters the right ways to interact with one another while preserving mutual respect and dignity?

In the wider society, we need to change the mindset that we should keep out of “man and woman” business. The victims in most of these relationships tell themselves that the abuse will stop, but it rarely does. They sometimes need the support of caring friends or family members to muster up the strength to act. While the State cannot force a grown woman to leave a relationship in which she is being abused, support and protective systems should be put in place to make it easier for her, should she decide to leave.

We also need to also curb our tendency to look down on the man who shows affection for his family, while we equate masculinity with aggression, a lack of commitment and multiple partners.

We also need to seriously grab the attention of our legislators.

Our politicians make attention grabbing headlines and statements in Parliament when our women are killed, but that is where it ends, until the next woman falls victim. A review of the laws and penalties pertaining to crimes of this nature is long overdue.

Perhaps one of our young economists should be given the task of calculating the cost to society of domestic violence. Maybe when it is quantified in dollars and cents, our legislators will sit up and take notice.

Think of the cost of the loss or reduction in the productivity of a beaten woman; what is the cost when she utilizes our hospital or other health services; when the police or other judicial services are called into play in the quest for protection orders; the cost of cases brought before judges and the magistrates?

What about the effect on the children of these homes, some of whom have to be placed in protective care by the State?

This should not come down to dollars and cents, though. We are speaking here of the suffering of real flesh and blood people, the citizens of our country, and one drop of blood spilled is too much. When are we going to get serious about this problem?

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