Every day there are victims of domestic violence. Some are beaten without remorse and battered beyond recognition. Some, just don’t make it out alive.
It is a grotesque disease that has touched every shore, including Guyana’s. But the fight still continues to educate every citizen on the heartwrenching effects of Domestic Violence and why it is imperative for all to join in this battle.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) US defines domestic abuse as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, and or other abusive behavior as part of a systemic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another”.
It is a global epidemic, affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or nationality. In short, anyone could become a victim of domestic abuse. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and emotional abuse.
Physical Violence – this is the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm. Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, scratching; pushing; shoving; throwing; grabbing; biting; choking; shaking; aggressive hair pulling; slapping; punching; hitting; burning; use of a weapon; and use of restraints or one’s body, size, or strength against another person. Physical violence also includes coercing other people to commit any of the above acts.
Stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted, attention and contact that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone else (e.g., family member or friend). Some examples include repeated, unwanted phone calls, emails, or texts; leaving cards, letters, flowers, or other items when the victim does not want them; watching or following from a distance; spying; approaching or showing up in places when the victim does not want to see them; sneaking into the victim’s home or car; damaging the victim’s personal property; harming or threatening the victim’s pet; and making threats to physically harm the victim.
Psychological Aggression is the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally, and/or to exert control over another person. Psychological aggression can include expressive aggression (e.g., name-calling, humiliating); coercive control (e.g., limiting access to transportation, money, friends, and family; excessive monitoring of whereabouts); threats of physical or sexual violence; control of reproductive or sexual health (e.g., refusal to use birth control; coerced pregnancy termination); exploitation of victim’s vulnerability (e.g., immigration status, disability); exploitation of perpetrator’s vulnerability; and presenting false information to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory or perception (e.g., mind games).
Sexual violence – is divided into different categories.
Rape or penetration of victim – Forced penetration occurs through the perpetrator’s use of physical force against the victim or threats to physically harm the victim. This includes an action by the perpretator on the victim that is either completed or attempted or involves vaginal, oral or anal insertion by the perpretrator on the victim through the use of alcohol or any other form of drugs .
Non-physically pressured unwanted penetration – This includes incidents in which the victim was pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce to being penetrated.
Unwanted sexual contact – This includes intentional touching of the victim or making the victim touch the perpetrator, either directly or through the clothing, on the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks without the victim’s consent.
Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences – This includes unwanted sexual events that are not of a physical nature that occur without the victim’s consent. Examples include unwanted exposure to sexual situations (e.g., pornography); verbal or behavioral sexual harassment; threats of sexual violence to accomplish some other end; and /or unwanted filming, taking or disseminating photographs of a sexual nature of another person.
Domestic Abuse in Guyana
According to the United States Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007, domestic violence in Guyana is “widespread” . At least one out of every three women in Guyana has reportedly been a victim of domestic violence.
Sources consulted by the Research Directorate indicate that the problem of domestic violence affects women in Guyana of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
Help and Shelter, an organization founded in 1995 that specializes in combating all types of violence, especially domestic violence and child abuse, compiles data on the characteristics of the clients it serves. According to statistics updated on 6 August 2008, Help and Shelter served 324 clients between 1 January 2008 and 30 July 2008.
Country Reports 2007 reports that Help and Shelter handled a total of 739 cases of domestic violence in 2007 (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). Of these cases, 538 involved spousal abuse directed against women.
Statistics released by the government of Guyana on 12 June 2008 indicate that there were over 3,600 cases of domestic violence reported in 2007 as compared to 1,708 the previous year.. The largest increase was recorded in Berbice, where the number of reported cases rose from approximately 300 cases in 2006, to approximately 1,890 cases in 2007 (ibid.; Guyana Chronicle 12 June 2008).
In 2014, the Guyana Police Force reported 3051 cases of domestic violence. In addition, 1684 cases were followed through, while 1500 offenders were warned and 18 cases were referred to the Probation and Social Services Department at the Human Services Ministry. There are presently over 1000 pending matters.
How do we deal with Domestic Abuse in our personal lives?
HELP & SHELTER
Help & Shelter was founded in 1995 to work against all types of violence, especially domestic and sexual violence and child abuse. The following is a real life account of someone who got out of a bad domestic situation and has successfully moved forward with life.
“I came to legal aid to get help with domestic problems I was having with my husband. After going to Help & Shelter they told me about legal aid. Legal aid helped me with getting orders for domestic violence I was experiencing and getting a divorce from my husband.
I found legal aid very welcoming. I had been suffering with some of my problems for years and when I talked to my lawyer, he gave me advice and told me what I could do to deal with my matter. After talking with him I felt safe and such relief. Things would be okay.
We went to court and my husband is now away from me and out of the house. It is much better. I don’t have the stress that I had before. My children used to be scared and upset all the time but they are getting better now. They still get upset sometimes, but I am talking and counseling with them and they are getting there. I am getting there too.
Now that everything is over I can finally spend the time I want focusing on my children. I am looking forward to spending time with them and
seeing them finish school. I suffered in my situation for a long time but legal aid finally helped me get out”.
