Human Rights Briefs: Women in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||REsearchg Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||1 November 1993|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Human Rights Briefs: Women in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, 1 November 1993, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8078.html [accessed 21 October 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Trinidad and Tobago women have made tremendous gains during the last two decades in terms of equality of education, employment and compensation, however, women of all classes, ethnicities and professions continue to experience various forms of patriarchal control, often in the form of violence (Feminist Review Spring 1991, 33). An estimated one in four Trinidad and Tobago households experiences domestic violence, and one in three women is battered (Express 11 May 1992, 19). The Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago documented 88 cases of rape in 1992 (Rape Crisis Society 1992, 21, 37-38), but the actual number is likely higher. One estimate is that for every case reported, another eight go unreported (Express 3 Sept. 1991, 1; Sunday Guardian 16 June 1991, 5).
In the 1980s women throughout the Caribbean region mobilized around the issue of violence against women, which includes such things as domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse of children, sexual harassment in the workplace and other forms of sexual assault (Isis Feb. 1991, 13). Rape was one of the first of these issues to surface in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1980s. Two high-profile events were largely responsible for focusing attention on this problem: first, a group of professional women held a three-day seminar on the subject, and second, there was a 10-part television series on it. These discussions on rape created an environment in which other forms of sexual abuse such as wife battering were brought into the open (Social Justice Summer 1990, 127-28; Feminist Review Spring 1991, 44-45). According to the Minister of Social Development and Family Services, the vigorous debate conducted in the popular media served to "make the public aware that domestic violence and wife abuse are indeed very serious problems in Trinidad and Tobago" (Trinidad Guardian 5 Feb. 1991, 9).
Two major pieces of legislation dealing with violence against women are the Sexual Offences Act 1986 and the Domestic Violence Act 1991, the former act passed largely as a result of efforts by women's groups concerned about escalating male violence (Social Justice Summer 1990, 135). Rhoda Reddock, regional representative for the Institute of Social Studies of the Women and Development Studies Group at the University of West Indies, has stated that rape and sexual violence have been accepted as serious criminal offences in recent years (Trinidad Guardian 10 Apr. 1992a, 3). The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), however, argues that rape is still not seen as being a serious offence by Trinidadian men (Ibid.).
Since the Domestic Violence Act was enacted, there has been an increase in the number of cases of incest, rape and sexual abuse being reported (Ibid. 25 Aug. 1992, 7). The Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Social Services is in the process of compiling statistics to gauge the success of the act (Pargrass 26 Apr. 1993). An impediment to compilation and analysis of statistical information is the fact that prior to the act cases were tried under general assault legislation, and therefore were not recorded as domestic violence cases (Ibid.).
According to CAFRA member Gaietry Pargrass, one of the people involved in drafting the Domestic Violence Act, no systematic study has yet been done on the subject of domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago. She notes further that because of the need for confidentiality in cases of domestic violence, rape crisis centres and women's shelters are understandably cautious about releasing information (Ibid. 11 May 1993). According to a counsellor with the Rape Crisis Society, because of Trinidad's small population, it would be easy to recognize plaintiffs if the details of individual cases were revealed. Many women are ashamed and afraid to admit to rape and battering, and shelters and rape crisis centres respect their desire for confidentiality (Patrick 30 Apr. 1993). CAFRA has requested funds for a quantitative and qualitative study of domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago, and work will begin when sufficient resources have been allocated (Pargrass 11 May 1993).
ll of the islands in the Caribbean have a shared history of colonialism, slavery and racism which has shaped the social, cultural, economic and political foundations of their societies (Antrobus and Gordon 1984, 118-19). Enslaved Africans were first brought to Trinidad and Tobago by the British for the production of sugar. Once slavery was abolished in 1838, sugar production came to rely heavily on the importation of indentured labour from India. Indian women, both Hindu and Muslim, were among those recruited in Calcutta and Madras to work on the sugar plantations. Apparently many of these women were fleeing the social stigmata associated with pregnancy outside marriage, the ban on widow remarriage and other domestic problems (Cimarrón Spring 1988, 85-86, 90). The descendants of these Africans and East Indians now comprise the two dominant ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago, between them accounting for 83 per cent of the country's population (Encyclopedia of the Third World 1992, 1937).
