The Royal Cayman Islands Police reported more than 1,400 domestic abuse cases involving both adults and children during 2017.
That is more than twice the 676 domestic abuse incidents that were referred to the RCIPS Family Support Unit in 2015.
However, the police inspector in charge of overseeing investigations into those matters said last week that the number is likely still being under-reported.
“The classic, if I can use that phrase, domestic reports we get – usually later in the evenings, usually alcohol or drugs involved, and there’s usually a physical element involved – that doesn’t cover other matters that are being reported,” RCIPS Inspector Kevin Ashworth said Friday. “There’s systematic abuse, financial abuse … revenge cyber, revenge porn, it’s called.”
These types of crimes are not often reported as domestic abuse cases immediately, but with the creation of the RCIPS-led Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub or MASH Unit last year, Inspector Ashworth said more such abuse cases are now being identified.
For instance, in a situation where an ex-spouse or jilted lover posts pornographic pictures of their former partner on the internet, the offense of misusing an Information and Communications Technology [ICT] network is really a form of domestic abuse, Mr. Ashworth said.
“But the actual crime is reported as issues with ICT,” he said.
Mr. Ashworth said police and Children and Family Services staff at the combined MASH Unit are now keeping more precise track of all these types of offenses, which is one reason the number of domestic violence cases shot up last year.
“Blackmail can also be a domestic issue,” Inspector Ashworth said. “It’s very hard to put our finger on the range of crimes that happen in domestic violence … the fallback is how many referrals we get.”
According to RCIPS data, 990 cases involving domestic violence incidents were referred to the MASH Unit [or the former Family Support Unit] in 2017. That does not include 491 other matters where juvenile “safeguarding” was required.
That is a total of 1,481 domestic abuse investigation referrals, a 46 percent increase over 2016.
When child safeguarding reports – incidents where certain state protective measures for endangered children are required – are considered, the numbers get even worse. There were 273 such cases reported during 2016, and 491 last year – an 80 percent increase in one year.
However, in the case of domestic abuse or child abuse, more reports to the RCIPS might be considered a good thing – bringing to light a serious problem in Cayman that has previously tended to be hidden from society’s view, according to an RCIPS evaluation of the 2017 data.
“The establishment of the MASH [Unit] … in March 2017 may account for some of the increase in domestic and safeguarding referrals,” a police crime statistics report released Friday read. “The subsequent success of Child Safeguarding Investigation Unit (CSIU) detectives in court on several high profile matters may also have persuaded some victims of violence and abuse, especially historic abuse, to come forward and make a report.
“Detectives are confident that the increase in safeguarding referrals in 2017 does not represent a spike in the incidence of such crimes over this past year, but instead a difference in the reporting behavior of victims.”
For Inspector Ashworth and the MASH Unit, the numbers mean they have a lot more work to do to stem the domestic abuse problem.
“It’s an exponential increase [in the number of cases],” he said. “But, certainly, it’s not getting out of control. Incidents do happen on a daily basis. That means more work, more referrals and we must prioritize to address the more high-risk cases.”
Police will also get some assistance when the long-planned domestic violence court comes on line to help “fast-track” the higher-risk cases – where family members are in immediate danger – through the legal system, and protection needed is afforded more swiftly.
What is MASH?
The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub is a joint police, social services and health services unit that employs 10 police officers and eight social workers, as well as a psychologist.
The agency works with local schools and the government health services to investigate cases where family abuse is suspected.
Handling of Cayman family abuse investigations, particularly those involving child abuse, came under scrutiny in 2016, when a Grand Court judge publicly criticized a police probe of sexual abuse allegations made by an 11-year-old girl after the investigation was “inexplicably” delayed for 18 months.
According to a report done by U.K. law enforcement experts at the request of the former governor, overall mismanagement – rather than specific officers’ failures – led to the possible abandonment of three reported child abuse cases before those matters came before the court.
The review, conducted by three U.K. officers, looked at investigative delays and issues at the RCIPS Family Support Unit between 2013 and 2017.
It was determined that two child sex abuse cases would likely be abandoned, while a third, which also had serious errors, could still go to court.