Minister Manickchand’s statement came in the wake of a rampage of violence against women, whereby two children were brutally hacked to death and two women were seriously wounded. Saying no form of abuse should be tolerated, she urged women to recognise the danger signals: “If your partner/husband is calling you ‘whore’, ugly, useless…if he slaps you up and stops you from going out…if he has sex with you even when you don’t want to,” then no woman should believe any perpetrator would stop his abusive ways just “because he promised you.”
“Your choice! Stay and be a number, or get (the) hell out. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be alive,” she stated.
On July 31, the Zeelugt community on the East Bank of Essequibo was shocked after a man mercilessly hacked his two children — five-year-old Kimberly Houston and two-year-old Tarif Lord – and severed the right hand of his wife, Bibi Nazaleena Houston.
The following day, a similar attack was perpetrated in Sophia when a man brutally chopped his wife and her two daughters. The females were rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital, where the mother still remains in critical condition.
A few days ago, the father of the two murdered Essequibo children was found hanging from a tree in Zeelugt, after weeks of police searching to apprehend him had proved futile.
On August 3, the onslaught was perpetrated in an East Coast Demerara village when the semi-nude body of a 26-year-old housewife was found in a bedroom with her hands and feet bound and her throat slit. Her husband, who committed suicide that same day, had presumably carried out the attack on the woman after a heated argument.
Coordinator of the Help and Shelter organisation, Margaret Kertzious, in an interview with the Chronicle, said anger is the leading cause of violence against women. She explained that perpetrators are unable to restrain their anger, which in most cases is fuelled by infidelity and alcohol abuse, and they would lash out at the person presumably causing the negative emotions within them.
“We definitely have to take some action to curb this disease in our country. It’s sad that little children had to be caught up in the scenario,” Kertzious said; but she asserted that once a family is involved, children would inevitably be victims.
“I blame the family; I blame the police officers, the community, because they knew about the abuse. They heard the screams. They knew what was going on, and if they had acted, then this would not have happened. Enough wasn’t done to prevent the killings of those children,” Kertzious said.
She said a child should be able to feel like a child, and therefore it is critical that children should be protected.
“What they witness they learn, and what they learn they practise. Domestic violence is learnt behaviour,” she said. She added that, in most cases of domestic abuse, children are either subjected to the cruelty, or are witnesses of the abuse. “It’s horrific!” she said.
Ms Kertzious suggested that the Domestic Violence Act should be amended to provide for more severe penalties for perpetrators; and she said a clause should be included that makes it possible for the police to still proceed with charges against a perpetrator of domestic violence, even if the victim decides to drop charges against her attacker, provided ample evidence is available.
Ms Kertzious deemed it crucial that these measures be considered, given the current reports of domestic violence in the media. “The reports on killings have shown that domestic violence has increased…Look what has happened within a week. We depend on the media for the reports, but what about those cases that never make the news? We don’t know what is happening in the interior.”
When this newspaper asked why most of the reported cases of domestic violence occurred in rural areas, Kertzious asserted that the people are not educated on domestic violence, and in some instances have become desensitised to the severity of abuse. She posited that there should be public forums held in these areas, but not in the form of a “workshop”, because men “don’t ever turn up to workshops.”
She said that Help and Shelter struggles to gain the attention of men. “We have difficulty bringing them to our forums,” she stated, adding that it is men who should be targeted because, generally, men are found to be the perpetrators of domestic violence.
“The men need to start talking. That’s another way that we can fix this issue. The men need to talk to the men.”
She said men do not like to talk about issues, and therefore everything is suppressed on the inside. “And when the pressure rises, they explode. There needs to be a safe place for them to talk to somebody, and take responsibility for their actions,” she said.
Asked whether she thought Help and Shelter was having significant impact to end the scourge of domestic violence in rural communities, Kertzious declared that the institution is also to be blamed for the recent killings. She said lack of funding has limited the shelter’s reach to Regions 4 and 3. “We can’t afford to work towards the demand placed on us, because we don’t have enough money to lobby, to advocate. We receive hotline calls from all regions, but our public education programme isn’t funded at a national level.
“We need money to do these things…to pay for ads and such,” she said, adding that awareness would change the situation and create a safer environment for women and children.
Saying that every time an advertisement is sent out to the public, Help and Shelter’s client list is increased by 100 percent, Kertzious argued that law enforcement needs to step up and protect the people, especially women and children.
She ventilated her disgust at knowing that women would receive little or no assistance from the police. “The law enforcement are the main actors for the implementation of the law. When the victim goes to the police, they should be counselled, they should be protected,” she declared, adding that police officers need to be police and not ‘counsellors.’
“That is not their job. They should implement the Domestic Violence Act instead of counselling. You get nowhere with the police sometimes. Sometimes the police wouldn’t pay mind to the situation if the woman is going to the station on a regular basis for the same man; worse yet if the woman dropped charges against the man in court,” she related.
She said that on most occasions when a woman would ask the police to go with her to retrieve her clothing from the perpetrator, the police would lament that they either didn’t have a vehicle, or were short staffed. She added that the police needs to support the woman, once a report is made.
The Chronicle newspaper decided to ask the ‘people on the street’ what they thought about domestic violence and the recent killings, and was told that educating the public was the prime factor for eliminating the abuse.
“A lot of talk and no action. Instead of keep talking, they should get up and act,” Seon Roach told this newspaper recently. He said it was sad to know that the value of a woman in society is being degraded, and it was even more painful that children are dragged into the midst of domestic violence.
“Men need to value themselves, and see the importance of a woman in society and in the home. It is the value of society that is distributed in the home. It is the stress of life. There is no genuine love in these relationships. And it all starts with a bad word…talking down and then it escalates. We need to change that. You don’t value something that you don’t respect…men need to respect, and the same for the women.”
Another man stated that the only way to end the scourge is to educate and counsel people. “I think men should walk away when the relationship starts to get crazy. I’m totally against children being dragged into it though. They should be protected. And once the woman realises that she get hit once, then she should make sure that it wouldn’t happen again,” Raul [the only name given] said, adding that a woman should be fined for wasting the court’s time if she drops charges against a man who has abused her.
“It’s sad that men would use the strongest thing [their fist] when a woman uses the strongest thing in her…her mouth.”
One woman told this newspaper that she believed women were scared to speak out, and when they do, they are criticised for destroying a family. “They fear that they will be criticised by society, and end up staying with the man. Most women do not have anyone to shield them.”
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“Your choice! Stay and be a number, or get (the) hell out. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be alive.” – Minister Priya Manickchand