TRAPPED
The Shadow Pandemic: Genderbased violence on the rise

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The EDITOR, Madam

Daily, we go about our different operations, trying to better ourselves while simultaneously preparing for our future. In the midst of it all, some of us try to abide by the current health protocols and keep abreast of the various issues happening on the latest episodes of ‘Keeping up with Jamaica’ – nowadays referred to as a patty shop and not a real place.

 

We are often distracted by some trivial things, but other times there are some more serious ones, like the Kevin Smith series. However, there are several other crises we are faced with that require urgent national attention; one of which is gender-based violence (GBV).

 

How much do you know?

One in every three women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived on our shores, domestic violence cases have spiked across Jamaica. However, findings from the Jamaica Constabulary Force shows a decline in serious crimes, according to the 2021 report for the period January 1 to October 23, and rape down in 16 of the 19 police divisions. Advocates and experts speculate that the actual number of cases is likely to be higher since many domestic violence victims do not report their abuse, which makes the data inaccurate, and which downplays the growing issue of gender-based violence.

Several reasons account for victim-survivors not reporting abuse:

1. the fear they won’t be believed;

2. they are ashamed and might even blame themselves; 

3. minimizing their experience (denial is a safer place than feeling traumatized);

4. lack of confidence in the justice system;

5. no access to an income, thus great dependence on the male counterpart.

Many Jamaicans face abuse, but more specifically women and children. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica under the technical and financial support of the UN Women and the Inter-American Development Bank survey on gender-based violence in Jamaica shows a high prevalence rate of 27.8 per cent, with more than 1 in every 4 women in Jamaica experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetime. In 2018, 71 per cent of girls under 18 who were victims of crime had been raped. Two out of 10 girls aged 15 to 19 years think it is normal for a husband or partner to hit his wife or significant other and 85 per cent of children experience violent discipline at home.

Executive Director of STAND UP FOR JAMAICA, Carla Gullotta, says with the constraints of the pandemic, victims are forced to be into the proximity with their abusers. In other words, people must spend more time with their abusers, whereas in the past, these individuals may have been able to leave their homes to avoid an angry partner.

In a study entitled Inquiry into Sexual Assault among Young Jamaicans conducted by the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) a few weeks ago, it shows that four in 10 Jamaicans have been sexually assaulted, while complying with official stay-at-home orders issued by the Government of Jamaica, under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).

While this survey was limited to the sample that participated, one cannot ignore the trend that several individuals are being affected by abuse.

Jamaica has been under a curfew for approximately two years, where businesses and households are on lockdown as a non-clinical method to slow the propagation of COVID-19 throughout the population. Hence, there have been fewer opportunities for an escape, which account for extra time at home in abusive relationships that can quickly become a deadly scenario.

One of the hardest lessons that we, as a people, have learnt is that the home is not a safe place for so many women and children who are subject to domestic violence. Research worldwide has shown that gender-based violence is most times carried out by persons who the victim knows, which include friends/family members, family friends.

The findings from the NCU report show that 'strangers' represent a low number as the perpetrators. The study further highlights that 46 per cent of the sexually assaulted persons indicated that they had been threatened following the encounter; 31.6 per cent were physically assaulted, while 52 per cent informed someone of the sexual encounter.

What was alarming is that 95 per cent of the abused persons did not report the matter to the police. This is definitely a

culture we want to discontinue.

Since the establishment of four domestic violence intervention (DVI) centres last March, under the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative aimed at eliminating violence against women and girls, 704 cases have been reported.

This was announced by Police Commissioner Major General Anthony Anderson in October in a virtual launch for six more centres. The frightening statistics highlight the urgent and deliberate need for us to find more creative ways to protect our women and children. There is need for more awareness and sensitisation campaigns, and for all hands to be on deck to clamour for a change.

If we want to tackle Gender-Based Violence, we need to take the time to understand the signs and symptoms of this growing pandemic plagued by a silent culture. One of the biggest problems with addressing this issue is the lack of research and data analysis. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely restricted the efforts of authorities to address the issue with deep investigation, but in an ever-changing world, we are failing terribly. We can fluff about all these initiatives put in place by the different authorities to show some sort of effort to address the issue of Gender Base Violence, but, again, we are failing miserably in addressing the real problem, our men. Gender-Based Violence issues have a natural trend to be labelled as a woman’s issue, which is frankly a big part of the problem. According to American Educator Jackson Katz, who mentors in violence prevention, this problem gives men an excuse not to pay attention to the issue and, instead of the focus being on the abuser, the focus turns to the victim.

The real questions are being asked about the victim, but what about the abuser? What is the role of the various institutions in our society that are helping to produce abusive men at pandemic rates? What is the role of religious belief systems, music, the sports culture, pornography, the family structure, and economics? How does all of this intersect? Are we making the connections and asking these important questions? As soon as we do this assessment, we can then talk about how we can be transformative and how we can change the socialization of our boys to prevent these outcomes.

This is a very deep systematic social problem, and women should demand more from our men in leadership. Silence is a form of consent and gender-based violence is everyone's business. We need to create a culture where abusive behaviour will be seen as unacceptable at all levels. The great Martin Luther King said in his short life that: "In the end, what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." There has been an awful amount of silence in the male culture in Jamaica about violence against women and children, and we need to break the silence; more men need to be vocal on this issue. The responsibility of taking a stand on these issues should not fall solely on the shoulders of our little boys; it should also be on adult men with power/influence, who are prioritizing these issues. It will change the paradigm of people's thinking; it will shed light on the real questions in society and show solidarity of standing with women and not against them, who are labelled as angry feminists suffering from an overload of oestrogen. We owe this type of approach to women, but we also owe it to our sons. We can do it; we can do better.

Jaid T. Royal

Producer, Morning Agenda on Power 106FM

Communications Consultant for Stand Up Jamaica

jaidroyal@gmail.com

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STAND UP FOR JAMAICA

ONE LOVE

Stand up for Jamaica is human rights NGO. It has been established in 2002 and it is operating in Jamaica.
It is regularly registered and audited at the Registrar for NGO’s in Jamaica.
Stand Up For Jamaica is doing advocacy in order to promote legislative and cultural changes providing opportunities for the most fragile and discriminate people in Jamaica such as women, children, prisoners, mentally ill, h.i.v. people and LGBT.

EDUCATION IS A KEY FACTOR

Our main aim it is to create entrepreneurship mentality and activities which can not only allow people to get an employment but also be an instrument to the community where we operate, offering services at a convenient price. Violence can be defeated if real opportunities are created to reduce poverty and to make changes in the culture of gangs and illegal activities as unique way to generate income.

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Get in touch with Stand Up For Jamaica to learn more about our work and how you can get involved.

Write to: standupforjamaica02@gmail.com