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SEEN UP NORTH: Abuse ‘a health issue’


Tony Best

SEEN UP NORTH: Abuse ‘a health issue’

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“Violence and abuse against women continued to be significant social problems.”
THE UNITED STATES STATE Department was telling the members of the Congress in Washington about human rights conditions in Barbados and it cited figures to back up its contention.
During the first ten months of 2013, 74 criminal charges for sex-related offences were brought by the authorities, compared with 99 in all of 2012; 18 cases of having sex with a minor were lodged against adults, up from three the year before; and 31 cases of indecent assault, compared with 38 recorded in 2012.
There were two “highly publicised murders,” one a Bajan man allegedly stabbing his Guyanese girlfriend to death, and the other involved the alleged killing of woman in a fish market by her lover.
When the Rev. Laurel Scott, a Bajan pastor of the United Methodist Church in Port Washington on Long Island, heard about the State Department’s assessment of Barbados , the tragedy of the numbers and the picture they painted it triggered a response of profound sadness and a call for something to be done at home about it.
“Domestic violence requires a change of heart and a change of mind. Child abuse and sexual abuse require education. To understand what’s happening in Barbados you would have to look at Barbados of yesteryear. In the past it was acceptable for males to abuse women because females were seen as possessions, property. Some men still hold onto that archaic and tragic mindset feeling they can do whatever they wish with their possessions.
“The fact is women are not anyone’s possession or property. That’s why it is important for society to continue to stress equality in relationships,” asserted Scott, a former journalist in Barbados before coming to New York more than 30 years ago, settling first in Brooklyn. In a few months she will be awarded a doctorate in theology by Boston University’s School of  Theology. That degree will be in addition to her Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in liturgical studies that was awarded by the same school in Massachusetts’ best known city.
“The abuse of women and children must be seen as a health issue as well. Women are killed, disfigured, physically abused or suffer psychological damage that can remain with them for the rest of their lives and affect future relationships,” added Scott, who before switching to Long Island headed Methodist parish churches in Boston and in Connecticut. “The issue of abuse of women in the home and in relationships is not new. It dates back to biblical times when women were treated like property.”
Indeed, biblical scholars cite Deuteronomy in the Old Testament to support Scott’s statement that abuse against women was permitted.
“Deuteronomy in the Old Testament has some of the most disturbing acts of violence” against women, wrote a theologian in a widely circulated article entitled The Roots Of Domestic Violence.
“After reading the Old Testament, I was shocked by the language and society sentiment depicted in this book during that time.”
The Methodist religious minister, who joined the clergy almost a dozen years ago, can provide chapter and verse about domestic violence in New York City where she served in the 1980s as programme director of the Borough Crisis Centres in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens.
“Back then we had to counsel women who were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other offences against women,” she recalled. “We also had to work with families whose children were victims of physical and sexual abuse. We also worked with families whose relatives had been killed, murdered in the city. That experience showed what happened on a daily basis in homes in one of the world’s most sophisticated and affluent cities.”
But New York City and Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours were not alone. Domestic violence is a scourge in countries around the world where women are routinely abused and in some cases murdered.
What then must be done about it? Scott, who also holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and a Master’s in public administration from New York University, believes the church, schools and societal organisations can do something about it.
“The church can use the pulpit and The Bible to focus attention on it,” she said. “The school system can develop a curriculum and can have anti-domestic violence classes as well as programmes that address the abuse of children and the elderly. Agencies and government institutions must also see it as a priority that needs to be addressed to curb the abuse.”
Scott, an advocate for the poor,  said working with “the disenfranchised, the voiceless, and those at the margins of society” was something of a passion for her and her ministry.

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