Domestic violence reports rise

 Police have seen a hike in reports of domestic violence so far this year with 180 cases reported up to 22 November, compared to 113 during the same period last year.

It had seemed that the number of violent assaults in homes had been on the decrease – last year the number of reports halved compared to 2007’s figures, but Police Commissioner David Baines confirmed that this year, the numbers were again on the rise.

In an interview with the Observer on Sunday recently,  Baines described police’s “zero tolerance” to domestic assaults, saying officers arrested perpetrators of domestic violence whenever there was evidence to allow them to do so.

“We get called in the heat of the argument, and due to the ties of a relationship, children, breadwinner, etc., by the following day, the issues are tolerated and complaints are withdrawn… Very often complaints made are not followed through and rarely go to court,”  Baines said.

“There has been a change. Our change has been that when we attend and there is evidence of violence or a crime, from the outset, we always arrest, we don’t wait for a firm statement. That allows time for emotions to subside and it enables us to speak to the vulnerable parties separately.

“It also sends a clear message to the perpetrator that in any and all occasions where people use violence on supposed loved ones or within relationships, we will not tolerate it and we will intervene as soon as possible,” he said.

Baines said domestic violence needed to be addressed and tackled to ensure that the next generation did not accept violence as the norm.

“The majority of offenders who perpetrate domestic violence or those who suffer it often come from homes where violence has been a common feature and it has become acceptable,” the commissioner said.

Baines said if there is no evidence of actual bodily harm or assault, police will sometimes arrest an individual for a lesser offence, such as public disorder or threatening behaviour, then remove the individual from the scene.

“You can give them advice and take them somewhere safe, but you cannot tell people who to love,” he said, acknowledging that some spouses and partners remain in abusive relationships  sometimes putting up with the violence for years before reaching out for help.

Reporting system
In the UK, police have a reporting system that enables them to identify repeat offenders and problem homes. These are monitored during events, such as major football matches, where people drink and get violent following a game and may take out their aggression over a team losing a game on their spouses, partners or children.

Baines admitted that Cayman had a “long way to go” before such a system was in place here. The current reporting system does not take into account repeat offences. If police are called five times to the same home, that is counted as five reports.

“We need to be alive to who is vulnerable and identify those who may be subject to domestic violence,” he said.

He added: “Once we have stabilised what we need to do with crime, these are the issues we need to take forward to give that level of support for some of the most vulnerable victims we have.

“If we don’t get it right and invest in that level of support, we will have another generation of perpetrators of continued violence within the home and people who think it is normal and this is how to treat each other within a loving relationship.”

The release of the latest domestic violence figures came during the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Each year, a series of activities are held throughout Cayman to highlight violence.

Victims of violence paint T-shirts with slogans that reflect their feelings towards violent attacks. Those T-shirts were hung outside the George Town Post Office last week.

Other events included a candlelight vigil at Heroes Square.

Reaching children
The events are organised by the Business and Professional Women’s Club. Its president, Velma Powery-Hewitt, said this year the organisation was taking its message of anti-violence into the schools to convince young people that violence is unacceptable.

“Because of the amount of violence we’ve seen since October last year, we are incorporating the assemblies at the schools into our programme for this year,” she said.

Police and officials have been turning their attention to teen violence, gangs and the impact of violence on children in Cayman. Just last month, a day after a Year 12 female student was stabbed by another girl in her year, Baines met with Governor Stuart Jack, Acting Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and other members of the public and private sector to discuss how the Islands can address this issue.

Mr. Baines said it was vital that the causes behind bad behaviour by children were unearthed.

“If you punish those who act inappropriately and do nothing to encourage them to act differently, we are not going to stop it. We need a basic strengthening in this area, not just enforcement, but recognising there are gaps and the public and private sector need to work together to fill in the gaps to give youngsters a chance and give them a better future,” he said.

The conviction rate of perpetrators of domestic violence is not readily available in Cayman. Those who do go to court can be ordered to undertake mandatory counselling. For 32 weeks, they take part in anger management and group therapy sessions run by the Department of Community Rehabilitation, formerly the probation department.

During the courses, it contacts family members to determine if the men in the group have repeated any violent behaviour.

New law
Currently a new law, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill, 2009, is in process of being drawn up. The bill underwent public consultation until 30 November when members of the public could comment on the new provisions.

If approved in the Legislative Assembly, the bill would update and repeal the 17-year-old Summary Jurisdiction (Domestic Violence) Law.

Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who is also minister for gender affairs, said: “This is a very important piece of legislation, as it gives social services officers, law enforcement and prosecutors better tools with which to advocate for those affected by domestic violence.”

 Under this new bill, there are clearer definitions of what constitutes domestic violence. It outlines who is protected, who is considered a child under the law, the types of court orders available and who can initiate proceedings.

The new bill defines domestic violence as “emotional or psychological, financial, physical or sexual abuse”.

According to  O’Connor-Connolly, “The expanded definition of what constitutes domestic violence is a major step forward, as it gives broader coverage to victims; we know from experience that domestic violence goes beyond physical abuse.”

The new version of the bill was drafted using recommendations put forward by a special advisory committee to Cabinet in December 2008. That committee was set up following the death of Estella Scott-Roberts, who had been instrumental in setting up the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, a refuge for battered women and children.