Tackle domestic violence realistically

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Annan Boodram - The Caribbean Voice (www.caribvoice.org), a US and Guyana registered volunteer-driven, not for profit NGO focused on suicide and all forms of abuse prevention in Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and St Vincent & the Grenadines (in partnership with sister NGO ‘Say Enough is Enough Support Group) and the Caribbean Diaspora in North America.

By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice (TCV)

The coronavirus has led to a surge in domestic violence, leaving victims and their children struggling to find access to food, safe housing, and transportation, according to a new study by Rutgers University.

The study showed that some victims were met with various challenges and barriers – including a lack of food, shelter, transportation, childcare, and employment opportunities – that pressured them to live in communities near their abusive partners. Others were forced to move back in with their abusers after finding themselves having to choose between being abused or being homeless.

While this study focused on the US, the findings are applicable globally and, in many cases, such as Guyana; the situation is far worse, as The Caribbean Voice has found out. And given that many experts and stakeholders have repeatedly stated the mental health pandemic resulting from the coronavirus could see a dire situation with respect to domestic violence, The Caribbean Voice is somewhat puzzled to read a DPI news article in Guyana which stated that a certain NGO is collaborating with one the ministries to make available low-cost housing for domestic violence victims.

To date, Guyana has been able to afford one safe house or shelter for DV victims but now they are going to build homes for the thousands who are victimized annually. And how will these victims pay for the homes, given that our experience on the ground reveals that the vast majority cannot earn that kind of money even if they work two or more jobs?

The article mentioned a care plan:

  • Is that care plan premised on a multi-agency stakeholder approach?
  • Are the police, regional administrations, NGOs, CSOs involved?
  • Are there any plans to bring back and expand the gatekeepers’ program to embrace communities across Guyana?
  • Is this plan comprehensive enough to address the many needs of domestic violence victims and their children?
  • Is a safety first and always mechanism built into the plan?
  • In effect, shouldn’t realism be the basis for making such plans, which should also be systematic and concerted?
  • How about ensuring that each of the ten regions first have safe houses and shelters along with an ambulance each and rapid response to move victims and their children to safety as quickly as possible?

This way, assistance can be given to all victims since it is impossible for more than a handful if that many, houses to be built in any single year and also because as fabulous an idea that low-cost housing seems, it does not make the victims any safer.

Thus, while safe houses would ensure safety and shelters would provide accommodation, steps can then be taken to create safety especially through:

  • Orders of protection which must have teeth to protect victims;
  • Sensitizing of all police officers and building of DV units in every region;
  • Launching a program to develop safety planning awareness;
  • Establishing gatekeepers in every community to help victims implement their safety plans before its too late;
  • Counseling (by clinically trained and experienced counselors, not quacks or individuals given some quick courses over a few days, weeks, or months) available for victims and their children;
  • Support services to ensure that they can meet their (and family) needs for food and clothing;
  • Training/retraining to provide them marketable skills and a mechanism to ensure job placements;
  • Viable steps to address toxic masculinity and the factors that give rise to abuse;
  • A campaign to address dysfunctional relationships.

During this pandemic, domestic violence victims have been falling through the cracks and the little that TCV and other stakeholders have been able to do has been but a drop in the ocean. Is it not time, therefore, that ad hoc, piecemeal ‘plans’ give way to wholistic, viable and national efforts to address domestic violence across the nation?

Stakeholders and all platforms must embrace and harness: faith-based to mass-based institutions, from the private sector to international stakeholders, from social to traditional media, from culture to sports.

Minister for human services and social security is a caring, compassionate humanitarian and social empowerment activist and advocate and we believe that she does realize that a realistic, approach is the way to go.

Perhaps a mechanism such as the Friendship Bench, pioneered by Zimbabwe, which provides communities with talk therapists, is a good starting point and one that can help beyond domestic violence. This training can run concurrently with the relaunch of the gatekeepers’ program to maximize resource use. But even for these first steps the establishment of a database of stakeholders – NGOs, CSO, FBOs and civic entities – is an imperative to be able to reach into and connect with all communities across the nation.

A little something here and there has not proven to have any effect whatever nor has the limited, individual efforts of a few entities done much to stem the tide especially when most of the funding provided goes towards overheads such as salaries, various utility bills, rentals, transportation and the like.

Most importantly, scarce resources should not be used on photo ops and pageantry, as have been the case in the past. Finally, may we suggest piggybacking as a viable, cost-effective instrument to get the most done for the least resource implementation.

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