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Trinidad and Tobago: Domestic violence, including police responses to complaints (2001 to April 2003)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 2 May 2003
Citation / Document Symbol TTO41519.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago: Domestic violence, including police responses to complaints (2001 to April 2003), 2 May 2003, TTO41519.E, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis 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.

The coordinator of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women provided the following information on domestic violence in a 25 April 2003 telephone interview.

In theory, there is a commitment and the political will among the high levels of the police force to be responsive to domestic violence, and gender sensitivity training has been carried out at all levels of the police force, from commissioners to front-line police officers. In practice, however, the general environment for female victims of domestic violence is "somewhat hostile" with some officers being more responsive to complaints than others. Police responsiveness depends greatly on the extent to which victims are aware of their rights and informed about the procedures involved in making a complaint of domestic violence. According to the coordinator, victims who want to lodge an official complaint with the police have to insist that the complaint be recorded.

The Ministry of Gender Affairs has established 20 to 30 community crisis centres where victims of domestic violence can seek referrals to various social service agencies that provide shelter, legal aid or basic emergency attention. There are 10 shelters – all operated by non-governmental organizations – where victims can stay for periods of from

three to six months depending on their needs. The coordinator regards the services for victims in Trinidad and Tobago as "adequate" and "sufficient," but believes that there needs to be greater awareness among victims of their existence.

With reference to legal redress, the coordinator stated that while victims can obtain it, such as protection orders and free legal aid, outcomes of cases will vary depending on their specific elements (e.g. the woman's legal representation and the strength of the case). Therefore, one cannot generalize about them. There are no special courts or tribunals dedicated solely to domestic violence cases. As a result, such cases are subject to the same lengthy delay as any other case in the judicial system.

The coordinator of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence stated the following in a 28 April 2003 telephone interview. The coalition is made up of 36 members, which includes shelter groups, church groups and community groups.

Similar to the coordinator of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, the coordinator of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence stated that police responsiveness to complaints of domestic violence will vary depending on the police station or police officer with whom the victim lodges her complaint. In other words, some officers are more helpful and responsive than others.

Women can seek resources or referrals for social services at the various NGOs that make up the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Coalition, for example, runs a legal aid clinic specifically for victims of domestic violence a couple of times a month where lawyers provide their services free of charge. The government operates a telephone hotline where victims can obtain counselling and information on how to access

shelters. The coordinator of the Coalition against Domestic Violence states as well that there are 10 shelters throughout the country operated by NGOs and adds that another one is located in the northern part of the country, which is run by the police. Some of the shelters obtain government financing while others are forced to organize fundraising events to maintain operations.

Victims can access the judicial system and obtain protection orders through the magistrate courts. The coordinator was unable, however, to confirm how many domestic violence cases resulted in the prosecution of aggressors.

In a 24 April 2003 telephone interview, the Director of Social Services and Gender Affairs for the Tobago House Assembly, in Scarborough, provided the following information on domestic violence, including police responses to complaints.

The Director described the police response to complaints of domestic violence as "very positive" and said that police officers, in general, "were sensitized" to the problem as a result of ongoing training financed by the Gender Equity Fund. Depending on the case, the police could encourage the victim of domestic violence to seek assistance from a social agency, escort her directly to a shelter if her life was in danger or suggest that she obtain a restraining order from a magistrate court.

Social agencies include the Tobago government's Department of Social Services, which manages a Family Violence Program that provides emergency care such as shelter, food, counselling and legal advice. There are also two non-governmental organizations in Tobago that offer support service to victims of domestic violence: the Family First Foundation for Children and Youth at Risk and the Tobago Women Empowerment and

Rehabilitation. The former is equipped to intervene in crisis situations and staffs a telephone hotline for those in need of assistance; the latter offers shelter and support to women who want to pursue their cases through legal channels.

Based on data collected by various social service and health agencies, the Director stated that 96 cases of domestic violence had been reported in 2002. The Director was unable to indicate the outcomes of these cases, but stated that, generally, the judicial system in Tobago was successful in prosecuting cases of domestic violence, in as much as perpetrators were sentenced, and that legal redress was possible for victims of domestic violence.

Similar to the coordinators of the Coalition of Domestic Violence and of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, but in contrast to Tobago's Director of Social Services and Gender Affairs, Country Reports for 2002 states that, while "a community police division improved police responsiveness to reports of domestic abuse ... some police officers were reportedly unsympathetic or reluctant to pursue such cases, resulting in underreporting of crimes of violence against women" (31 Mar. 2002, Sec. 5). From January to October 2002, the police reported 565 cases of domestic violence (Country Reports for 2002 31 Mar. 2002, Sec. 5).

In the "Initial, Second and Third Periodic Report: Trinidad and Tobago" to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in January 2002, the government reported measures it had taken to address gender-based violence:

A comprehensive programme against domestic violence had been launched, the components of which included the establishment of a 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline, a Domestic Violence Unit

within the Gender Affairs Division, a Male Support Programme and 19 community-based drop-in information centres. A Community Policing Section had been established within the police force; and the Government was developing a national policy on domestic violence (UN 29 Jan. 2002, par. 7).

The UN report also states that the Trinidad and Tobago government had amended its Legal Aid and Advice Act in 1999 to increase the number of people, including female victims of violence, who could be eligible for legal aid (ibid., par. 8). In 2000, the government modified its Sexual Offences Act No. 27 of 1986 (ibid. par. 18) to stiffen the penalties for sexual offences and to criminalize marital rape (ibid., par. 8).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Port-of-Spain. 28 April 2003. Telephone interview with the coordinator.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. 31 March 2003. United States Department of State, Washington, DC. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2003]

Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, Port-of-Spain. 25 April 2003. Telephone interview with the coordinator.

Trinidad and Tobago. 24 April 2003. Tobago House Assembly. Telephone interview with the Director of Social Services and Gender Affairs.

United Nations. 29 January 2001. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. "Initial, Second and Third Periodic Report: Trinidad and Tobago." (CEDAW/C/2002/I/CRP.3/Add.4.) [Accessed 14 Apr. 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


World News Connection

Internet sites, including:

Human Rights Internet (HRI)

Isis Internacional

Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM)


Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO)

Trinidad Express [Port-of-Spain]. Search engine

Trinidad Guardian [Port-of-Spain]. Search engine

Trinidad Post [Port-of-Spain]. Search engine

Women Watch

Search engine:


Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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