Domestic Violence in the Caribbean

1 January 2017

In an attempt to gain an appreciation of the issue and, in an attempt to also unravel the specifics of the terms, the symbolic interationist school of thought proffered by (Loseke 1992) defined the term ‘wife abuse’ as violence against women. Loseke (1992) described the label “wife abuse” as not really a label for an event per se, but one that is defined ‘explicitly as a pattern of physical abuse, or as a continuing series of abusive and degrading acts’.

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She further posited, inter alia, that as a construct, wife abuse is a label for continuous events and hence a “battered woman” is explicitly defined as a woman who has been “systematically and severely beaten by her husband for many years”. Thus, in this context, an occasional ‘slap’ or ‘push’ doesn’t amount to domestic violence. Moreover, as in Trinidad, the cultural construction of “wife abuse” includes the characteristic that the victim be terrified of the abuser (Loseke 1992).

To enhance Loseke’s discourse on ‘wife abuse’, the feminist theory and its role in domestic violence has also been tremendously effective in highlighting the relationship between discrimination and violence against women in society at large and the at-home version of that “gender oppression”, namely the issue of ‘battering’ (Hamberger and Renzetti 1994). Feminists assert that the battered women’s movement was the first to identify the issue of physical abuse of wives by husbands and, aided by other reformers, was able to bring it to public attention (Schecter 1982; Tierey 1982).

As a result, “wife abuse” has been transformed from a private, largely invisible matter, to one viewed as a social problem for which appropriate remedies should be sought. Further, there have been numerous reforms in the legal, governmental, and social services response to battered women (Gelb 1983; Pagelow 1984; Tierney 1982). Symbolic interactionist focuses on the ‘male abuser’ and thus purport that an nderstanding of the abuser’s own construction of himself and his female partner is essential to a theoretical and practical understanding of the dynamics of abuse. Therefore, the decision to be abusive is an active one on the part of the abuser. Abusers plan violent actions through an interactive process that is influenced by their constructions of the self and others. Lempert (1994) alluded that battered women struggle to explain their partners’ violence because it is often shocking and difficult to accept.

Women who survive domestic violence often detach themselves from their partner and others to escape from the reality of the violence experienced in their intimate relationships. Athens (1997) further explained that violent offenders use their current self-view, life experience and evaluation of the situation in their decision to act violently. An abuser’s self-image always relates to his or her interpretation of the situation, and that image directly influences how one decides to act for oneself and toward others.

Here, the feminist suppositions of Straus et al (1980) and Straus (1983), extends beautifully with the claim of the symbolic interactionist (Athens 1997) above statement. The feminist posited that families socialize children into violence by the widely accepted practice of punishing children with physical force. They concluded that men who witnessed their parents engaging in violence were three times as likely to hit their wives and ten times more likely to be abusive towards their wives with objects or weapons.

They also found that many more men who reported being physically abused as teenagers also abused their wives, as compared to those who were not physically beaten throughout their teen years. They concluded, “Each generation learns to be violent by being a participant in a violent family- and that violence begets violence” (Straus 1980). Other researchers have pursued this line of inquiry and have concluded that men learn abusive behaviour from their families of origin (Browne 1987).

Denzin (1984) posited a cyclical sort of reasoning where the abuser unintentionally alienates his partner through his physical violence; his partner’s subsequent remoteness threatens his confidence in the relationship; and in turn, he again employs violence to restore his control. (Mead 1934) also put forward the argument that abusers use strategies of denial and blame to distance their violent selves from their “true” selves (Mead 1934). The symbolic interactionist outline thus recognizes that an individual’s self-image and definition of the ituation occur in interaction with, not in isolation from, others in society In essence, the arguments proffered by both feminist and symbolic interactionist hold that the abuser’s life experience and self-image is a core factor in domestic violence. As it relates to violence, feminists place heavy emphasis on male-female relations at the core of their analysis and view inequality between men and women as a key factor in violence (Bowker 1986; Dobash and Dobash 1979; Pagelow 1987; Russell 1982).

Two years before there was a Domestic Violence Act in Trinidad, Mohammed (1989) proffered that sexual violence was the most central form of domination men had over women and it was the mechanism which was used to control women. Concomitantly, Yelvington (1996) investigated flirtatious behaviour amongst Trinidad men and found it to have manifested ‘symbolic violence’ filled with tensions of domination and submission between the sexes.

Following on the heels of Yelvington (1996), Chevannes (1996) makes the point that a large part of male socialization takes place on the street, where prevalent behaviours and values are the antithesis of all that schools and [society] represent. Another twist to the argument of domestic violence comes from developmental and life course perspectives advocates, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) in ‘A General Theory of Crime’, they explained that crime results as a result of ‘low self-control’.

