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Trinidad and Tobago: Domestic violence, including legislation, state protection and supports services

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 8 August 2012
Citation / Document Symbol TTO104149.E
Related Document Trinité-et-Tobago : information sur la violence familiale, y compris la loi, la protection offerte par l'État et les services de soutien
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago: Domestic violence, including legislation, state protection and supports services, 8 August 2012, TTO104149.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5072a2572.html [accessed 20 October 2014]
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.

1. Overview

Sources describe the situation of domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago as a "significant" problem (UN 25 July 2011, para. 26; Freedom House 2011), "very prevalent" (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 20 Sept. 2011) and with "high" incidence (UK 28 Feb. 2012). In a study published in the West Indian Medical Journal, the authors concluded, after interviewing 364 females in 6 communities in the Couva area, in central Trinidad, that domestic violence was more prevalent in the working and lower-middle classes (Nagassar et al. Jan. 2010, 22-23).

The US Department of State notes in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 for Trinidad and Tobago that reliable statistics on domestic violence are not available but that according to women's groups, 20 to 25 percent of women suffered abuse during that year (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). Sources indicate that cases of domestic violence are underreported (Freedom House 2011; Trinidad Express 11 Sept. 2011). Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday reports that, according to some counsellors and psychologists, "embarrassment or fear could be controlling factors that keep most victims silent about their abuse" (14 Aug. 2011). Also, according to the Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago, most women remain in abusive relationships because "'economically it is better to do so'" (Trinidad Express 14 June 2011). According to the Chair of the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence (TTCADV), only after 10 to 15 incidents of "battering, violence and abuse" do women generally seek protection orders (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 14 Aug. 2011). The TTCADV is an organization that offers counselling services, forensic and victim intervention and public education among others to people suffering from physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual violence (YWCA Trinidad and Tobago n.d.).

Newspapers report four cases where women were set on fire during domestic violence disputes (Trinidad Express 14 June 2011; Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 14 Aug. 2011) and two cases of women stabbed to death by male relatives in 2010 (ibid.). According to the Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago, in most cases men set their partners on fire or "chop" them as a way to cause disfigurement so that "no one else will feel attracted to them" (Trinidad Express 14 June 2011). The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reports that, according to statistics provided by the Crime and Problem Analysis Branch (CAPA) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, 16 women were murdered in 2010 in domestic violence cases (Trinidad and Tobago Guardian 16 Jan. 2011). Another article by the same newspaper cites statistics from CAPA indicating that in 2010, 1,404 domestic violence offences were registered, including murder, child abuse and abandonment, and breach of protection orders, whereas in 2011 the number climbed to 2,312 offences (ibid. 15 Mar. 2012).

Also, after a state of emergency declared by the government of Trinidad and Tobago in August 2011 as a response to increasing criminality (The Guardian 25 Aug. 2011; Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 4 Sept. 2011), three women and one man were killed during domestic violence disputes (Trinidad Express 11 Sept. 2011). According to the coordinator of the Network of Non-governmental Organisations of Trinidad and Tobago, the state of emergency increased domestic violence incidents given that in the country the home is the "most unsafe place" for women and children (ibid.). Sources indicate that abuse of alcohol and drugs (Nagassar et al. Jan. 2010, 24; Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 20 Sept. 2011) as well as financial troubles were perceived as contributing factors (ibid.).

2. Legislation and State Protection

The Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago's website indicates that applications for protection or restraining orders can be made before the local Clerk of the Peace of the District Magistrate Court in order to "[restrain] a person from engaging in abuse behaviour of any type" (Trinidad and Tobago n.d.a). The website also indicates that protection orders can be filed by:

  • A spouse;
  • a member of the spouse's household i.e. a child;
  • a dependant;
  • a parent or sibling of either the spouse or respondent of that sibling or parent who is not a member of the household;
  • a person who has a child in common with the respondent;
  • a person who is or has been in a visiting relationship with a person of the opposite sex for a period exceeding twelve months;
  • a police officer, a probation officer or approved social worker on behalf of an alleged victim (ibid.).

