En Ste. Lucie the search for answers to Family Court puzzles is easily the equal of pulling crocodile teeth underwater. Nearly 20 years after its establishment under duress, a not insignificant percentage of the population remains convinced its primary function had always been as a WDM—Weapon for Deballing Men—with beautifully manicured acrylic fingernails on the trigger. As preposterous as might be this widely endorsed view (especially by females with hidden axes to grind!), anecdotal evidence continues nevertheless to feed the misperception.
Having recently had my own head nearly chewed off over the phone by someone claiming to be a Family Court official and proudly implying her non-national status (she spat out the last tidbit as one might something nauseating, a squiggly cockroach, for instance!) I am inclined now to empathize with those who’ve complained bitterly about the treatment meted them by once-bitten-twice-shy Family Court personnel, the majority women. I now also know not all gripers are paranoid.
Concerned that the local media reported few if any Family Court cases, and having familiarized myself with Part 5 of the Domestic Violence Act, I wondered if perchance there might be a connection. I especially wanted to know if press personnel required particular permission in advance of covering the Family Court at work. (You don’t get to see your esteemed parliamentary rep speaking on your behalf against VAT and your right to life’s basic amenities without first obtaining a House ticket!)
I never got to ask my questions; the praying mantis in my ear had quickly convinced me that she detested nothing more than answering questions of interest to the Saint Lucian public, especially when such queries related to the latest brutal battering to hit local headlines and the World Wide Web, to say nothing of the PM’s press secretary’s Facebook account!
I remember asking why the brutalized victim in the cited case had chosen only to seek an injunction from the Family Court against her gun-toting baby daddy and batterer, rather than hauling him before a criminal court.
“Because that’s her right!” hissed the insect in my ear. “I can’t see why that’s any of your business!”
Quite obviously it had never occurred to the particular misandrist—or maybe it had but, like Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, she just didn’t give a damn—that fear is a major demotivator when it comes to victims prosecuting their abusers. Indeed fear may be the heart of the problem. I wondered whether there was anyone at the Family Court whose job is to encourage women, for their own sake and the sake of similarly abused sisters, not to take the easy way by withdrawing charges against battering brutes who use their Glocks and other weapons as sex toys.
I formed the impression that some at the Family Court are far less concerned about victims of domestic violence than they are about asinine laws enacted by undeclared misogynists under duress. It was shortly after I’d said something to that effect, as I recall, that the earlier cited fiercely non-Saint Lucian lady decided to put this male pest in his place once and for all by hanging up. Ah, well, I mused, some you win and some you lose. Only I couldn’t decide who had lost on the occasion: I or my fellow Saint Lucians, male and female!
For no reason I could lay my finger on, I spent the rest of the afternoon ruminating on the domestic violence bill that had been introduced to parliament in 1994 by the feisty gender affairs minister Senator Lorraine Williams. I dare to say much to the chagrin of her notoriously macho Cabinet colleagues who doubtless imagined its passage into law would sweep their fat butts out of office—never mind that on this Rock of Sages female voters normally outnumber their indifferent male counterparts.
If memory serves, the Lower House had postponed several times debating the bill, maybe because a certain government minister was at the time himself facing battery charges. Already he had famously denied before a magistrate that he’d kicked his wife. On the contrary, he said, he had merely pushed her down a flight of stairs with his foot! Eventually the Upper House passed the bill, later to be generally adopted—which may well be the first and last time in the parliamentary history of Saint Lucia that such a thing ever happened, though I wouldn’t bet on it.
One thing for certain, however: long before most Saint Lucian women knew the difference between a sugar bowl and what Darren Sammy does best, Lorraine Williams sported football-size balls!
This week I came across the following: “Certain categories of abuse, such as assault, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking) are crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada. In recent years a series of amendments have been added to strengthen the law related to woman abuse. Charges will be laid in all spousal cases where reasonable grounds to charge exist.
“Ontario has a mandatory charging policy, which means that the police, not you, will decide whether to lay charges. Crown prosecutors are required to prosecute in all spousal abuse cases where a reasonable likelihood of conviction exists. It is important if you are being abused to document episodes as well as record any witnesses. This may be used as evidence.” [Emphasis mine]
Presumably Canada’s Director of Public Prosecutions office would immediately remove from its payroll any staffer charged with domestic violence. Not so in simply beautiful Saint Lucia where an injunction was recently granted a complainant against her live-in lover—also a crown counsel at the DPP’s office. According to verifiable information, the woman’s several charges include assault with a firearm and other unspeakable violence. A baby less than a year old is also involved. Meanwhile he continues at time of writing to function professionally, presumably still packing his pistol, as if indeed nothing unusual had recently occurred in his private or professional life.
I understand that until recently the man had also served at the Crisis Center. The DPP’s office, in the meantime, excuses its apparent lack of interest on the fact that the victim in the case had chosen not to prosecute. As earlier noted, in Canada victims of domestic abuse have no choice in the matter once the police are satisfied there is a case to answer. In Saint Lucia, police prosecutions depend strictly on word from the DPP’s office. (It may be worth pointing out that over the years several public servants, including police officers, have been sent home on suspension—often at full pay—until unproved charges have been resolved!)
