It is not clear when the society began to take note of domestic violence but over the past few years the incidence of domestic violence seems to have escalated. Indeed, for as long as one can remember there were always those men who beat their wives. There have also been women who beat their spouses.
Especially in the rural areas, many will testify to hearing a woman scream because her husband would take to beating her. In fact, in each village people knew who the wife beaters were. They knew more than that; they knew the reasons for the beatings. They also knew the women who beat their husbands.
In most cases back then, the man would take to beating his wife more often than not when he went home drunk. Reports would be made to the police and the wife beater would be made to spend a few hours in the lock ups before being sent home with a warning. The society accepted that men would hit a woman.
Back then, too, many women never blamed their husbands for beating them. People have heard some women say that if the man did not love them then he would not beat them.
Generally, it was felt that these women tolerated the beating because they felt that they had no recourse. They either believed that they would be devoid of food and shelter or they believed that the man would change. There were also women who would be heard saying that they stayed in the abusive relationship because of the children.
Now-a-days the society is taking a strong view about domestic violence which is more than wife beating. There could be abusive language, there could be attacks against the children and there could be the threats of violence.
Guyana has modified legislation to deal with cases of domestic violence. It has also put in place some facility that would offer shelter to victims of abuse. And the courts are not treating cases of domestic violence lightly. Magistrates are imposing jail sentences and there are private organizations that provide some measure of counseling.
These things do some good but they appear to fail to stem the tide of domestic violence. Men are now killing their spouses even as some of the victims are committing suicide. There is a lot wrong and the real victims are the children.
Surprisingly, no one in Guyana has sought to undertake a study to determine the extent of domestic violence. There is no indication of the communities in which there is the greatest number of cases or instances of domestic violence.
The courts are in a position to determine the number of victims who would decline to prosecute their spouses. But in addition to the courts, cases of women declining to prosecute their abusers can be found in the police stations. However, we doubt that the police compile such records.
The private organizations that seek to end domestic violence are forced to rely on studies done in other countries and they use the same conclusions although conditions may be different.
For example, there is the view that domestic violence is more prevalent among the poorer classes. This may be the case but we cannot say with certainty that this is so because we do not look at the behaviour of people in the higher economic brackets.
For one, women in the upper echelons of the society are rarely likely to go public with her beating either because of the embarrassment or because she is more inclined to walk away from her abuser because of her academic and economic status.
There is also the conclusion that children who grow in homes where abuse is prevalent are more likely to become abusers themselves.
In addition to its efforts the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security or some civic organization should commit to a study on domestic violence. For one, the study will allow people to take a closer look at the situation and to recognize the triggers to domestic violence.
The first step to solving any problem is to understand it. In Guyana, we are not sure what has triggered the spate of domestic violence in the same way we have no knowledge of what has led to increasing child abuse.