The procedure to obtain a protection order is as follows:

  1. The applicant goes to the court's registry at the respective Magistrate's court;
  2. The applicant speaks to the Clerk of the Peace, who identifies the problem and determines whether it is a domestic violence matter or a matter for another court;
  3. Applicant pays $3.00 [Trinidadian Dollars or C$0.48 (XE 18 July 2012)] in cash or the value of $3.00 in stamps for filing a domestic violence complaint;
  4. The Clerk of the Peace then prepares the complaint and summons and at the same time fixes the date of hearing within seven days of filing of the application;
  5. The applicant is required to sign the complaint;
  6. The applicant takes the summons to be served on respondent to the police or may be served by the applicant or his/her agent. (ibid.)

The Domestic Violence Act of 1999, amended in 2006, indicates the following with regard to the duration of protection orders and the issuance of interim orders:

6. (9) A Protection Order may be made for such period as the Court considers necessary but shall not exceed three years. …

8. (1) On an application for a Protection Order, the Court may make an Interim Order, pending the hearing and determination of the proceedings, if it appears necessary or appropriate to do so in order to ensure the safety and protection of the applicant. (ibid. 1999)

Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday quotes the Chair of the TTCADV as saying that magistrates "'very rarely'" reject applications for protection orders (14 Aug. 2011). According to the director of Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity (ASPIRE) who is cited in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, more than 18,000 applications for protection orders are filed each year (16 Jan. 2011). ASPIRE is an organization based in Trinidad and Tobago (ASPIRE n.d.a) that advocates for sexual and reproductive equality as well as reducing the incidence of unsafe abortions (ibid. n.d.b). The Research Directorate could not find corroborating nor additional information in this regard among the sources consulted within the time constraints of this Response.

The Chair of the TTCADV also noted that whenever an individual accused of an offense or crime breaks the conditions of the protection order, the victim can ask the police for "protection" (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 14 Aug. 2011). The Domestic Violence Act indicates the following with regard to police duties in domestic violence situations:

21. (1) A police officer shall respond to every complaint or report alleging domestic violence whether or not the person making the complaint or the report is the victim.

(2) It shall be the duty of a police officer responding to a domestic violence complaint to complete a domestic violence report which shall form part of a National Domestic Violence Register to be maintained by the Commissioner of Police. …

23. (1) For the avoidance of doubt, a police officer may act in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Law Act where he has reasonable cause to believe that a person is engaging in or attempting to engage in conduct which amounts to physical violence and failure to act immediately may result in serious physical injury or death.

(2) Nothing in this section authorizes the entry onto premises by a policeman, for the purpose of any search or the arrest of any person, otherwise than in connection with the conduct referred to in subsection (1).

(3) Where a police officer exercises a power of entry under subsection (1) he shall immediately submit a written report to the Commissioner of Police, through the Head of the Division where the incident occurred… (Trinidad and Tobago 1999)

According to the US Country Reports 2011, "[r]ape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment; however, the courts often handed down considerably shorter sentences" (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service indicates that a person wishing to file a police report he or she can so in person at any police station, by phone or using an on-line form (Trinidad and Tobago n.d.b).

In a 2009 report on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration, the government of Trinidad and Tobago indicates that in 2008 it was piloting a Central Registry for Domestic Violence Data to be established in 2009 (ibid. Mar. 2009, 11). Trinidad Express reports on 15 December 2008 that the Attorney General indicated that the registry will be used to collect data on domestic violence and avoid multiple counting of domestic violence cases. Also, on 3 July 2012, the Administration of Justice (Electronic Monitoring) Act was assented and should come into force at a date to be determined by the President (Trinidad and Tobago 2012, Art. 1). The bill introduces electronic monitoring through the offender's wrist or ankle as a condition of a protection order granted under the Domestic Violence Act (ibid. 7 Dec. 2011). Additional information on the domestic violence registry, the electronic monitoring system, and the number of persons charged or convicted with domestic violence related crimes could not be found by the Research Directorate among the sources consulted within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Support Services
3.1 Domestic Violence Hotline

The government of Trinidad and Tobago's web portal indicates that it operates a National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-SAVE) 24 hours a day and provides counselling and support to victims (Trinidad and Tobago n.d.c). The government also indicates that this hotline provides initial contact with the police and referral to shelters (ibid. Mar. 2009, 11). Similarly, the Chair of TTCADV indicates that hotline attendants assist callers in getting to a nearby shelter (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 14 Aug. 2011).