By the 1870s, having a wife had become an important symbol of masculinity and status, as well as a social and economic necessity, for migrant Indian men seeking to improve their socioeconomic and caste positions in Trinidad and Tobago (Alexander 1991, 135; Cimarrón Spring 1988, 99). But if East Indian women were a prominent feature of the indentured labour system employed on the plantations, this importance was not reflected in the status accorded them. All were paid significantly lower wages than were men for performing the same work, and many women, if indentured, could not receive food rations, or they were distributed only to male heads of households (Cimarrón Spring 1988, 86, 90, 95). Even women who were not indentured were usually economically dependent on their husbands (Ibid., 95).
According to Reddock, although East Indian women were able to maintain some degree of autonomy and independence, their efforts were often undermined by Indian men, who, in an attempt to reconstruct the patriarchal Indian family, often resorted to violence. Violence against women, including murder, was "common" in areas of high Indian migration (Ibid., 100-01). One source has suggested that the violence Trinidad and Tobago women experience today, particularly rape and wife-beating, may be rooted in more than a century of this kind of sexual inequality and male domination (Kamugisha 1986, 76).
Despite the gains of the last forty years, there are still concerns about the treatment of Hindu women in the home. Speaking at a public function, Senator Amrika Tiwari explained that male community leaders and family members alike expect Hindu women to be obedient, subservient, tolerant, dutiful and modest. Many Hindu men, she said, seem to believe "it is their right to beat their women-folk and [they] exercise this right as a right in law" (Sunday Guardian 10 Mar. 1991, 5). Many Hindu women tolerate brutality because they are financially dependent on the abuser, while others are ashamed to speak out. Significantly, the Hindu community reportedly did not participate in the extensive public debate prior to passage of the Domestic Violence Act (Ibid.).
In the case of Muslim families, the practice of polygamy has been cited as a major factor in the abuse, both mental and physical, of women. Religious leaders regularly perform marriage ceremonies between single women and married men, despite the fact that polygamy is not permitted under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad Guardian 10 July 1992, 11).
As indicated by Ashe Kambon, Coordinator of the Network of Non-governmental Organisations of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, there has been no research completed that would indicate socio-economic or cultural differences related to violence against women; "domestic violence can be perpetrated among any group regardless of class, race, ethnic or cultural composition" (1 Nov. 1993).
Over the last few decades, Trinidad and Tobago has seen the growth of a large, articulate and economically secure group of women. Education and economic opportunities were taken up avidly by women during the oil boom years of 1974-1981 (Feminist Review Spring 1991, 36). In 1987-88 women comprised 50 per cent of all full-time undergraduate students and 41.6 per cent of all full-time postgraduate degree students at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus (Henry and Demas Nov. 1990, 94-95). All ethnic groups are represented in these changes, including women of Indian descent, who until recently had only limited access to education and were forbidden to work outside the home. These changes have meant that women in general have been more visible in traditionally male-dominated areas of employment, and that the media have displayed greater sensitivity to the problem of violence against women (Feminist Review Spring 1991, 36-38).
As well, there has been progress in the area of child-bearing and contraception. Trinidad has had an active and progressive family planning association, which since the mid-1950s has directed much attention to changing attitudes and breaking down the cultural barriers stopping women from preventing pregnancy and speaking out about such matters. Contraceptives are freely available (Ibid., 37).
Political power and political life, although not closed to women, has been traditionally dominated by men. The concentration of women in the low-wage sector and in lower administrative positions tended to keep them out of policy formulation and decision-making, although there have been recent changes in this area (Ibid.). In the 1986 elections, for example, five women were elected to the 36-member House of Representatives and four were appointed to the 31-member Senate, and in 1987 there were three women in the 15-member Cabinet (Women's Movements of the World 1988, 263). Six seats in Parliament were held by women in 1991 (United Nations 1993, 150). According to Ashe Kambon, "women fully participate in the political life of [Trinidad and Tobago] - not only as voters, as party canvassers, supporters and candidates but as parliamentarians, ministers, Permanent Secretaries... [and] Magistrates" (1 Nov. 1993).
