Retired DCP says Domestic Violence Act 'weak' after women killed

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Retired DCP says Domestic Violence Act 'weak' after women killed

BY KIMONE FRANCIS &
SHARLENE HENDRICKS

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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ON the heels of a second woman being reportedly slain by her partner since the start of the year, retired Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Novelette Grant has declared that the 1996 Domestic Violence Act is “weak”.

Twenty-seven-year-old Nevia Sinclair was stabbed to death, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, at her home in Brinkley, St Elizabeth, around 10:50 pm Sunday, the police have reported.

Sinclair's death came hours after 35-year-old Jamaica Defence Force Corporal Doran McKenzie reportedly murdered his common-law wife, 34-year-old Suianne Easy, in Portmore, St Catherine, before turning the gun on himself.

Days before, 24-year-old Shantel Whyte was allegedly murdered on New Year's Eve by her lover.

“There is no refuge for people who are living in a house with a man who is abusing her, or a man who is living in a house whose life is miserable. Where can you go? That is the dilemma. Everybody saying people should leave, but leave and go where? The current legislation is weak; the current social services not adequate,” a seemingly frustrated Grant said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

The former DCP, who served almost four decades in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and spent significant time tackling domestic violence issues, noted also that there is room for improvement in how court-related matters in domestic violence cases are handled.

According to Grant, the Domestic Violence Act lacks specificity, and, as such, sometimes labours the process.

The retired DCP pointed to legislation in Guyana, for example, where she said the domestic violence law has been amended to ensure that reports are treated as urgent matters.

“There is no delay. Once you go for an order in Guyana it has to be treated as priority — treated with urgency; it is granted and then there is the court appearance. The people in the court over there respond immediately to the changes in laws and policies,” Grant stated.

In the South American country, Grant said, once a protection order has been filed there must be a hearing within seven days.

A protection order is a court order designed to stop violent and harassing behaviour. It prevents a perpetrator: from entering or remaining in the household residence of the applicant; from entering or remaining in any area specified in the order as being an area in which the household residence of the applicant is located; from entering the place of work or education of the applicant; from entering or remaining in any particular place of the applicant or from molesting the applicant.

Unlike Guyana, Jamaica's Domestic Violence Act stipulates that a protection order may be made on an ex parte application if the court is satisfied that a delay due to proceeding on summons would or might result in risk to the personal safety of the applicant or cause undue hardship.

An ex parte ruling is taken in the interests of one side only or of an interested outside party.

A perpetrator who violates a protection order is liable for a fine not exceeding $10,000 or six months' imprisonment, according to Jamaica's law.

“Within seven days after the filing of an application there must be a hearing in the courts [in Guyana]. So you see, they have those kinds of specific details. We don't have those kinds of specific details, so there are lots of things that can be done to enhance our process,” the ex-policewoman noted.

Added to that, Grant lamented the position of the current legislation, which does not require that the police act in instances of a threat.

“The dilemma that victims face is that they will sometimes make the report, but the difficulty of following through is a problem. When it comes to a threat, the law doesn't provide for people to be arrested. The police would have to be convinced that the threat is of such that if we don't remove this person (perpetrator), that the threat-maker is likely to carry out the threat,” said Grant, adding that unless physical violence comes into play the police can only advise victims to seek protection orders.

In the meantime, Grant cautioned that domestic violence should not be dismissed as a private matter.

In a Facebook post following the murder of Easy, the retired DCP said the issue is everyone's business.

“The impact of domestic violence radiates beyond perpetrators and victims. There are multiple impacts, but let's examine monetary costs. Intimate partner violence (excluding other forms of domestic violence) has been estimated to account for 5.2 per cent of global gross domestic product, which is 25 times more than the total cost of conflicts (deaths from wars and terrorism, refuge-related costs, economic damage) which amounted to 0.2 per cent of global gross domestic product. In other words, intimate partner violence has an annual cost, internationally, of US$4.3 trillion,” said Grant in the post.

She said that there are expenditure for anticipatory costs associated with protective and preventative measures; consequences which are associated with physical and emotional harm, lost output, property damage, health and victim services; and response costs associated with police and the criminal justice system.

“So think of our fragile economy and social services trying to cope with intimate partner and family violence. Domestic violence is everybody's business — yours and mine. We need to get involved and start raising male and female awareness about abuse. Let's teach our boys and girls how to have healthy and respectful relationships. Speak up and take a stand to help break the intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse.

“Get involved in a programme to provide help and support to stop this epidemic. It's not enough to sit up and take notice; it's time to stand up and take action. #EnoughisEnough Jamaica,” she said.

In a news release yesterday, the JCF said that the country has had to deal with a number of domestic violence issues that has negatively impacted the crime statistics.

In light of this persistent problem, it said greater emphasis has been placed on training and educating members of the JCF and other stakeholders, through workshops, to recognise and handle domestic violence-related matters in keeping with legislations.

Last September, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the Government is slated to implement the 'Spot Light Initiative' aimed at ending gender-based violence in Jamaica.

Holness was speaking at the United Nations in New York when he made the announcement that the European Union has allocated 8 million euros to Jamaica to support this initiative to deal with the problem of domestic violence.


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