Consider now the following, published for public information by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service: “Stopping domestic violence and bringing perpetrators to justice must be a priority of our society. We are determined to play our part by prosecuting cases effectively. We will work with our colleagues in the criminal justice system and with Women’s Aid, Refuge, Victim Support and similar groups both locally and nationally, to help us improve our understanding of domestic violence and make the right casework decisions.
“It is the role of the police to investigate and gather evidence. It is our job to consider the evidence and to provide the police with advice, if they ask for it, as to whether to charge. We have locally agreed protocols with the police to help us both handle domestic cases effectively. Where the police have already charged, we have to decide whether to continue the prosecution.
“We realize victims of domestic violence—particularly those who may have suffered over a considerable period of time—also have difficult decisions to make that will affect their lives and the lives of those close to them. We know that barriers exist, which mean that some groups of people are less likely to report offences. This is true for minority ethnic groups, disabled people, lesbians and gay men and older people. If a victim has decided to withdraw support, we have to find out why. This may involve delaying a court hearing to investigate facts and decide the best course of action.
“Sometimes a victim will ask the police not to proceed any further with a case, or will ask to withdraw the complaint. This does not necessarily mean the case will therefore be stopped—we will first consider what other evidence is available. Sometimes the violence is so serious, or the previous history shows such a real and continuing danger to the victim or the children or other person, that the public interest in going ahead with the prosecution has to outweigh the victim’s wishes. If we feel the victim must go to court against their wishes, that decision will only be taken by an experienced prosecutor after consultation with the police.” [Emphasis mine]
Section 23 of the UK’s Criminal Justice Act of 1988 allows the victim’s statement to be used in court in the victim’s absence. The victim does not have to prove he or she is afraid. This proof can come from someone else, for example, a police officer or doctor or it can be seen from the victim’s behavior.
According to CPS policy on prosecuting cases of domestic violence in the UK: “We always think very carefully about the interests of the victim when we decide where the public interest lies. But we prosecute cases on behalf of the public at large and not just in the interests of any particular individual.”
Then there is this: “The Code for Crown Prosecutors provides guidance on how Crown Prosecutors should make decisions about whether or not to prosecute. Crown Prosecutors will want the police to provide information about family circumstances and the likely effect of prosecuting on members of the family. If
social services, housing or voluntary agencies are, or have been, involved, they may also be able to help by providing the police with this type of information.”
Obviously the Crown had never imagined batterers prosecuting domestic violence cases. Isn’t it about time we took a closer look at the operations of our own DPP’s office, including background checks?
But to return to Saint Lucia via Canada, whose Immigration and Refugee Board—citing sources including Freedom House, the United States Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women—informs us that in our country Saint Lucia “domestic violence is a serious problem.” Evidently the Canadians believe we couldn’t possibly know that or we’d be taking greater steps at least to ameliorate the horror.
Moreover: “Saint Lucia’s delegate to the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action [they’re talking about CAFRA, folks, now evidently comatose] describes domestic violence in Saint Lucia as ‘a crisis situation’ and ‘at least five women had been killed in 2006 due to domestic violence.’ ”
In July 2009, “correspondence with the research directorate at the gender affairs ministry in Saint Lucia indicated domestic violence was ‘quite rampant’ on the island. The Canadian document also cited a report taken from the STAR relating to a woman who had allegedly been “butchered by the father of her children in public during daylight hours of June 16.” (They are not referring to the still unresolved case of “virgin blood” Shaka, who had decapitated his live-in girlfriend in the presence of an offspring!)
And then there was the unforgettable matter of “a former senator and member of the United Workers Party who had been charged with maiming his girlfriend, who became paralyzed after being beaten.” Now who do you suppose had been so thorough as to have supplied the apolitical Canadian Refugee board with the batterer’s political history?
Remarkably, most of the domestic violence cases cited had been reported only by the STAR. However, concerning the work of the Saint Lucia Crisis Center, opened in 1988, the director supplied the following: “The Women’s Support Center which opened in 2001 and is funded by the Saint Lucia government provides a shelter, counseling, crisis intervention, protection planning, children’s programs, public education and other assistance to victims of domestic violence. The WSC also runs a 24-hour hotline which offers counseling and advice.”
According to the home affairs ministry, “the shelter has space for up to five women and their children . . . the space is insufficient, and shelter is available for a limited period.”
In 2009, at the nation’s
busiest shopping center, and with scores looking on and taking pictures with their cell phones, a man viciously attacked his estranged girlfriend with a cutlass. Only one man, who turned out to be a visiting Canadian, went to the woman’s assistance and stayed with her until an ambulance arrived to transport her to Victoria Hospital.
Miraculously, the woman survived, although she lost an eye and was badly cut all over her arms and torso. Her attacker has yet to be tried; he remains on custodial remand. The nightmarish story is cited in the earlier mentioned Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada report. The original version entitled “Another Bloody Weekend” appeared in the 16 June 2009 STAR.
The reporter was Alisha Ally!