Last year, prompted by a woman in distress seeking to escape an abusive and potentially dangerous domestic situation, I did a blog post entitled: “Domestic Abuse in Jamaica: Where are the safe houses for women seeking refuge?” You see, I was trying to identify where she could get safe harbour immediately. I came up empty. Since then, the government has announced plans to establish 3 national shelters and I’ve received confirmation that the Woman Inc crisis center is up and running. However, another recent encounter with a woman seeking to escape and resolve a violent domestic situation caused me to revisit the issue of resources and advice available to women in similar situations.
What Domestic Violence Looks Like
This woman had ended her relationship with the man. And the man was not happy about this. There had been threats on her life, her physical safety was in real jeopardy and her emotional distress was real and palpable. She was understandably scared and traumatized and was sharing her plight with a group of women of which I am a part. Her terror was made even more real based on the fact that she had reported everything to the police and nothing was done in terms of apprehending and questioning her ex. She felt alone, exposed and very vulnerable. As we offered sympathy and advice and support to our sister, one sister in particular offered what I thought was practical, wise and realistic advice for dealing with a violent (ex) spouse. I sought her permission to share and she graciously consented. She mixed practical steps to navigate the realities of Jamaica’s legal and justice system and attitudes towards domestic violence, as well as advice for keeping the soul intact and whole borne out of her own experience. What follows is one woman’s advice flowing from her personal experiences and is not to be taken as legal advice.
One Woman’s Story
Her name is Dennise Williams. In her own words: “On April 12, 2018, I had had enough. The years of keeping quiet bout domestic violence was not worth my life. Little did I know the justice system could be used to extend the torture of a spouse determined to continue the abuse. Here are the lessons I learned over the last year…” What follows is the advice that Dennise shared with our sister:
Navigating the Justice System and Nurturing your Soul
Take the copy of the police report and go to the nearest court house
Ask the clerk of the court the specific steps to get a restraining order against a man you are not married to. In Jamaica, there is a distinction in the court system for domestic violence between married and non married people.
Take pictures of everything at your house.
Create a spreadsheet of the cost of any and all damage he may have caused. Include spoon, sheet set, fridge, everything. All items must be replaced for smoke damage.
Go to the Resident Magistrate Court in your parish. Ask for customer service. Carry the spreadsheet. Ask for specific instructions on how to file a civil claim for destruction of property.
Also ask for specific instructions on how to file a civil claim for assault charges. It is easier if all financial claims are under $1M, as above that you will be referred to the Supreme Court and require a lawyer.
Go to the Victim Support Unit at the Ministry of Justice office in your parish. Do not leave until your case is heard and a report is filed. Best if you go at 8:30 am when the office is open as the place gets crowded quickly.
Return to the police office every day to find out about the arrest.
Get counseling right now. You are angry and in victim mentality. This frame of mind guarantees that you will get pushed around. Find a counselor that understands court system and can help you to role play so that you are not overly shocked at the foolishness that you will experience. Do not assume that overwhelmed and overworked police and court workers will follow up with your case.
Mentally gear up that you will spend the next 12 months fighting for your rights.
You must visit the criminal court and the civil court to get justice. You must follow up with the police daily to get justice.
You must get counseling and strengthen your spirit to get justice.
Essentially, you have to rescue yourself. And that hurts like hell.
I, Dennise, have been in court 30 times over the last 12 months as my domestic violence case was twinned with child custody case. A very hurtful and draining process. Do not give in to the pressure to quit. The justice comes from you. Not external people.
When you walk through the criminal court, the civil court and the Ministry of Justice, you will discover your own strength. Your journal will document your power.
Don’t allow ANYONE to convince you that what happened should be brushed over. Get the filings in your hand and make copies.
Then follow up again to find out about the arrest. Then follow up again to find out the hearing date. Do you understand? You follow up. You stand up for yourself. Get your justice.
And if there are children, go to the Family Court in your parish and speak to the counselor. That may be another route to a restraining order.
Remember, the thing with domestic violence is that it makes people uncomfortable. And in our society, the burden of proof and the burden of recovery falls on you. You will feel some days that the people in authority don’t care. You will feel so heavy, especially if he denies that he did anything wrong. So please, find someone you can talk to face to face and who will acknowledge your experience.
Another thing is that there is a great deal of shame involved. We know that the man wasn’t moving right from long time, but we had no one to rescue us and so we had to cope best we could until it reached crisis. Now that we are at crisis, people tell us things will get better when our heart is breaking and we are scared of his next move.
I know that you will be better if you take the right steps to document what happens next. However, between now and then, be kind to yourself. Be gentle as you would with a new born. You are being re-birthed into the next stage of your life we all know that labour pains bite.
What happens when the police don’t respond?
We thank Dennise for her honest, generous sharing. Our sister who was in the situation and needing help, was not even able to get the police to file a report. The police did nothing. She needs a police report to get the ball rolling. So she now has the added burden of dealing with INDECOM, the body responsible for undertaking investigations concerning actions by members of the Security Forces and others agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of the rights of persons. Here’s how to contact INDECOM.
Domestic Violence in the Jamaican Context
Dennise’s own experience shows that we as women are largely alone in securing justice and safety where domestic violence is concerned. I’m sure her experience is not unique. The 2016 Women’s Health Survey, a co-publication of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the Inter-American Development Bank, and UN Women, found that one in four Jamaican women had experienced physical violence by a male partner; 7.7 per cent had been sexually abused by their male partners; and lifetime prevalence of intimate physical and/or sexual violence was 27.8 per cent.
Let’s open up this Conversation on how to deal with Domestic Violence…
Do you have any feedback or pointers or clarification to make to anything shared in this post? Please please please feel free to share. I will happily and gratefully make updates as relevant. As Dennise so clearly stated, women in this situation have to essentially stand up for themselves and actively seek their own justice relentlessly. To the extent that as onlookers we can support, assist and guide, let us do so. Lives depend on this.