The Commissioner of the Royal Barbados Police Force started the news week in Barbados with a definite bang. Almost on cue, there was a drug bust which mentioned some very high profile persons of interest and a lawyer confirming the Commissioner’s concerns about the amount of time family and domestic conflicts were taking out of an already short staffed police force.
Barbados is at the exact same stage that Trinidad and Jamaica were when their societies broke under the weight of their money crises. Had their societies not been affected by crime and a societal decay that eroded the bedrock principles, their struggles to reclaim the two Islands would not have been as long lasting and difficult as they have proven to be. The crime that took over Jamaica and Trinidad had no class, no gender – it was blue and white collar. Wither are we in Barbados now?
Speaking of NOW!, I was contacted by a section of the media that wanted my reaction to the Commissioner’s concerns about the amount of time that family and domestic matters were taking up. Apparently in his press conference, the Police Commissioner conveyed the impression that Barbados has a problem with levels of domestic violence and that civil society groups need to come on board to assist the Police.
I was indeed shocked by the Commissioner’s remarks. Barbados had gone from Sunday July 22, 2018 where there was absolutely no problem with domestic violence on this island – there was just a group of man hating feminists who were loud and disruptive – to Monday July 23, 2018, where the Commissioner was citing domestic violence as a worrying trend.
By Wednesday, I was still trying to come to grips with my feelings. I am still in shock that the Commissioner has acknowledged the problem of domestic violence. I also felt more defeated because if I had known there was a problem for about 15 years and the Commissioner was also now seeing the problem that speaks to the sheer pervasiveness of domestic violence, including intimate partner violence, that we really have.
However, I want to humbly suggest that the gaps in the response to domestic violence in Barbados do not rest in civil society assistance as the Commissioner suggested.
Civil society has been addressing the issues of domestic violence especially intimate partner violence single-handedly for ages. There is a single shelter for battered women in Barbados and it is run by civil society. Much of the mediation and first intervention that occurs in cases has been done traditionally by the National Organization of Women or one of our affiliate bodies, all of which are charity or not-for-profit outfits.
The Royal Barbados Police Force in 2016 opened the Family Conflict Unit and now the Commissioner knows what every volunteer working with domestic violence knows. The cases are time consuming, resource consuming, and they sometimes take months or years to see to completion. What the Force should also now know is that due to the nature of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, the state has to do more to be able to fully address the issues. While I am happy that we finally have an admission from the Commissioner that domestic violence is an issue, we will not be getting anywhere until a whole lot changes.
I am not sure if I am grateful for the Family Conflict Unit and I know that sounds like a horrible thing to say. The Unit has a grand total of three police officers. The Commissioner indicated that they respond to at least one domestic dispute per day in Barbados. The National Organization of Women will get between two and three queries per week. Most of those cases have usually been going on for a protracted time and NOW is seen as a last resort. This has nothing to do with our affiliate contacts.
Let us add a conservative two cases per day across our affiliates. Add another one which is the case that will escalate into being extremely serious without warning. It means that on any given day in Barbados, before we even continue the cases we already have, the officers at the Family Conflict Unit are outnumbered by cases two to each officer. What good does having such a Unit do? Does it just act as a measure that we can point to, to appease ourselves that ‘something is being done’?
The Family Conflict Unit is woefully inadequate. The individual officers may be trying but they simply do not have the structure or the capacity to make any serious inroads in the aspect of policing they preside over. Let me draw two examples from the intimate partner violence sector, the one I deal with most. Women who are affected by intimate partner violence are in an extreme state of emotional vulnerability. Research shows that some survivors live with post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives coming out of an experience of domestic violence.
Women facing intimate partner violence do not hope a lot. They do not believe a lot. Therefore, it is a shattering thing to reach out to the Family Conflict Unit only to realize that they do not have the human capacity or the state resources needed to offer a real solution. Some women realize that this specially constituted Unit does not offer them much more help than the ‘normal’ Police Force can.
Additionally, the administrative structure supporting the Family Conflict Unit is a relic from the past and puts women under additional duress to lodge complaints and then get action. Let us say that a woman wants to file a protection order. The Family Conflict Unit is located in Black Rock. The woman goes to Black Rock and is interviewed by an officer at Family Conflict. She then has to return to the jurisdiction of her residence to file the order in the magistrate’s court.
This means that a woman could travel from St Joseph to Black Rock, then have to return to St Joseph for court, then to return to Black Rock if she has other queries or business with Family Conflict. Whether there are three officers or 25, whether the civil society and the loud, miserable feminists and womanists do all in our power to assist the Commissioner, these are the things we are powerless to change.
I do agree with you though, Mr Commissioner. We have a problem with domestic violence on our hands. The state must do its part – enable the Royal Barbados Police Force. Civil society will continue to do our part.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)