3. LEGAL FRAMEWORK
3.1 The Constitution
In general, Trinidad and Tobago women enjoy equal treatment under the law. Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago guarantee every person, regardless of sex, fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to equality before the law. As the constitution is the supreme law of the nation, any law depriving women of their rights and freedoms, or which places restrictions on their enjoyment of these rights, may be struck down by the High Court (CAFRA Aug. 1991, 3; Trinidad and Tobago Jan. 1980). Although anti-discrimination provisions specific to women do not appear in the constitution, women are guaranteed equality of treatment by public institutions. While these guarantees protect women against discriminatory laws and regulations, they apply only to public institutions and not to the private sector, where, for example, they do little to protect women from discrimination in employment matters (CAFRA Aug. 1991, 3-4).
The two most important pieces of legislation relating to women's rights are the Sexual Offences Act and the Domestic Violence Act.
3.2 Sexual Offences Act (1986)
The Sexual Offences Act of 1986 represented the first attempt by the Trinidadian state to consolidate the entire array of institutional mechanisms regulating sexuality. The act originated with the work of the Law Reform Commission, which was constituted in 1971 and mandated by the Ministry of Legal Affairs to propose new areas for legislation (Alexander 1991, 135).
As originally drafted, the Sexual Offences Act was a progressive piece of legislation. Among other things it proposed making marital rape an offence and decriminalized homosexuality. However, after extensive debate, both inside and outside Parliament, both proposals were dropped from later revisions of the bill (Ibid., 136; Social Justice Summer 1990, 128-35). As adopted, the Sexual Offences Act criminalized areas of sexual activity not previously covered by legislation (Alexander 1991, 136). Subsection 11.(1) of the act established prohibitions against employers who take sexual advantage of their minor employees at the workplace, while subsections 7.(1) and 7.(2) made sex with a girl age 14 to 16 a statutory offence (Trinidad and Tobago 11 Nov. 1986). In addition, marital rape--referred to as "sexual assault"--was criminalized for the first time (section 5), but only under certain conditions: where there exists a decree nisi of divorce, a decree of judicial separation, a separation agreement, an order for the husband not to molest or have sexual intercourse with his wife, where notice of proceedings has been served for judicial separation, nullity or dissolution of marriage, or where the husband and wife are living apart. The maximum penalty for an offence under section 5 is imprisonment for 15 years (Ibid.; Alexander 1991, 136).
Section 4 of the act defines rape as a male having sexual intercourse with a female who is not his wife, either with or without her consent, if that consent was obtained by threats or fear of bodily harm to her or another, by false and fraudulent representations as to the nature of the act, or by impersonating her husband. Section 4 further deems that a male person under 14 years of age is incapable of committing the offence of rape. The maximum penalty for someone convicted of rape is life imprisonment (Ibid.).
Under section 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, homosexual and lesbian sex became punishable under a new offence called "serious indecency." Serious indecency is defined in subsection 16.(3) as an act, "other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire" (Trinidad and Tobago 11 Nov. 1986). Punishment for an act of serious indecency ranges from five to ten years' imprisonment, with the greater sentence applying if the act was committed with someone under the age of 16. Section 16 also stipulates that acts of serious indecency are not punishable if committed in private between "a husband and his wife," or between a consenting male and female who are both over the age of 16 (Ibid.). However, homosexual or lesbian sex would be considered punishable serious indecency (Alexander 1991, 140). Nevertheless, one source reports that "to date no one has either been charged or convicted under [this] section [of the law]" (Kambon, 1 Nov. 1993).
3.3 The Domestic Violence Act (1991)
The purpose of the Domestic Violence Act is stated in its subtitle: it is an act "to afford protection in the instance of domestic violence by the granting of a protection order, to provide the police with powers of arrest where a domestic violence offence occurs, and for other purposes" (Trinidad and Tobago 16 Aug. 1991).
In contrast to the experience with the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act was relatively uncontroversial and attempts to weaken it failed. An editorial in the Express argued that the proposed act was an attempt to
redress a long-existing social imbalance. The fact is, the battering of women is a common, hidden and tacitly accepted feature of our society. This is a serious indictment of our culture, and the Domestic Violence Bill attempts to voice that indictment (16 Mar. 1991, 8).
The act was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on 1 July 1991. Minister of Social Development and Family Services Emanuel Hosein stated that the act "was the first phase of social legislation that tackles an issue which affects so many people, particularly women, children and the disadvantaged within the context of the family," and refuted critics' arguments that it was a pre-election ploy to buy women's votes (Trinidad Guardian 2 July 1991, 1).
