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Domestic violence on the rise

BY TYRONE S REID Sunday Observer staff reporter reidt@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 25, 2007    

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THE rate of domestic violence in Jamaica is on the rise, according to data from the Jamaica Constabulary Statistics Department. Domestic-related murders, in particular, jumped 20 per cent between 2005 and the end of 2006.

In 2004, the police received 4,149 reports of domestic wounding and 4,568 reports of domestic assault - 200 more than the previous year. In 2005, of the 1, 674 murders reported across Jamaica, 49 were domestic-related. By the end of 2006, the police tallied 61 domestic-related murders that were investigated - 12 more than the year before.

Overall, according to the police, between 2001 and 2006, 17 per cent of all murders on the island were committed in the household. For the same period, all domestic offences (including murder, assault and wounding) totalled 49,047 - the highest in a long time. In the majority of the cases, women are the victims.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, John McLean, believes that much of the clandestine violence happening in Jamaican homes can be attributed to the code of silence that seems to surround this phenomenon and a breakdown in family values and relationships.

"Domestic violence affects all levels of society. First of all, no woman or child should have to tolerate abuse from any man and when they fail to report the situation to the authorities, it continues until it gets worse. Hence, nowadays we see that the figures are increasing across the country," McLean told the Sunday Observer.

He said some of the causes include dysfunction in families (which leads to a breakdown in relationships) and lack of proper parenting skills among other issues.

"A lot of persons, women especially, tend to cover up the abuse because of embarrassment and because of financial dependence on the abuser. But if they continue to put up with the problem, it will only get worse. No one should have to sit back and accept abuse," McLean said.

Psychologist and human relationship specialist, Dr Veronica Salter, agrees with McLean, arguing that as a society we seem to have become immune to violence, which has now begun to invade and infest the family space.

"Violence is now everywhere and it seems as if we are being de-sensitised to it. We have experienced so much violence as a people that nowadays violence is being used as a means of punishing people, even in schools. As a people, we tend to react violently to situations, sometimes unnecessarily," Salter told the Sunday Observer.

"We're bringing up children without love and proper social nurturing and many of them grow up to become violent adults. If you do interviews with children from some areas of Jamaica, many of them have witnessed murders or experienced violence in one form or another. There has been a breakdown in our family structures that needs mending," Salter said.

Pastor Al Miller of Whole Life Ministries puts forward similar arguments.

"At the base of domestic violence is the lack of ability to resolve conflicts. Certainly, there has been a breakdown in moral values and attitudes across Jamaica and this is therefore manifesting itself in families leading to domestic violence and other forms of indiscipline," Miller told the Sunday Observer. "At the same time, I do believe that wherever crime and violence abounds in a society, there will be increased cases of domestic violence. Indiscipline and lack of self-control have spilled over into the family setting and as long as crime and violence is rampant in our society, domestic violence will certainly continue to increase."

Attorney Margaret Macaulay advises women to leave abusive relationships, especially when young children are being affected.

"Many households are rife with domestic violence because in many cases women are dependent on their male abusers for financial support," Macaulay said. "Domestic violence destroys families because you lose all sense of balance. It is not good to stay in these relationships. Women need to learn how to protect themselves."

In addition, Macaulay cited the need for anti-domestic violence campaigns to help families break the silence.

"There is definitely a need for these campaigns. We had one in Jamaica some years ago and I believe that there is a need to bring it back because domestic violence is really an endemic problem in Jamaica."

"At the same time, women caught in these situations need to know that the law is there to protect them. The Domestic Violence Act is there to protect them," she added.

Awareness is also an important factor, according to Donna Parchment, chairman of the Disputes Resolution Foundation (DRF).

"Though this is a complex issue, there is need for much more than counselling and mediation. We need to promote knowledge and awareness about such widespread problems in Jamaica," Parchment told the Sunday Observer. "I am not sure about the other offences, but domestic murders are definitely on the increase. The issue is so sensitive that people have to be careful. The challenge for women who face such problems is to speak up and seek help."

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