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Matthews – One case of domestic violence is one too many

Matthews – One case of domestic violence is one too many

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Although she agrees that domestic violence is an issue here, Barbara Matthews, the Acting Director of Marion House, does not think the situation warrants the mass exodus of persons to Canada as refugees.{{more}}

The issue of domestic violence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines took the international spotlight recently, when the Toronto Star, in a November 12 article, revealed the large number of Vincentians who have been filing for refugee status in Canada over the last 10 years.

The article also indicated that the majority of refugee claims were being made by women who said they were attempting to get away from abusive partners.

Matthews was quoted in that article as saying that she did not think the situation was as bad as those claiming refugee status are making it out to be.

“I really find it hard to accept that 4,500 women [in the last 10 years] would find it so violent down here that they have to run,” the article quoted Matthews as saying.

When interviewed by SEARCHLIGHT last week, Matthews maintained this view, but added that she was not going to be hypocritical and deny that the issue of domestic violence is a problem here.

“But I do not think that the level of violence we have here warrants this mass exodus of people applying for refugee status,” Matthews contended.

She further contended that there are other ways for women to get out of abusive relationships and flee to a safe place and that it can be done within the borders of this country.

This goes against a comment included in the November 12 article, made by lawyer Nicole Sylvester, who said that state protection only exists on paper.

“Women do not feel sufficiently protected,” Sylvester said in the article.

However, Matthews refuted this, saying that in some instances, when women come to Marion House, she has made referrals to the law enforcement authorities here and they have responded and have helped in assisting victims of domestic abuse.

But while statistics detailing the numbers of women who seek assistance from the counseling centre were not available, Matthews said that the numbers often peaked, but would then taper off.

Whatever the figures are, she contended that it was always an “eye-opener”.

Matthews further explained that sometimes victims do not know where to go and there have been instances where she has sought legal and other assistance from the authorities.

She blamed this on poor public awareness and education of where or what victims can do.

Matthews also contended that members of the community could also become involved by identifying safe havens for victims, or just by helping in any way.

The Acting Director said sometimes persons approach Marion House for help, but when they get there, they are too proud to ask for assistance.

“A lot of the times it’s [the assistance given] based on what we are told,” she said, adding that too often persons come in with half the story.

“What are you supposed to do with half the information?”

Regarding extreme cases where someone is being chased by an abusive partner and that person is fearful that he/she may lose his/her life, this is when something needs to be done, Matthews said.

Delaying the process can lead to something worse happening and that is when it is time for the next step, she told SEARCHLIGHT.

This usually includes moving persons out of their existing community and not allowing them to make any contact via phone or not being allowed to disclose the new location.

Matthews said it is difficult to give the true magnitude of the problem; however, she mentioned 1995 as one of the years when domestic violence peaked in this country.

In that particular year, there were 18 reported cases, which at the time Matthews said was something that was “totally unheard of” in the country.

This set off work among various church groups and other organizations to address the issue and there was some success, even with the advent of legislation.

However, Matthews is of the view that what needs to happen now is that we need some teeth to make existing legislation more effective.

Meanwhile, she contended that domestic violence is real and was a “part and parcel” of our society.

“Domestic violence is international by nature and it’s a concern, because it’s morally wrong and it is not a good environment for children to be raised in.”

It is difficult to speak about the issue without addressing the blood, gore, wounds and the bruises, as it is very close to the human side of life, she said.

But for Matthews, the issue is serious, as it takes place in the home where people are supposed to feel protected and safe.

“Generally speaking, if we have one case of domestic violence we have one case too many,” she said.

She addressed the many forms of domestic abuse which included physical, verbal, psychological/emotional and sexual abuse.

“There is the physical – the kicking, boxing, slapping the choking….additionally after the scars would have healed, there are the emotional ones to deal with and victim begins to believe that they are not valued anymore.”

In a similar fashion, there is the sexual abuse where a partner may want to have types of sex with which the female is uncomfortable or the man may have an attitude that the woman has duty to provide him with sex on demand.

“None of the forms of the violence are right, it’s not legal and we can’t find a reason to treat another human being like that,” she explained.

Women need to be treated with respect, Matthews told SEARCHLIGHT.

“A lot of the time we want to cover it up by saying that it’s happening in the home and what happens there is private and that a man’s home is his castle and he has a right to rule,” she said, adding that women have rights and emotions and feelings and men need to be careful how they tread on those feelings.

She made an urgent call for all Vincentians to work together to end domestic violence.

“It’s not a good descriptor of our society; we cannot afford to be repeating the old strong lines all the time,” Matthews said.

There is the need for women to be looked at as competent, well rounded, holistic members of the public, she explained, and said there is the need for persons to begin treating one another with respect.

Matthews added that now that the report is out, the entire country has been “tarred”, as potential visitors would be of the view that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an extremely violent country and that they should not go there because they will get beaten up.

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