3.2 Shelters

According to the government's report on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration, shelters for victims of domestic violence are operated by NGOs with financial support from the government (Trinidad and Tobago Mar. 2009, 11). Also, The Shelter, a refuge in Trinidad and Tobago for women and children who suffer domestic violence, indicates that it provides shelter for a short-term period to women and children who suffer from domestic violence (The Shelter n.d.a) in Trinidad and Tobago, and during their stay they receive accommodation, counselling, education, training, clothing, food, as well as dental, medical and legal aid (ibid. n.d.b). The Shelter also indicates that most victims are referred to it by the hotline, the police or the public and can leave "at any time that they feel ready" (ibid. n.d.c). Before departure form the shelter, the resident is given a list of additional services available to them (ibid.). The US Country Reports 2011 indicates that Trinidad and Tobago has eight shelters, a rape crisis centre, counselling services, and support groups (24 May 2012, Sec. 6). Information on the shelters and the number of people they serve could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraint of this Response.

3.3 Drop-in Centres

The government's web portal indicates that drop-in centres offer counselling services and "other forms of intervention to victims or perpetrators of domestic violence" (Trinidad and Tobago n.d.c). The drop-in centres also refer victims to other agencies to "have their issues resolved" (ibid. Mar. 2009, 11). Drop-in centres operate one day per week and services are provided on a walk-in basis (ibid. n.d.c). The government's web portal also indicates the names of the eight drop-in centres with their respective hours of operation: Manzanilla Community Centre, La Horqueta Regional Complex, Monroe Road Community Centre, Chaguanas Community Centre, Maloney Community Centre, Valencia Community Centre, Maracas Valley, and Penal Centre Community Centre (ibid.).

3.4 Other Services

The government's report also indicates that victims of gender-based violence may access legal aid through the Legal Aid Department and the Office of the Ombudsman (ibid. Mar. 2009, 11). Also, access to courts and other "social interventions" are paid for by the state (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be obtained by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. The report also points out that in rural communities, the services provided by the ombudsperson are available on "specific days of the month" (ibid.). The Ministry of Legal Affairs indicates on its website that victims of domestic abuse may visit one of their nine offices to apply for legal aid (ibid. n.d.d). Before being referred to an attorney, the applicant must fill out an "enquiry form" and pay an initial fee of $10 Trinidadian Dollars [C$1.57 (XE 19 July 2012)] (ibid.). The legal aid office determines whether or not the applicant receives legal aid after reviewing a report submitted after investigating the case (ibid.). The offices are located in Port of Spain, San Fernando, Sangre Grande, Arima, Couva, Debe, Siparia, Chaguanas, and Tobago (ibid.). Information about the Office of the Ombudsman could not be obtained by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4. Effectiveness

In its Annual Report 2012 for Trinidad and Tobago, Amnesty International indicates that the under-reporting of cases of gender-based violence is linked to "inadequate police training and the slowness of the justice system" (2012). Also, the US Department of State's Country Reports indicates that, according to local NGOs, violence against women is under-reported "partly due to perceived insensitivity on the part of police" (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). It also cites the TTCADV as indicating that "police often were lax in enforcing domestic violence laws" (ibid.). Similarly, Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday quotes the Chair of the TTCADV as saying that, despite the fact that police officers receive training in domestic violence, "a lot of them…think it's no big thing and don't regard it as very serious" (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 14 Aug. 2011). She also indicated that shelters in the country are not enough, especially in rural areas (ibid.).