The numbers to call to access such assistance is 225-4731, 227-8353, or access their website for all the necessary information: http://www.hands.org.gy/
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 1996
The Domestic Violence Act of Guyana was passed in December, 1996 in order to give legal protection to persons who have suffered abuse or are at risk of suffering domestic abuse.
Who is protected under the Act?
Any person who is suffering domestic abuse is automatically eligible to be protected by the Act. Any abused person, adult or child can get protection from:
A spouse, fiance(e) or reputed spouse, or partner with whom they live
Anyone who lives in the household today or has lived in the past, but not tenants or employees unless there were sexual relations with them
Any person with whom the victim has had a sexual relationship
What is classified as abuse under the Act
The words that are used to describe abuse are ill treatment, violation, molestation, seduction and betrayal. It need not be only physical violence.
Abuse can also be “Psychological Abuse” This means any activity which persistently humiliates the victim, dishonors her or him, or lowers their self esteem like :
Not allowing them to handle their own things or property
Watching over them in a way which is threatening
Not allowing the victim to eat or sleep well
Manipulating the children
Causing the victim emotional agony
Harassment has to be proved in order to qualify for protection under the Domestic Violence Act. Harassment is defined in the Act as:
Verbal abuse – “cussing up”, screaming, humiliating
Threatening with physical harm or violence
Breaking things or damaging things which are important to the victim
Making the victim scared or afraid of physical or psychological harm
Threatening the victim
Hiding things belonging to the victim
Watching over the house, work place, school or anywhere the victim goes for daily business
Making unwelcome advances
Using abusive language
IF YOU HAVE DECIDED TO LEAVE
The first step in escaping an abusive situation is realizing that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault.
Make a plan for how you are going to leave, including where you’re going to go, and how to cover your tracks. Make one plan for if you have time to prepare to leave the home. Make another plan for if you have to leave the home in a hurry.
If you can, keep any evidence of the physical abuse and take it with you when you leave. Make sure to keep this evidence in a safe place that the abuser will not find – this may mean that you have to keep it in a locked drawer at work or with a trusted family member. If the abuser finds it, you could be in more danger. Such evidence of physical abuse might include:
Pictures you have of bruises or other injuries. If possible, try to have these pictures dated;
Torn or bloody clothing;
Household objects that the abuser damaged or broke during a violent episode;
Pictures that show your home destroyed or messed up after violence happened;
Any records you have from doctors or the police that document the abuse;
Whenever you are hurt, go to a doctor or to an emergency room as soon as possible if you can. Tell them what happened. Ask them to make a record of your visit and of what happened to you. Be sure to get a copy of the record.
A journal that you may have kept with details about the abuse, which could help prove the abuse in court.
Get a bag together that you can easily grab when you leave. Some things to include in the bag are:
Spare car keys;
Your driver’s license;
A list of your credit/debit cards so that you can track any activity on them.
Phone numbers for friends, relatives, doctors, schools, taxi services, and your local domestic violence organization.
A change of clothing for you and your children.
Any medication that you or your children usually take.
Copies of your children’s birth certificates, school & immunization records.
Copies of legal documents for you and the abuser, such as passports, green cards, medical records, insurance information, birth certificates, marriage license, wills, welfare identification information and copies of any court orders (such as your protection order or custody order).
Copies of financial documents for you and the abuser, such as pay stubs, bank account information, a list of credit cards you hold by yourself or together with the abuser.
Any evidence you’ve been collecting to show that you’ve been abused.
A few things you want to keep, like photographs, jewelry or other personal items.
Hide this bag somewhere the abuser will not find it. Try to keep it at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Avoid using next-door neighbors, close family members, or mutual friends, as the abuser might be more likely to find it there. If you’re in an emergency and need to get out right away, don’t worry about gathering these things. While they’re helpful to have, getting out safely should come first.
Hide an extra set of car keys in a place you can get to easily in case the abuser takes the car keys to prevent you from leaving.
Try to set money aside. If the abuser controls the household money, this might mean that you can only save a few dollars per week; the most important thing is that you save whatever amount you can that will not tip off the abuser and put you in further danger. You can ask trusted friends or family members to hold money for you so that the abuser cannot find it and/or use it.
If you are not employed, try to get job skills by taking classes at a community college or a vocational school if you can. This will help you to get a job either before or after you leave so that you won’t need to be financially dependent on the abuser.
Getting a protective order can be an important part of a safety plan when preparing to leave. Even if you get a protective order, you should still take other safety planning steps to keep yourself and your children safe. A legal protective order is not always enough to keep you safe. Know your Domestic Abuse options and Laws.
Leave when the abuser will least expect it. This will give you more time to get away before the abuser realizes that you are gone.
If you have time to call the police before leaving, you can ask the police to escort you out of the house as you leave. You can also ask them to be “on call” while you’re leaving, in case you need help.
You can get out of an abusive relationship / marriage / situation. Gather your thoughts, and if you have children sit and speak with them about the plan, especially if they are of an appropriate age. It may be your only chance of giving them a future and keeping yourself and them alive.