Under subsection 7.(1) of the act, an abused spouse, former spouse, common-law spouse or former common-law spouse can apply for a protection order to the magistrates' court in her district, or have a police officer or parent make the application on her behalf (CAFRA Nov. 1992, 5). The application must be submitted to the clerk of the court who will then set a date for the hearing, to be held within 7 days of receipt of the application. The applicant does not need a lawyer, but can engage one (Ibid., 6). Victims of domestic violence are not eligible for legal aid services, such aid being confined primarily to cases referred to the High Court of Justice (Trinidad and Tobago 1992, 5). Legislation to provide legal assistance under the act has been drafted to remedy this oversight (Pargrass 11 May 1993).
Under section 23 of the act, a protection order may be granted by a magistrates' court even if criminal proceedings against the respondent are already in progress. In emergency cases the magistrate may issue an interim order (not to exceed 14 days) on the evidence of the victim alone, without the respondent even being present in court (CAFRA Nov. 1992, 6; Trinidad Guardian 5 Feb. 1991, 9). Should a respondent contravene a protection order, he could be found guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding $5,000 or six months' imprisonment or both (Thomas-Felix 14 Mar. 1992, 6).
In granting a protection order the magistrate may prohibit the respondent from remaining on the premises where the victim resides or works, contacting the victim or engaging in conduct of an offensive or harassing nature, or taking possession of any personal property (CAFRA, Nov. 1992, 6; Trinidad Guardian 5 Feb. 1991, 9). Furthermore, paragraph 5.(1)(k) of the Domestic Violence Act states that a protection order may "direct that the applicant or respondent, or both, seek appropriate counselling or therapy from a person or agency approved by the Minister."
In addition to the mechanisms provided in the Domestic Violence Act and Sexual Offences Act, complaints can also be lodged under a number of other acts, including the Offences Against the Person Act, Summary Offences Act and the Children's Act (Thomas-Felix 14 Mar. 1992, 4).
3.4 International Covenants
Trinidad has ratified a number of international covenants, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Civil and Political Rights; and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Among the conventions it has ratified are the Convention on the Political Rights of Women; on the Nationality of Married Women; and on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (Human Rights Law Journal 1 Jan. 1993, 62, 67-68). The network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for Advancement of Women, which encompasses more than 60 organizations, successfully lobbied the government of Trinidad and Tobago for ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (Ibid., 70; Springer n.d.). In addition, in May 1991 Trinidad and Tobago ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and recognized the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Amnesty International 1992, 254).
4. AREAS OF CONCERN
Eleven months after passage, 1,007 cases had been filed under the Domestic Violence Act; of these, 867 cases had been resolved while 148 were still pending (Trinidad Guardian 14 July 1992, 3). According to a magistrate with the magistrates' court in Port of Spain, by early 1992 there were approximately eight to ten new applications for protection orders each day, and on some days as many as fourteen. Applicants are generally female spouses or parents of adult children who are causing some sort of disturbance in the family home, although there have been a small number of applications for protection from male spouses. The magistrate further estimated that at least two-thirds of the respondents against whom protection orders are sought are self-admitted users of alcohol or cocaine (Thomas-Felix 14 Mar. 1992, 3).
4.1 The Judiciary
The sentences handed down by judges in cases of violence against women have sometimes been the subject of fierce public debate in Trinidad. The 1992 five-year sentence of a man who killed his wife and also attempted to drown his two babies was widely criticized as being uncommonly lenient (Sunday Express 31 May 1992, 29). In another case the Trinidad and Tobago Court of Appeal freed a man who had served only 4 years of a 20-year sentence for rape. In setting aside the conviction and sentence one of the presiding judges criticized the heavy sentences being imposed on first time rapists (Ibid. 19 Apr. 1992, 34). The judge's comments were harshly criticized by a number of women's groups, including the Presbyterian Church's Board of Women, the Women's Resource and Research Centre (WRRC), the Hindu Women's Organization and the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) (Express 11 Apr. 1992, 3; Trinidad Guardian 10 Apr. 1992a, 3; Ibid. 11 Apr. 1992, 3). As the Sunday Express noted by way of comparison, three counts of burglary might "easily" lead to 19 years in prison, and one "con artist" had recently been handed a 76-year sentence (31 May 1992, 29).
