US expert plugs specialised domestic violence centre for Guyana
- police, counselors, legal aid in one office
A U.S. expert on domestic violence says that the time is ripe in Guyana for a specialised centre that can deal with all manner of family abuse cases.
Beth Feder, a lawyer operating in Florida, is in Guyana at the behest of the local United States Embassy and is set to meet Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, today and hopefully with the police later on. She is currently lecturing on behalf of the U.S. State Department as a consultant in the area of gender-based violence.
Several meetings with non-governmental organizations are also scheduled with the consultant.
According to Feder yesterday during a press conference at the Pegasus Hotel, the family justice centre has been established in quite a number of U.S. states with victims and families of abusive relationships able to address most of their concerns there.
In addition to specially trained police officers being present in one building, it will offer legal, counseling, child protection services, divorce and a host of other services, making it essentially a “one-stop shop” for victims.
In addition to this successful pilot project which can be replicated in Guyana, Feder also disclosed that the U.S. authorities are working closely in another one called STAR (Students Terminating Abusive Relationships).
STAR uses experts, parents, students and teachers to raise awareness of gender-based violence. Clients are also taught to improve themselves, learning budgeting and other skills.
Explaining the specialised centre, Feder said that in the U.S., there were cases of a special judge being trained to handle cases of domestic violence. There are now specially trained police to deal with cases of this nature.
Stressing that while there are cases of men being abused, studies have shown that an estimated 85-90% of the reported incidents are women. Still, a significant number of domestic cases are not being reported and are falling under the radar, the consultant said.
Noting that there are many reasons why victims refuse to leave their abusers, including economic and social, the consultant is convinced that domestic violence is a learnt behaviour that only gets worse unless it is stopped in its tracks. It is not like a disease that can be treated by a medication. Rather, both the victims and abusers can get help.
Feder lauded the fact that domestic violence is being reported in Guyana so prominently, and drew reference to recent media reports. Some societies just plainly refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue, she stressed.
The fact that quite a few media workers also turned up for the briefing yesterday is clear evidence that Guyana is on the right track in relation to tackling domestic violence, the consultant said.
However, addressing domestic violence and introducing measures to reduce incidents will not be an overnight thing, Feder acknowledged. It will take time.
Things like moving victims out of the abusive situations, providing them with skills, possibly even making available some financial help, are all issues that have to be addressed.
NGOs will all have to work together, and even while facing challenges, will have to continue to make the necessary changes.
The consultant noted that while there are reported cases where victims at the very last moment retract their statements, there still could be found ways for the state to pursue the case.
Stakeholders, like police officers, counselors, judges and others, will have to be continuously trained.
Earlier this year, former U.S. Embassy Chargé D’Affaires, Karen Williams, had described the Guyana situation as sad, as far as the number of domestic violence cases is concerned.
Over the past months, there have been a number of publicised cases of abused women being killed by their former partner.
Also at the briefing yesterday was Charlotte Hu, Public Affairs Officer of the United States Embassy in Georgetown.