They explained when parents fail to properly raise their children; low self-control develops with the absence of nurturance, monitoring, discipline or training. Further to this, Agnew (1992) who expounded Merton’s Strain theory proposed that a ‘strain’ is experienced by an individual when there is the presentation of a negative stimulus; for example, bullying or negative relations with peers, parents or even teachers may foster this strain.

Although strain theory is used mainly with reference to delinquency and crime, there is merit to the theory in an attempt to explain how the presentation of negative stimuli to an abuser can perpetuate and contribute to an ‘effect’ being passed on to another individual (an individual’s intimate partner) as illustrated in the example above with parental violence toward each other. Agnew (1992) also posited that coping mechanisms are employed to deal with this type of strain, which is cognitive, behavioural or emotional. Cognitive mechanisms employ the ability o ignore the strain or maximize the positives of the strain or accept responsibility for the strain. The behavioural mechanisms minimize the negatives of the strain through some form of actions, thus inherently maximising the positives. Finally, the emotional involves the coping mechanism is to seek revenge. The use of this emotional coping mechanism to escape is often employed. Applying this theory to domestic violence cases, it can be deduced that in some instances, the emotional coping mechanism of seeking revenge on partners is employed.

He further argued how someone adapts to strain, is dependent on the ability of the person to use enough coping mechanisms to deal with strain constructively; in instances of domestic violence it would mean positive steps to effectively deal with such matters. The outward sources of power upon which men originally drew from, for example, being the boss in the workplace and the sole breadwinner, have been tremendously eroded as women increasingly take charge of their lives (becoming self-sufficient by accessing educational and job opportunities in the workplace and having the capacity to negotiate their own spaces).

Feminists as referenced before, offers this argument of the threat of women’s progress contributing to their detriment in some instances. Women, unlike men draw on intrinsic sources of power as they go through their daily living. They have re defined the traditional gender roles and are now more goal-oriented and assertive. The male’s response to this has been in the least some sort of perplexity, which is accompanied by a false sense of acceptance on the surface, but struggling hard, sometimes viciously below to exhibit superiority in one form or the other.

Ways of communicating, relating, sharing and caring become challenging for them. If one is to evaluate contemporary social life such as; friendship, family life and marriage one would see they are all laden with sexual symbols, which have come to represent the last perceived secured notion of what is defined as being a ‘real man’.

As argued by the interactionist, the male self-image is often quite fragile and there is a plethora of factors contributing to this some of which are but is not limited to; the inescapable bombardment of the media, which now intensifies the problem of negative modelling; educational institutions failing in not being able to strengthen the frayed social and, consequently, academic self-image of males and a steady rise in unemployment has also taken its toll. We have now booked first class seats, in viewing he progressive decline in male development at the personal level, as most men have not engaged in meaningful ways in keeping up with the changing nature of relationships between men and women; and by extension reacting negatively against women. Symbolic interactionist offers a perspective on domestic violence, which outlines the construction of the self and its interaction with others within social and cultural contexts. It also describes how individuals plan and give reasoning to their actions and inactions with both themselves and others in society (Athens1994; Athens 1995; Blumer 1969; Mead 1934).

Extensive research examined the ways in which survivors of domestic violence defined their situations (Dobash and Dobash 1984) but less attention has been paid to the abuser’s own perspective of the violence within their own relationships. Domestic Violence in Trinidad and Tobago: (Gramsci 1971) posited that Trinidad and Tobago was one of the first nations in the English-speaking Caribbean to pass domestic violence legislation. He went on to report that as a traditional concept, such violence was perceived as “husband-wife business” and not appropriate to be deemed as public business.

Domestic Violence was thus labelled a criminal offence by the Domestic Violence Act 1991 of Trinidad and Tobago. This occurred as a result of widespread activism on the part of the local women’s movement. There is no central locality where data for domestic violence can be found in Trinidad and Tobago, though the Central Statistical Office (CSO) is recognised as the institution mandated by law to capture and reflect statistical data of varying natures, this too is lacking. Reports of domestic violence to police stations are one indicator while the actual numbers charged for criminal offences are another.

Many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are heavily involved in receiving data (actual reports) of domestic violence and information can be gleaned through this process. Within the context of domestic violence, data available from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service details the range of criminal offences which take place ‘as a result of’ Domestic Violence. These data raise a number of issues, for example, the inconsistencies from year to year and the extremely low number of offences recorded (UNDP 1999).

