By Kaelanne Jordan
In January of this year three women were murdered. Jezelle Phillip (January 6) Gabriella Du Barry (January 9) and Naiee Singh (January 27) were each murdered by an ex-lover. In 2018, statistics from the Trinidad & Tobago Police Station’s Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (CAPA) indicated an average of 25 women are murdered every year in domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV). A 2018 study, ‘National Women’s Health Survey for Trinidad and Tobago: Final Report’ found that one in three women said they experience intimate partner violence.
‘Domestic Violence’ is defined as the emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated against a person by someone with whom he/she shares or has shared an intimate relationship. However, the Domestic Violence Act of Trinidad & Tobago (1999) broadened the scope of the definition to include members of the household and the aspect of financial abuse. Section 3 states: “domestic violence” includes physical, sexual, emotional or psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, any other person who is a member of the household or dependant.
Despite increased efforts in advocacy and service provision, Trinidad and Tobago continues to witness the most excessive use of violence against women, according to a Domestic Violence report from the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs).
The report () states: “Domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago is too prevalent, and too acute a problem”.
Data from CAPA revealed there were approximately 11,441 reports relating to domestic violence incidents between 2010 and 2015. Approximately 75 per cent of these reports were related to female individuals. During the same period, there were 131 domestic violence related deaths of which 56 per cent were female.
A Catholic response to domestic violence
During the Ask the Archbishop live chat Wednesday, January 29, Archbishop Jason Gordon said that violence against a spouse is something at which the Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) could never stand by idly and look.
“No-one is called to stay in a relationship where there is violence and where there is domestic violence…..domestic violence is not for the good of the spouse and therefore it is one thing that can annul a marriage,” he said.
The Archbishop said that the AEC Bishops had addressed the scourge of domestic violence in a pastoral letter ‘Domestic Violence: A Call to Act’ in 2015.
In it, the Bishops of the Antilles say they join their voices with all people of good will calling for an end to domestic violence in the region. “We stand in solidarity with you and want you to know that you are beloved children of God and must be free to live your God-given dignity,” the letter said.
Every human person has been endowed by the Creator God with a dignity that is simply a gift. Anything, the letter said, that attempts to devalue or destroy our human dignity is a violation of the gift we received through creation and redemption.
The AEC bishops say that domestic violence is a sin, a crime, and a serious social problem. “Violence goes against God’s law and against the teaching of the Catholic Church. It is not a private family matter.”
Ultimately, domestic violence is violence against the entire family, they say.
Leela Ramdeen, Chair, Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSSJ) in a May 2013 article shared on some of the intervention strategies that are being employed in our country to address domestic violence. She gave examples of developing programmes—nationally and at parish level to empower women/men/boys/girls and to address the root causes of domestic violence. “CCSJ encourages parishes to promote ‘Adopt a Family’ programmes as a way of reaching out to those in need. Victims need e.g. tips for protection, how to leave safely. Parishes should run sessions for parishioners to study documents such as the ‘US Bishops’ When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.’
Ramdeen also stated clergy must speak out against Domestic Violence and provide healing ministries/outreach programmes in their parishes to address this “social ill”.
The CCSJ Chair also spoke of the need to provide services, particularly in at-risk areas where there is a high prevalence of domestic violence. Additionally, she saw the need to expand the curriculum/ programme of Catholic schools, First Communion and Confirmation classes and tertiary level educational institutions to address bullying, domestic violence and violence in schools, values and virtues.
“Many of our children who come from homes in which domestic violence is rampant, suffer in silence and need support,” Ramdeen said.
The Family Life Unit (FLU), an outreach of the AFLC, promotes marriage and family life programmes that help families function effectively throughout the parish, community and vicariate and organises programmes for families in need through research.
A November 16, 2017 Catholic News article ‘Building a Culture of the Family in our parishes: The formation challenge’ by AFLC’s Spiritual Director Fr Matthew Ragbir said that AFLC has begun formation initiatives to help all those involved in the pastoral care of the family and therefore to help lay the foundations for a pastoral conversion in our own Archdiocese.
The article said that over the last few months, the AFLC have facilitated conversations around family life units and marriage preparation. A weekend retreat “Marriage, Me or We’ was hosted at the seminary in 2017. It brought together 23 married couples representing nine parishes, including representatives from Retrouvaille, Teams of Our Lady, Catholic Engaged Encounter, and BOMA. The weekend presented a thorough introduction to the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.
Over the next months the AFLC continued to offer opportunities for formation of persons involved in the pastoral care of the family.
To produce longer-lasting Catholic marriage, the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission—as mandated by Archbishop Jason Gordon—began training married couples to better prepare engaged couples for the issues and challenges they will face in married life.
The Joy Filled Marriage (JFM) Preparation Programme was introduced to the Archdiocese through the Evenings for the Engaged programme. The couples being trained come from parishes and Catholic family life ministries; some are involved in the Evenings for the Engaged. The other marriage prep programme is the Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend.
To know more about the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission, call 299 1047/ 672 4280. You can also visit them on Facebook: Archdiocesan Family Life Commission, Wesbite: aflcrc.org or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org