By Renee Smith
With an alarming increase in domestic violence cases in T&T under the COVID-19 “stay-at-home” order, the local Church’s Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC) sought to address the issue via a virtual panel discussion ‘Dealing with violent relationships’ on Saturday, May 9
Domestic violence (DV) includes verbal, emotional, physical, sexual assault explained one of the panellists Dr Karen Moore, psychologist.
She shared domestic violence is about control: “It is always about control, and no matter how much control the abuser has, it will never be enough.”
Other members of the panel were Vicar General, Fr Martin Sirju, attorney-at-law Marina Toolsie, Samantha Griffith of the Gender-Based Violence Unit – Trinidad & Tobago Police service, and two domestic violence survivors.
The audience of over 50 persons was predominantly female and this forum focused on the male as the abuser. Neil Parsanlal was the moderator.
In her contribution Dr Moore said, “Domestic violence puts someone in a prolonged state of being helpless or feeling helpless because unrelenting control that is exerted over you to make you feel helpless.” She noted however there were often patterns where there is not always abuse, controlling behaviour, violence, “and that makes DV unpredictable”.
In a press conference on April 6, Commissioner Gary Griffith said the number of cases of assault by beating reported for the last three months has already doubled the number of cases reported last year. Overall, in 2019 there were 232, while this year 558. In February 2019, there were 39 reports, but this year there have been 73. In March 2019, there were 42 reported cases; this year, 96.
In response to this, Samantha Griffith of the Gender-Based Violence unit shared that the TTPS has been trying to adopt best practice approaches to domestic violence from foreign countries, increased police vigilance and increased case management.
Identifying a victim of domestic violence
“This is a concern that there may be many ways and we have to accept that there are some women that we will never identify as someone who was suffering in domestic violence because they’ve learned to compensate for it very well,” commented Dr Moore. Often times she said it is because a part of them is very determined that they are going to let it continue.
“For some women, you may actually see someone that may give evidence of being controlled; that they are not free to engage in many activities. For example, they may always have to reach home by a certain time or may have an excuse for not being able to go somewhere or to accompany their work colleagues anywhere. These may be some some non-physical signs. However, there are others such as inaccessibility of funds.”
Unfortunately, there are cases where you may not see any of those signs at all. Dr Moore added a woman may still be go home every day and get into a situation of extreme control. “This is another form of domestic violence such as making threats against the woman’s family, making threats against her and destroying her property, hiding her stuff, as well as doing things to convince her that she is crazy—emotional abuse.”
How does the Church respond to all of this?
The Catholic Church acknowledges domestic violence as a sin and like all other forms of violence it is an offence against God and humanity. These were some of the sentiments of Vicar General, Fr Martin Sirju as he contributed to the DV forum.
Fr Sirju highlighted that the Catholic Church and many other religions have been dealing with texts that are written by men and for men and because of that “the rights and dignity of women” are coming “late to the discussion”.
He said with the emergence of the Vatican II, it became important to talk about the “signs of the times”, and what was happening in the world regarding women was very important.
“What was noted was the discourse of how women have been treated… which has continued to the present though not perfectly.” However, within the last decade as serving as a priest he was happy to see more men coming forward to admit their problems and try to save their marriages.
Fr Martin also shared on the document written by the Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference of Domestic Violence—A Call to Act. He reminded attendees the bishops of the Caribbean region are standing firm in “calling an end to domestic violence in the region” as domestic violence violates the fundamental command of Jesus to all persons i.e. “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 34).
The document states all dioceses should work on the following:
Anyone with information on an incident involving gender-based violence can contact the police on 555, 999 or 800-TIPS, or make a report at their local police station.