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Domestic violence is rampant, and while it is difficult to ascertain the exact numbers, there is no denying that there is a serious problem.{{more}}

While the figures are not conclusive, they can paint with a broad brush the gravity of the crime that Minister of National Mobilization Michael Browne called “anti-humanist”, as he addressed a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) sponsored panel discussion on domestic violence on Wednesday, January 23, at the Peace Memorial Hall.

The Family Court’s records show that between 2000 and 2007 there have been 960 cases of domestic violence, with over 100 cases being dealt with every year.

As for the police, they do not have separate records for domestic violence, but such reports can be found among the assault statistics. There were 1,145 cases of assault reported in 2007.

A crucial ingredient to be added to the pot of the unsavory reality is that experts say that victims who report domestic

violence have most likely been undergoing the torment for a while, and had reached their “boiling point.”

“Most times it is ongoing in various forms. You usually hear the woman say that she has been talking to her abuser about it sometimes for years, but it was getting worse,” says the former head of the Family Court, Sharon Morris-Cummings.

Cummings, who presided over the Family Court between 2004 and 2006, told SEARCHLIGHT that during her time on the bench, she could only remember one or two instances where the abuse was a first time occurrence.

This view is shared by Coordinator of the Gender Affairs Division, Polly Oliver.

She told SEARCHLIGHT that of the cases that come to her Division, an overwhelmingly large number are instances where victims have been abused over a period of time.

“The incidents take place over a period of time, and victims often act when it gets unbearable for them,” Oliver said.

She said that increased education also contributes to an increase in reporting, saying that workshops and discussions like the one held last week help to bring more awareness to victims about their rights.

Another concern that Cummings noted to SEARCHLIGHT is that she is not sure that society has in fact reached the place of intolerance as regards domestic violence.

“I recall one case where a lawyer said that his client only gave the victim a little lash,” Cummings said.

Just a lawyer being creative in his defence or was the statement a reflection of a still prevalent view in society?

The latter, Cummings believes strongly.

There are many occurrences in court that have brought her to this conclusion, she insists, including one case where a woman, who was virtually held prisoner by her husband, was told by a police officer that she should not have reported the abuse, but just sit on the man.

Somehow, Cummings still can’t understand why, but a police officer found that comment fitting, because the victim was a heavy set woman.

When she addressed the panel discussion last week, Trinidadian Clinical and Community Psychologist Dianne Douglas said that domestic abuse is packed into layers of historical and societal factors, which have shaped the way we think.

Dr Douglas said that this region’s history of slavery, indentureship and colonialism didn’t allow for equality or the equal distribution of power and resources.

She also noted that learning is handed down from generation to generation, including that of gender expectations.

“Our gender identity is our most fundamental identity, and it shapes how we act in all our lives,” Dr Douglas told the 150 plus participants in the discussion, which was held under the theme “Unmasking Domestic Violence, Building equality, peace and development.”

Armed with a retarded view of manhood, many young men continue the cycle of abuse- which goes beyond the physical abuse.

“Long before there is a scar, a black eye, a cuff, they use intimidation,” Dr Douglas said.

She said there are many cases of emotional and economic abuse; the abuser, in his quest for power and control, seeks to manipulate every aspect of his partner’s life to ensure his hold on her.

Cases of domestic
violence before
the Family Court

2000 ………..114