Where is the domestic violence shelter?

Where is the domestic violence shelter?

Victims, advocates against abuse still do not know

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, November 29, 2020

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“Where is the shelter and how do we access it?”

That was the question of key civil society players who respond daily to the cries of women who are victims of domestic and intimate partner violence.

Policy and advocacy officer at Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), Patrick Lalor, told the Jamaica Observer that the country is lacking in the legislative and policy support that is needed to end the scourge of gender-based violence.

One very vivid example, he said, is the talks of a domestic violence shelter being opened in Jamaica, yet key civil society organisations which work with victims are unaware of the location or how to access the shelter.

“Joy [Eve for Life] will tell you just Tuesday she got a call from [someone at] a Government health facility saying, 'we have a woman right now, dire emergency and we know you do this kind of work, she needs to go in a shelter now. Can you intervene?' Joy did not know where that shelter operated by the ministry [and] as [how] to direct them and we still don't know how to access it,” Lalor told the Sunday Observer, during a round-table interview, following the public forum and research dissemination seminar on HIV and justice held Thursday.

“We still are very aware of just the one shelter run by Woman Inc, an NGO with a capacity of eight, which can really only take in the worst of the worst. So you must be be almost at risk of losing your life for them to give up one of those eight beds. I think that sort of high-level support from the State is where we have not come a far way,” Lalor said.

Lalor acknowledged that he understands the need for details around the shelter to be kept private, but as it pertains to civil society organisations, without the information, the advocacy and interventions are limited.

Further, Lalor said the domestic violence laws are woefully inadequate and stricter penalties for breaches in addition to social intervention are needed.

“We still have a man breaching a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act and he pays a $10,000 fine. That is still the case. If it goes further and is breached a second time, the harshest thing the judge can do is charge the $10,000, plus give him six months, so people still don't realise. I hear Minister Terrelonge saying it's not harsher laws they want, but there will always be those people who the social interventions don't work for them and that is when the harsh laws are needed for people to understand they are going to face serious prison time or pay money that they cannot find if they breach these provisions or engage in domestic violence,” Lalor said.

Moreover, Lalor said his main concern remains the need to know where the shelter is, in order to refer women.

“I hope to actually see the shelter actualised and see proper protocols in place for the operation of the shelter. The shelter is not just a place for all these women to come and sit down and say I don't have to go back there. What programmes are there for them to give women the psychosocial support and what is the re-integration plan? A shelter is not somewhere they will stay for the rest of their lives...We want to see the Domestic Violence Act seriously reviewed and some substantial amendments made,” Lalor said.

Joy Crawford, executive director of Eve for Life, echoed similar sentiments to Lalor with regards to seeing the shelter opened and operational, and civil society organisations fully engaged in order for women who report to such organisations to benefit.

“I don't know who is informing the shelter, I don't know what the community looks like, I don't know who has advised it. But I think it's time for us to recognise that the face of survivors vary and the woman who has experienced violence, who has access to services is having a different experience from those in rural Jamaica and in communities that don't have access, so we want to have services for all, just like we want support for all,” she said.

Crawford also called for civil organisations who are doing the groundwork to be properly recognised by Government, whether through subventions or specific annual grants to keep operations up and running.

“It's time Jamaica has a national pride where we put an end to violence against women and girls, and to ensure we are elevating the safety and protection that is required. It is not something, as a country, we should be proud of,” Crawford stated.

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