In addition to problems with the attitudes of certain judicial officials toward sentencing in cases of violence against women, concern has also been expressed about the backlog of cases in courts. One estimate is that the average length of trial completion of rape cases in Trinidad and Tobago is five years (United Nations 1 May 1991, 6). In one particularly notorious incident, a man who was charged with the buggery of a seven-year-old girl in 1979 had his case dismissed after ten years and five adjournments in the High Court, when his attorney filed for a stay of prosecution because of the delay in trying the case. In stating his reasons for the delay, the state prosecutor cited a heavy backlog of cases, shortages of court staff and a rising crime rate (Trinidad Guardian 18 July 1991, 8).
Legislative recommendations have already been made to try to cope with the increasing number of family-related matters coming before the courts, both the High Court and the magistrates' court, as a result of the Domestic Violence Act. In 1992 a Cabinet-appointed review panel on the administration of justice recommended establishment of a unified family court with exclusive jurisdiction in all family matters. Because family matters demand a practical, conciliatory and less adversarial approach than do most legal proceedings, the panel recommended the commissioning of new courts and the appointment of special judges, magistrates and registrars (Sunday Guardian 18 Oct. 1992, 3).
4.2 Police Response
In early 1990, largely in response to public dissatisfaction with the way police were handling domestic violence complaints, the police commissioner established a special unit to deal with battered and abused women and children. This unit, the Juvenile Bureau and Counselling Service in Port of Spain, is headed by a female inspector who, together with seven staff officers, most of them female, handles cases of rape, abuse and incest. Although the bureau is not empowered to lay charges, it does provide counselling. Police are required to report all cases of child abuse, incest, rape or domestic abuse, and they make referrals to the bureau on a daily basis (Juvenile Bureau 11 May 1993; Sunday Guardian 18 Mar. 1990, 15). A staffer with the bureau indicated that bureau officers undergo a crash course in counselling. When a woman reports that she has been beaten, the officers try to get all relevant information from her, and separately, from her partner. They then try to bring the couple together for counselling. These sessions could be for as short a period as three weeks or up to six months, depending upon the circumstances of the case. The woman is informed that she is free to contact the counsellor at any time between sessions, and the counselling sessions continue until "everything is regularized" (Juvenile Bureau 11 May 1993).
The bureau also responds to requests from halfway houses and the Rape Crisis Society. According to a hotline counsellor with the Rape Crisis Society who is also a social worker in a juvenile home, a lot of women have been using the service (Taylor 11 May 1993). As well, the police have an outreach program for schools and other organizations, and they lecture on request. Child abuse, drug abuse and domestic violence are among the subjects discussed (Juvenile Bureau 11 May 1993).
Despite the above-mentioned measures, some groups are still critical of police response in general. After the comments made by Court of Appeal judge Mustapha Ibrahim, who was critical of the heavy sentences being given first-time rapists, Halfway House women's shelter stated:
It is about time that officers of the law--judges and police--abandon their convenient myths of male authority and power and begin to take seriously the question of domestic violence, inclusive of rape ... (Express 11 Apr. 1992, 3).
Halfway House also stated that officers of the law required training in order to recognize the gravity of these sorts of crimes, as well as the need for appropriate sentencing (Ibid.).
Furthermore, it is very difficult to gather accurate information on whether protection orders are being enforced by the police. Research in this area still needs to be done (Pargrass 11 May 1993).
5. ALTERNATIVES FOR WOMEN FLEEING VIOLENCE
5.1 Women's Organizations
Trinidad has had a tradition of women's organizations since the 1930s, and these organizations now include women from the East Indian community. East Indian women have also established groups within their own community, usually within religious organizations (Henry and Demas Nov. 1990, 155). The Hindu Women's Organization, formed in 1987, was established to mobilize Hindu women and deal with matters specifically affecting them and their relationship with society at large (Isis Feb. 1991, 14).
