by Latoya Burnham
By Friday, the police should have new guidelines and procedures regarding the medical reports required in situations of domestic abuse.
And even as police continue internal investigations leading up to this review, the force today announced that it was also looking at the feasibility of a domestic violence unit — a suggestion that has found favour with the local civic organisations representing women.
Police Public Relations Officer Inspector David Welch told media at a press conference at District “A” Police Station today that while he could not discuss much of the case of Brenda Belle, who was chopped to death last week, Commissioner Darwin Dottin had ordered an internal investigation into the incident.
Additionally, said Welch: “He has also ordered that the procedures dealing with victims of crime, with regard to what we refer to as medical report forms, be reviewed. Within the next few days guidelines for the issuing will be published, and for improvements.
“These guidelines will be issued generally to the force. The aim is to make the process more friendly for the victims of crime and he has asked me to say that these guidelines will be published for the information of the public.
“The review has been ordered and is ongoing as we speak and out of that internal investigation, we expect that within the next three days, at least by Friday, those guidelines will be ready … and be prepared to be issued to the force with regard to the medical report form and the procedures thereafter, what should be done.”
The BPW (Barbados) hailed this development this evening, stating: “We totally agree that there should be an investigation so as to see where the system failed. Not to necessarily go after anyone but to start to put a protocol in place that addresses the medical report procedures and police procedures.”
About whether the force needed a special unit to handle domestic abuse cases, Welch noted that there were suggestions coming out of the committee established for the proposed Domestic Violence and Protections Act: “At this point … we are looking at the feasibility and I believe coming out of this review as well that this type of unit would be on the books to see if it is needed.”
He said thought that the force always tried to work with social agencies in dealing with issues of domestic violence where the cases transcended the purview of the police.
Even as Welch spoke of the force not ruling out a specialised unit, BPW (Barbados) too recalled that recommendations for a similar unit had been mooted first about 15 years ago and repeatedly over time by the Bureau of Gender Affairs and NGOs like theirs.
The NGO told Barbados TODAY it would like a see a unit with resources and training that would be able to approach the matters with compassion and empathy and work collaboratively with civil society organisations like BPW and the National Organisation of Women.
Other recommendations made by BPW (Barbados) included:
i) A doctor other than the police doctor who empathises and can work with traumatised persons…
ii) We would want to see the ‘Evidence Act’ changed so that we can have trained Forensic Nurses gather/collect evidence even in the event that the victim does not press charges at that time.
If the evidence is collected, after the person has counselling they may decide to press charges at a later date, and there is evidence that can be used.
iii) Having a counsellor available to the hospital, to bridge the gap between the medical and therapy.
It added: “There should continue to be a space available to the civil organisations which would be part of the protocol/procedures such that it is known when and how to contact BPW which would be able to access the level of safety needed and so move that person to a safe house or to somewhere necessary for their needs at that time. BPW would continue to provide the services it offers.
“These are some of the suggestion but we would want to relook at how we see the unit operating as times have changed and we would want to do research on what is happening in other countries so that we may be on top of the issues and have a dynamic unit,” said the NGO.
The umbrella body for women’s organisations in the island also added its voice, noting that a domestic violence unit was long overdue.
President of NOW, Marilyn Rice-Bowen told Barbados TODAY that a recent trip to St. Kitts and Nevis brought home again the importance of such a unit, noting that that twin-island state had a sexual assault unit which she and others were able to tour and talk to officials there about its functions.
“What I think they should do and I am speaking out of turn, but the women’s organisations that deal with domestic violence, like BPW, they have the centre, the safe house — in any discussions, BPW should be there. Those sessions that they will have, they can bring the experience of BPW to bear.
“As I said, it is a little late. In St. Kitts and Nevis we were doing work and they had this unit set up last year or the year before, so we were allowed to tour and talk with the officials there. So we understand this and welcome that move. It is a step in the right direction,” said Rice-Bowen.
She said NOW was continuing to monitor the progress of the recommendations of the new domestic violence act, adding: “Once it comes into force it will give the act the necessary teeth that are lacking in the current legislation. It would give us the cover that we need. It has been really sad, what happened to Brenda Belle, and we should not let her death be in vain and move the protection to another level.”
Stating though that she could not recall if a domestic violence unit within the force was one of the recommendations to go forward, she said whether it had been mooted or not, it was necessary.
“If it wasn’t, it was something we always expressed the view that we need it here in this island. Reporting will take on a new face. The important thing is the protection of the victim.” [email protected]