A strong word of warning has been issued to Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that the recently approved Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act may actually do more harm than good.
It came during a very robust meeting of the Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA) last night at St Michael’s School.
Contending that men were also victims of domestic violence, MESA member Henderson Clarke told the large gathering that the judicial system in Barbados had not only failed men, but was “a recipe for murders”.
“When you going to come and remove a man from his home, lock him up. Then when he go back home the woman repeating the same thing . . . it is frustrating,” Clarke told the meeting.
Relating a personal incident, he said he was not only put out of his own home by police, but harassed and made to spend time in prison for something for which he contended he was “falsely accused”.
“I went in front of the magistrate. From the time I went in front of him, I didn’t have a chance to state my case, he told me, ‘Sir, I’m going to remand you’. I asked him,‘For what?’ [and] they told me not to talk,” he recalled.
However, given that his complaints were about an ongoing legal issue, Brathwaite invited him for a one-on-one talk “off camera” following the meeting.
In response, MESA Chairman Grantley Osborne told the Attorney General, “a lot of men want to talk to you off camera who had a lot of unfair things done to them”.
Based on what he had been told by other men, Osborne also warned that the new domestic violance legislation “is going to cause more violence”, while advising the Government’s chief legal advisor: “Don’t bury your head as an ostrich in the sand.”
Under the amended statute, which was approved by Parliament earlier this month, a junior police officer may issue an emergency protection order if he or she has reason to believe that such an order is necessary to ensure the safety of a person at risk. Low-ranking officers may also issue emergency protection orders without the consent of the persons at risk.
Among the other powers handed to the Royal Barbados Police Force is the authority to enter any premises without a warrant if an officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that an emergency protection order, an interim protection order or a final protection order is being breached. Officers have also been given the power to enter premises –– upon the invitation of a person resident there or independently –– if there is reasonable grounds to suspect that a person on the premises has suffered, or is in imminent danger of suffering, physical injury at the hands of some other person.
However, participating in last night’s meeting, MESA member Keith Weekes said, “It seems to me that there is a gender problem when it comes to the men who seem to be targeted”.
Chairman of the session Sean Peters read a text message from another member of the men’s support group, who pointed out that even though one section of the Act speaks to the need for couples to undergo therapy, another section only mandated therapy for men, which he felt was discriminatory.
“Once it is a male perpetrator, the court orders him to go. The other person don’t get ordered,” Peters said.
During the meeting, President of the Winston Scott Men’s Health Group Wayne Greaves also questioned the need for police to order a man to leave his home following a domestic dispute in which there was no assault.
However, Brathwaite pointed out that in the majority of domestic abuse cases, males were the aggressors.
“I don’t get involved in practical policing, but it depends on the circumstances etc. Usually you want a bit of a cooling off period . . . but if the person is charged, I know where they going sleep,” Brathwaite added.
A very angry MESA member related a story of a woman who he said took his money and refused to repay him. To add to his injury, he said he lost a subsequent court case on the matter.
However, based on an open threat, Brathwaite asked: “Does the police wait until he fulfills [it]?”
Retired schoolteacher Anthony Walrond argued that women perpetuate domestic violence from early on in relationships, “and it mounts up til it becomes domestic abuse”.
He also suggested that denying a father visiting rights with his children was emotional abuse.
“Does child custody contribute to domestic violence?” he asked of the Attorney General.
Responding to that question Brathwaite told his former French teacher, “You have not read the Act”, and promised to provide him with a copy.
Despite other claims made during the meeting that “men don’t have a chance in this society”; that they were being “unfaired” and that there was a history of police laughing at men who complain about women, the Attorney General was adamant that the current law would remain as is.
However, he strongly advised the MESA members to read the legislation, arguing that all persons were protected.
The meeting ended with Brathwaite promising to return to the group’s next monthly meeting along with a police representative, who will also field questions from the disaffected men.