EVERYDAY LAW: Act protects against violence
During the first half of last year, I addressed three seminars for men at the invitation of the Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA).
At each session I emphasised the problems posed by domestic violence, which is predominantly gender-based violence against women.
I was particularly concerned that escalation of domestic violence could derail legitimate attempts by men to deal with some of the serious issues faced by them in the domestic context – for example, difficulty in having access to children.
Since then there have been a number of extreme acts of violence, resulting in the untimely death of a number of women.
Caribbean societies are among the most violent in their abuse of women and children. Barbados is no different in this regard.
Commencing in 1991 with the passage of the Domestic Violence Act in Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean countries have one by one enacted some form of such legislation. Barbados’ Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act came into force on February 13, 1992.
Although it has proved very useful over time in providing assistance mainly to women who have been threatened with or been the victims of violence, it is clearly in need of amendment. I am aware that this matter is receiving the attention of the Attorney General’s Chambers and I hope that the promised changes will be enacted sooner rather than later.
Over the next few weeks, I propose to discuss the subject of domestic violence, commencing with an outline of the current law.
The Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act sets out to provide safety and protection in a speedy manner to people in domestic relationships who are the victims of domestic violence. It provides protection to those experiencing domestic violence by permitting the Magistrates’ Court to make a protection order.
This usually includes conditions that restrain, restrict and prohibit the behaviour of the person committing the violence or abuse (the respondent).
Domestic violence may be defined as any abusive behaviour used by one person to dominate another within a domestic relationship. The behaviour may be directed at spouses (people who are married or living together as a couple), former spouses, children or other members of the household.
The act specifically identifies two types of prohibited conduct. First, where a person has engaged in or threatened to engage in conduct that is capable of constituting a criminal offence against any of the people mentioned above. Some of the kinds of behaviour that would be covered under this head are: deliberate injury to the other person such as punching, slapping, choking, stabbing or otherwise beating that person; deliberate damage to the other person’s property such as breaking, burning or otherwise destroying their possessions; indecent behaviour to the other person without consent, such as forcing them to engage in sexual intercourse.
A threat to commit any of the acts mentioned above will also amount to conduct for which a protection order may be sought.
The act also prohibits “harassment”, which is defined as including: (a) the intimidation of a person by:
(i) persistent verbal abuse;
(ii) threats of physical violence;
(iii) the malicious damage of the property of a person, or
(iv) any other means;
(b) the persistent following of a person from place to place;
(c) the hiding of any clothes or other property owned by or used by a person or the depriving of a person of the use thereof or the hindering of a person in the use thereof; or
(d) the watching or besetting of the house or other place where a person resides, works, carries on business or happens to be, or the approach to the house or other place.
The act seeks to protect spouses or former spouses and is used in a wide sense to cover people who are living together in a household as husband and wife.
Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel.
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