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12,106 domestic violence cases filed

By LEISELLE MARAJ Saturday, November 24 2012

CHIEF Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar yesterday stressed the importance played by judicial officers in cases of domestic violence as she spoke at a media launch of 16 Days of Activism which begins tomorrow and is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Activities during this time frame have been organised by the Rape Crisis Society and the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

At the launch, held at 1 Robinson Ville, Belmont, Ayers Ceasar revealed shocking domestic violence statistics. She said for the 2009/2010 law term in the Trinidad and Tobago Magistrates’ Courts, 12,106 new domestic violence applications were filed and 10,817 applications were determined. For the 2010/2011 period, 11,984 new applications were filed and 12, 041 applications were determined.

“These figures should be of concern to us all. These statistics, which can be found in the Judiciary’s Annual Report for this period, also reveal for 2009/2010 term, the magisterial district of Arima received the highest number of applications whilst Mayaro had the least. After 2010/2011, Arima again had the highest number and Rio Claro had the least. I am sure that you would agree with me that these statistics are indeed shocking,” she said.

Other statistics show women experience an average of 35 incidents of domestic violence before reporting to the police. “Judicial officers play an important role in the legal systems response. Judicial officers can express authority as the ultimate dispensers of Justice as we are the ultimate legal authority. If as judicial officers we treat domestic violence seriously, so too will the parties and the rest of the criminal justice system,”Ayers-Caesar said.

She said officers would have to deal with victims of domestic violence who come to the courts for help who do not have sufficient resources such as attorneys, an adequate source of income, access to counselling, functional extended families or even a safe place to live which can be a source of frustration for the judicial officer.

The officer may feel he or she is being asked to solve problems beyond the court’s ability to act and will also experience a sense of powerlessness sometimes which persons who encounter the abused may feel. No other societal institution, she said however, has the enforcement power attributed to the court.

“While counsellors, advocates, social workers and others can advise the abuser to stop his behaviour, only the court can order him to attend counselling, prohibit his contact with the victim and even incarcerate him where necessary,” she explained.

The community on a whole suffers from domestic violence, she said since persons who may try to help during an episode of domestic violence may end up being injured or even be killed. “The cost to the community of lost lives and resources is a constant reminder that domestic violence is not a family affair or a private affair. It is a community affair demanding a community response. Early intervention by the legal system can save lives. As judicial officers, we have an opportunity to stop domestic violence before it becomes extremely dangerous or homicidal through early intervention,” she said.

Ayers-Caesar said the justice system plays an essential part of the solution to domestic violence and should be part of a co-ordinated community effort to end the consequences of violence within the family.

The criminal justice system however needs to improve its response to domestic violence. She said there is need to improve communication and information sharing between the other key stakeholders within the system for a more collaborative approach.

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