Numbers of Murders committed by way of Domestic Violence, 1990-1996 Year| Number of Women| Murders| Total Committed| 1990| 4| 3| 7| 1991| 3| 4| 7| 1992| 12| 6| 18| 1993| 3| 12| 15| 1994| 4| 5| 9| 1995| 10| 8| 18| 1996| 5| 1| 6| TOTAL| 41| 39| 79| Source: (National Report on the Situation of Gender Violence Against Women: Trinidad and Tobago Regional Project RLA/97/014, 1999); Adapted from the Ministry of National Security Trinidad and Tobago. Murders as a Percentage of Domestic Violence 1995-1999

Year| Domestic Violence| Non-Domestic Violence| Total| % Domestic Violence| 1995| 22| 99| 121| 18. 18| 1996| 16| 91| 107| 14. 95| 1997| 12| 89| 101| 11. 88| 1998| 23| 74| 97| 23. 71| 1999| 15| 77| 92| 16. 30| Source: Domestic Violence Awareness Handbook-Men against Violence Against Women (MAVAW 2002) Trinidad Findings from a report offered by Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity (Aspire 2012) found that there is an upward trend in reported cases of domestic violence which rose from 1394 to 2312 in the past decade.

Certain offenses rose drastically, such as assault by beating, from 907 to 1243, and breach of protection order from 26 to 157. The report reflected 92, 524 new cases in the magistrate’s court. The most reported cases fell within the 25-29 age categories; for 2010, 300 females and 54 males and 2011, 1,082 females and 322 males. It was also noted that more men were filing reports of domestic violence. (Creque 1995) also gleaned preliminary data from the Community Policing Unit and found that between 1991 and 1994, 8,297 applications were filed under the Domestic Violence Act 1991.

Additionally, The Ministry of Planning and Development published Crime Statistics in 1996, which reported that there were 378 applications under the Domestic Violence Act of which 18% or 67 were made by males and 311 or 82% by females. The (UNDP 1999) report also reflected: During the year 1998, a total of 2,611 calls were received by the Domestic Violence Hotline (800-SAVE) of the Domestic Violence Unit of the Ministry of Gender Affairs. Of these calls, 84% were from women and 16% men. For each month of the year according to the report, female callers outnumbered male and the modal age-group of callers was 26-35 years.

The majority (70%) were in unions – legal or common-law (free), but 17% described themselves as single, 3% as divorced and 10% separated (UNDP 1999). Since the advent of the Domestic Violence Act 1991, deaths have increased in Trinidad and Tobago. Deaths from cases of domestic violence have quadrupled over a five-year period from 2004 to 2008, while the amount of cases of domestic violence reported to police have increased by 60%, according to statistics released in the Senate yesterday… For the years 2004 to 2008 there were nine, 26, 32, 17 and 36 deaths respectively.

In terms of the number of cases of domestic violence reported to the police for the same period, the recorded cases numbered 962, 1,291, 1,250, 1,356 and 1,556 respectively (Newsday 2009). Programmes catering to domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago: In Trinidad and Tobago, a task agency was appointed to develop a comprehensive policy to address the problem of the scourge of domestic violence nationwide. This was in response to a plethora of interests to many key stakeholders who were interested in treating with the problem.

There was an explosion of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious bodies who were willing and ready to provide services for victims of domestic violence. Within the public service, a Domestic Violence Unit was set up within the Gender Affairs Division of the Ministry of Culture and Gender Affairs which along with other departments, such as the National Family Services Division, introduced voluntary counseling services for victims.

Similar services were also offered by a number of women’s organizations. MILPAH halfway house for battered women… Not surprisingly, most of these agencies had initiated their own internal processes of data but based upon the contribution of Gopaul, Morgan and Reddock (1994), the need for a centralized database tapping into the national situation characterizing domestic violence was brought to the forefront and facilitated a number of activities geared toward its realization.

In Trinidad and Tobago, data collection pertaining to domestic violence has been in existence in a number of State agencies and NGOs. From the standpoint of State agencies, entities such as the Domestic Violence Unit, Probation Services, the police (Modus Operandi and Community Policing Division) and the Central Statistical Office have actively been engaged in data collection activities. Additionally, State agencies collect data that have a direct bearing upon domestic violence.

These include the Ministry of Education (Guidance Unit), Ministry of Health (Child Guidance Unit, Statistical Unit, State Hospitals and Medical Social Workers Reports), Ministry of Community Empowerment, Sports and Consumer Affairs (National Family Services) and Ministry of the Attorney General (The High Court). With respect to nongovernmental organizations, data on domestic violence have been collected by the Rape Crisis Society and The Coalition against Domestic Violence (Shelter for Battered Women).