Women also figure prominently in a large array of community-level NGOs, special interest groups, and service clubs with international connections like the YM/YWCA. Among the services these organizations provide are hostels for young working women, day care centres, protection for victims of child abuse, rape and incest, and counselling sessions for drug users. These services often complement or even substitute for those provided by the state (Henry and Demas Nov. 1990, 155). According to the coordinator of the NGO Network of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, three NGOs recently organized a workshop to explain the law and try to make it accessible to women of all backgrounds from across the country (Kambon 14 May 1993). As well, NGOs continue to work on such issues as violence and legal literacy, and CAFRA has printed quantities of popular education materials about the Domestic Violence Act (Pargrass 11 May 1993).
According to information received from CAFRA, there are six shelters or halfway houses for battered women in Trinidad and Tobago; four are shelters for battered women, one is a halfway house for victims of rape and incest, and one is a shelter for young and adult women in difficulty. At least four of the six shelters also take children (CAFRA 27 Apr. 1993, 4). According to a counsellor with the Rape Crisis Society, three of the shelters are government-registered, and of these two are partially funded by the government, while the third is supported entirely through private funds. Capacity varies with the shelter, from ten to twelve persons in the south and twelve to fifteen in the north, to five to seven persons in the east (Patrick 30 Apr. 1993).
The advent of shelters has supported and strengthened the services available to battered women, who with their children can stay in them free of charge for up to three months (Ibid. 30 Apr. 1993). If the situation is particularly difficult, the period can be extended for up to six months. Space is always a problem according to a Rape Crisis Society counsellor. Although she has never had to turn anyone away, the counsellor speculated that a woman could be refused shelter due to lack of space (Taylor 11 May 1993).
Women contact the shelters in various ways. When the Rape Crisis Society is contacted, an interview is arranged with a counsellor, who then assesses the situation. If the counsellor deems it necessary, arrangements are made to shelter the applicant. Because of the high crime rate, counsellors do not accept appointments at night; if an emergency arises at night, the woman is advised to contact the police or get help from her family (Ibid.). Women also have four counselling and referral services that they can contact: the Juvenile Bureau and Counselling Service, the Rape Crisis Society, Families in Action and the Women's Resource and Research Centre (CAFRA 27 Apr. 1993, 3).
6. FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS
It is widely accepted that the Domestic Violence Act of 1991 has led to an increase in the number of cases of incest, rape and sexual abuse being reported (Sunday Guardian 18 Oct. 1992, 3; Trinidad Guardian 25 Aug. 1992, 7), although research is still required to determine whether the law has also acted as a deterrent (Pargrass 11 May 1993). Whereas in the past the police might have advised a woman reporting domestic violence to take her case to a Justice of the Peace--a process which would normally take months before getting to court (Sunday Guardian 18 Mar. 1990, 5)--under the act women now have direct access to the magistrates' court, thereby making the system more accessible and cheaper for women fleeing violence (Pargrass 11 May 1993). These types of cases are heard in camera, with the public gallery kept empty, so that women and children usually feel freer to give evidence (Sunday Guardian 16 June 1991, 5). Trinidad is one of the few countries in the Caribbean providing this kind of anonymity for the complainant and the alleged offender; only if the trial results in a guilty verdict is the identity of the offender revealed (CAFRA 28-30 Jan. 1991, 12).
While rape and sexual violence have been accepted as being serious criminal offences in recent years (Trinidad Guardian 10 Apr. 1992a, 3), and the government has supported the NGOs' provision of family services (Ibid. 2 July 1991, 1), concern has been expressed in the media about the attitude of some judges toward the sentencing of convicted individuals, and about the backlog of criminal cases in the courts (Ibid. 10 Apr. 1992a, 3; Ibid. 10 Apr. 1992b, 8; Ibid. 18 July 1991, 8; Sunday Express 31 May 1992, 29).
The prevalence of domestic violence and violence against women in general, will likely not change without continuing public education programmes. In the words of Diana Mahabir, a management consultant and observer of women's issues,
since most rapes are acts of violence, committed by men on women, it's obvious that we have to start by changing the way men are socialized from early childhood to use violence to get what they want, and to think that women are supposed to give them anything they ask for (Express 3 Sept. 1991, 19).
Progress has indeed been made in the areas of law, social services and education of women (Kambon 1 Nov. 1993). Yet, there remains work to be done in Trinidad and Tobago; "changing societal norms and attitudes about the staus of women is a long term undertaking as it is in every society" (Ibid.).
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