I want to begin to unpack other angles of the recent tragedy that claimed the lives of two children, both under the age of two. There are some tragedies which result in the restructuring and reorganization of entire systems. I want to hope that this case acts as such an impetus for Barbados. I have had that hope before and it never materialized and so I am somewhat guarded but an important part of the human condition is to live in hope.
In many ways this tragedy is still raw and recent and that, in itself, is a restriction on how commentary about it should be approached. Even as I recognize that and am guided by it here, Barbadians are nine-day consumers of information. This is one of the most difficult features of continuing education about the domestic and intimate partner violence scourges – there are small windows where the nation is willing to listen and these windows are usually after a singular incident where emotions and speculations run high.
I want to try my best to use the period of media captivity in order to delve into some of the real issues. Hopefully, I can frame them in such a way that elevates them beyond emotion and allows us to introspect about our systems, its wide gaps and remedies.
According to most of the media coverage, the events that led to the recent tragedy are categorized as having their genesis in what was described as ‘a bitter custody battle’. In many cases where there is intimate partner violence, a ‘custody battle’ upon break down or dissolution of the union is a symptom. It is not, in and of itself, a cause of anything.
Research has pointed over and over again to a string of issues that precipitate intimate partner violence. Contrary to popular Barbadian belief, a horn or not letting a man see his children is not the cause of many of these tragedies that play out and result in disfigurement and loss of life.
Let us come to some of the major underlying causes of intimate partner violence. These include undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, substance abuse, inappropriate constructions of love as power, possessiveness, obsession and gender inequalities and culture.
Where any or all of these factors commingle, the result will be a pattern of violence within intimate partner relations. Intimate partner violence is never made up of a singular instance. Contrary to popular belief, it is not one person driving another to commit a dastardly act. It is important to understand that in order to craft a suitable response to the symptoms of intimate partner violence.
Men who abuse women in intimate relationships are driven by the need to be in constant and complete control. When women remove themselves from the relationship physically this is always the most dangerous time. As she removes herself, he will experience a diminishing of his control and this often causes outbursts and irrational behaviour.
We have known for a long time that men have used maintenance payments as a form of control over the lives of women. Some women are capable of also using maintenance as a type of punishment for men. I think what needs to be said as an important demarcation in the battle of maintenance is that where a woman is experiencing abuse and wants dissolution of a relationship as a means of safety and escape, that woman is often happy to flee without any type of maintenance and shuns access, not as a punishment, but as a means to keep herself and her children out of harm’s way.
Men in these instances tend to prolong custody matters and it has nothing to do with the children. In many instances it is a new frontier of control and lordship over the intimate partner that fled exactly such dysfunction. The way that our social services are set up miss the subtexts of these custody cases and often leaves a woman exposed to the violence she is fleeing.
The preamble of the 2016 amendment to the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act makes clear that its intention is to provide wider coverage to ‘the victims of domestic violence’. Victims are not only defined as the actors, victims and perpetrators but also the children that these acts occur in the spaces of. Under the Act, child abuse is expanded to include allowing a child to witness, hear or be exposed in any way to acts of domestic violence.
The Child Care Board is indicating to mothers and fathers who go in that their sole remit in Barbados is child protection and that custody and access issues are the remit of the Welfare Department. I think that this disconnect between the Child Care Board and the Welfare Department is superficial. Based on the interpretation of domestic violence being an act of child abuse, the Child Care Board has a responsibility to the children in such instances. This is one of the major issues that needs to be addressed moving forward.
There is another state mechanism that has some questions to answer in the current aftermath. There have been a number of allegations made from the perspective of past students of the Coleridge and Parry School. Based on the possibility that the allegations, if left unrefuted, can undermine faith in an entire educational system, I believe that the Ministry of Education has a duty of transparency to reassure the public.
What the public wants is not personal information on any one employee. That is wholly inappropriate. What the public wants are reassurances that what the past students alleged could never be true based on the checks and balances in our system.
What the public should be told is whether entrants to the teaching service are mandated to complete psychological training. The public wants to know if teachers are reassessed at points during their employment. When tragedies like this happen we often say collectively, as a society, that we did not know. Many say that we would have done more if we could have done more. The reality is many of us do see the signs. Some of us miss them due to a lack of education; others do not know how to make an approach so we do nothing. The biggest problem is when the people who do nothing are a part of the system and are the ones responsible for offering guidance and protection to the vulnerable.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.