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 for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Advocates for Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity (ASPIRE). N.d.a. "Contact Us." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2012]

_____. N.d.b. "Declaration of Statement." [Accessed 24 July 2012]

Amnesty International (AI). 2012. "Trinidad and Tobago." Amnesty International Report 2012: The State of the World's Human Rights. [Accessed 12 July 2012]

Freedom House. 2011. "Trinidad and Tobago." Freedom in the World 2011. [Accessed 12 July 2012]

The Guardian [London]. 25 August 2011. Adam Gabbatt. "100 Held in Trinidad and Tobago's State of Emergency." [Accessed 18 July 2012]

Nagassar, R.P., J.M. Rawlins, N.R. Sampson, J. Zackerali, K. Chankadyal, C. Ramasir and R. Boodram. January 2010. "The Prevalence of Domestic Violence within Different Socioeconomic Classes in Central Trinidad." West Indian Medical Journal. Vol. 59, No. 1. [Accessed 12 July 2012]

The Shelter. N.d.a. "Welcome to the Shelter." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

_____. N.d.b. "Services Offered." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

_____. N.d.c. "Shelter Life." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

Trinidad and Tobago. 2012. Administration of Justice (Electronic Monitoring) Act. [Accessed 19 July 2012]

_____. March 2009. Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs. Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome of the Twenty-Third Special Session of the General Assembly (2000). [Accessed 18 July 2012]

_____. 1999 (amended in 2006). Domestic Violence Act. [Accessed 4 July 2012]

_____. N.d.a. Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. "Domestic Violence." [Accessed 4 July 2012]

_____. N.d.b. Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. "Reporting Crime." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

_____. N.d.c. Trinidad and Tobago Government Portal. "Domestic Violence Drop-in Centres." [Accessed 4 July 2012]

_____. N.d.d. Ministry of Legal Affairs. "Legal Aid and Advisory Authority." [Accessed 19 July 2012]

Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday [Port of Spain]. 20 September 2011. "Hotline: Domestic Violence Common in TT." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

_____. 4 September 2011. Corey Connelly. "Vulnerability High." [Accessed 19 July 2012]

_____. 14 August 2011. Carol Matroo. "A Case for Support." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

Trinidad Express [Port of Spain]. 11 September 2011. Kim Boodram. "'Rise in Domestic Violence During SoE Was Predictable'." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

_____. 14 June 2011. Aabida Allaham. "Govt Must Do More to Help." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

_____. 15 December 2008. Camille Bethel. "Domestic Violence Registry on the Way." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

Trinidad and Tobago Guardian [Port of Spain]. 15 March 2012. Geisha Kowlessar. "ASPIRE Talks New Police Statistics: More Men Reporting Domestic Abuse." [Accessed 24 July 2012]

_____. 16 January 2011. Geisha Kowlessar. "The Problem with Protection Orders Part I: 'A Paper Can't Protect Anyone'." [Accessed 24 July 2012]

United Kingdom (UK). 28 February 2012. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "Country Profile: Trinidad and Tobago." [Accessed 12 July 2012]

United Nations (UN). 25 July 2011. Human Rights Council. Compilation Prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Accordance with Paragraph 15 (b) of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1: Trinidad and Tobago. [Accessed 17 July 2012]

United States (US). 24 May 2012. Department of State. "Trinidad and Tobago." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. [Accessed 12 July 2012]

XE. 19 July 2012. "Currency Converter Widget." [Accessed 19 July 2012]

_____. 18 July 2012. "Currency Converter Widget." [Accessed 18 July 2012]

Young Women's Christian Association Trinidad and Tobago (YWCA Trinidad and Tobago). N.d. "Contacts: Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence." [Accessed 3 Aug. 2012]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives from the following entities were unsuccessful: Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Network of Non-governmental Organisations; The Shelter; Trinidad and Tobago — Ministry of Community Development and Gender Affairs, Victim and Witness Support Unit of the Police Service; and YWCA Trinidad and Tobago.

Internet sites, including: Factiva; Human Rights Law Clinic; Human Rights Watch; Organization of American States; Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development — Poverty Reduction and Social Development Unit; Trinidad and Tobago — Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Attorney General; United Nations -Development Programme, Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

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 http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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