Other relevant data can also be obtained from other shelters for battered women, children’s homes and private hospitals. Notwithstanding these efforts, there exists no acceptable standard for data collection and there is widespread variation with respect to input processes and the quality of outcomes. Based upon examinations of input forms collected from entities including the Ministry of Culture and Gender Affairs, all branches of the police, shelters for battered women and the Domestic Violence Hotline, a standard form was developed for pilot-testing in a number of settings.

These settings included government hospitals, halfway homes, children’s homes, Hot Lines, a Tobagonian Halfway House and the Community Policing Unit (Tobago). The standard form was divided into seven sections. services and dips into their own pockets to finance these activities. MAVAW has been invited to sit on a Cabinet Appointed Committee, which will make proposals for the amendment and reform of the Domestic Violence Act of 1991.

In collaboration with the Ministries responsible for Culture and Youth Affairs, MAVAW is involved in two national campaigns to train young people in schools, malls and community centres to alleviate violence. Conclusion Most research on domestic abuse has been conducted from various perspectives which include but is not limited to feminist, psychological and social structural perspectives. These perspectives have provided valuable insights to the problem of domestic violence.

The feminist adopts a critical view of taken for granted assumptions about domestic violence research and practice, the psychological perspective identifies characteristics aligned to abusive behaviour, social structuralists illuminate the cultural and organizational constraints influencing this problem and symbolic interactionism acknowledges the free will of the actor and the interpersonal and social forces shaping and constraining that action.

Many solutions have been proffered in an attempt to alleviate or stop violence against women. This essay’s topic at first glance was to bring to the reader’s attention information, though limited in this instance, on varying perspectives on abuse against women and the plethora of resources and services offered to them by governmental and non- governmental organizations, the extensive arm of the law; as outlined by the provision of the Domestic Violence Act (1991), which dictates the offenses and applies the law as required to offenders.

However, the highlight of this paper rests on the reference to the lack of the equality of theoretical and empirical reporting as it relates to the ‘balance’ of domestic violence. The under- reported abuse of men, the less than required support services offered and the unwavering bias towards women as labelled ‘victims’ domestic violence. Whilst this paper did not allow for in-depth statistical and theoretical explanations, research has shown generally, that when the social of issue of domestic violence becomes discursive, women are portrayed as the real victims.

The interactionist approach taken by (Carden 1988) posited that domestic violence needs to be understood from the perspective of the abuser (regardless of gender) in order to address the root cause of the social issue. Although a large research literature has examined the accounts of abuse offered by survivors of male violence, there is little about the abuser’s perception of himself and others in domestic violence. ’ The abuser’s perspective is important to theoretical work on the etiology of omestic violence and to develop programs that can effectively stop male violence against women (Carden 1994; Stets 1988) Based on the out dated and limited statistics available on domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago, the argument of Johnson (1995) and Stets and Straus (1992) contends ‘That most legal and social policies, well intended though they might be, are based on erroneous information both about the causes and incidence of most intimate violence.

They have evolved based on the needs of the small but significant proportion of women who experience chronic”wife battering,” they do little to serve the much larger majority of men, women, and children who try to cope. In a glaring article produced by (Nicholls and Dutton 2001), they argued that cases, government surveys and other reports are highly skewed and misleading. Statistics always tend to reflect women as being the victims of domestic violence and men’s claims often go underreported. They alluded that conflict studies are the closest to portraying a rough proportional perpetuation by gender.

Additionally, Ehrensaft et al. (2004) posited inter alia that various studies have shown that the ‘single-sex’ approach is not scientifically supported. They allude that the behaviours by both partners can contribute tremendously to the risk of ‘clinically significant partner abuse’, and that both individuals should be treated. They concluded that ‘women’s partner abuse cannot be explained exclusively as self-defense against men’s partner abuse, because a woman’s pre-relationship history of aggression towards others predicts her abuse toward her partner, over and above controls for reports of his abuse towards her’. The UN ECLAC Caribbean Development Committee 1997) reported that ‘…the [Caribbean] region was experiencing increased waves of violence, which unfortunately is often directed at women. It further cited that while several countries in the region have started to address this problem, no attention has been given to the male who generally is the abuser and perpetrator. Most recently though, there are signs of male interest groups which have begun to direct attention to the male for what they consider is “a need to change thousands of years of bad attitude of men”.

MAVAW – Men Against Violence Against Women in Trinidad and Tobago, offers support to male offenders, seeks therapy for transgressors’. In essence, domestic violence is a global phenomenon and may be defined in numerous terms. As it relates to Trinidad and Tobago, the context and culture where this phenomenon occurs should be deeply considered. Additionally, much is needed to stabilize resources in capturing accurate empirical data which should inform functional programmes, in an attempt to first understand and then alleviate the social problem of domestic violence between both men and women.

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