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Trinidad and Tobago: Domestic violence, including legislation, services available and police response to complaints (2005-2008)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Citation / Document Symbol TTO102810.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Trinidad and Tobago: Domestic violence, including legislation, services available and police response to complaints (2005-2008), 20 May 2008, TTO102810.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49b92b211e.html [accessed 23 September 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.

Statistics on Domestic Violence

A United Kingdom (UK) Foreign and Commonwealth Office document released on 29 January 2008 states that Trinidad and Tobago has a "high level of domestic violence," while human rights reports covering 2007 describe the problem of domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago as "significant" (Freedom House 2007; US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). Women's groups estimate that twenty to twenty-five percent of all women in the country have suffered abuse (ibid.; Nation News 16 Mar. 2008) although the United States (US) Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 indicates that reliable national statistics are unavailable (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). Nevertheless, a Court of Appeal judge is quoted in Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday, as saying that domestic violence in the country has reached "epidemic proportions" (5 Mar. 2008).

Figures published in an article in the Trinidad and Tobago Express indicate that in 2005 there were twenty-six murders related to domestic violence, while in 2006, there were twenty-three such cases (26 Dec. 2007). Between January and November 2007, the number of domestic violence related homicides was sixteen (Trinidad and Tobago Express 26 Dec. 2007).

The Domestic Violence Act and Protection Orders

The Trinidad and Tobago Domestic Violence Act, 1999 (Trinidad and Tobago 12 Oct. 1999, Sec. 1.1) enhanced existing legislation on domestic violence that was introduced in 1991, which mandated police officers to intervene in "situations previously deemed off limits" and which also provided for the issuance of protection orders (Trinidad and Tobago Express 4 Dec. 2005). The 1999 Act extends the definition of domestic violence to include physical, sexual, emotional or psychological and financial abuse (ibid.; Trinidad and Tobago 12 Oct. 1999, Sec. 3) and gives magistrates the authority to grant interim protection orders prior to hearing from the alleged perpetrator (ibid. Sec. 8; Trinidad and Tobago Express 4 Dec. 2005). The 1999 Act can also be applied to a broader range of familial relationships than could the 1991 one (Society of Applied Anthropology Summer 2006, "Domestic Violence Law, Courts, and Litigants").

Applications for protection orders in Trinidad and Tobago are processed by the lower courts, which constitute the Magistracy (ibid.). A protection order may not exceed three years (Trinidad and Tobago 12 Oct. 1999, Sec. 6.9) and an interim protection order may not exceed twenty-one days (ibid. Sec. 8.3). Legal aid is available for victims of domestic violence seeking protection through the lower courts (OAS 19-20 Apr. 2005, 4).

An article in the Trinidad Guardian notes that although a protection order is intended to act as a safety barrier for victims of domestic abuse, it is not a "fence made of steel" (26 Nov. 2006). Cases involving women who were killed by former partners after seeking a protection order have been reported in the Trinidadian media (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 27 Nov. 2005; ibid. 4 Nov. 2006). In November 2006, a woman was stabbed to death after fleeing an abusive relationship and filing a protection order against her former partner (ibid.). In another case in 2005, a woman was murdered outside her new place of residence even though she had reported several previous attacks by her estranged husband and had tried to obtain a protection order (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 27 Nov. 2005). Furthermore, a report compiled by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) indicated that enforcement of protection orders may be difficult due to unwillingness on the part of police to intervene in domestic matters (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 27 Nov. 2005).

Additional Legislation and State Protection

Additional legislation protecting women from abusive partners includes the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Harassment) Act, 2005 (Trinidad and Tobago 23 June 2005). The amended Act adds new sections on "harassment" which define a range of offences including following, watching or making contact with a person in a way that causes "alarm" or "distress", and "putting a person in fear of violence" with intent to arouse fear (ibid. Sec. 2).

Police Response

The Domestic Violence Act, 1999 obliges police officers to respond to complaints and to keep a careful record of all reports (OAS 19-20 Apr. 2005, 3), which are included in a National Domestic Violence Register maintained by the Commissioner of Police (Trinidad and Tobago 12 Oct. 1999, Sec. 21.2). The law states that "[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" (ibid. Sec. 21.1).

Despite the powers granted to law enforcement officials by the Act, sources report that police enforcement is "lax" (Nation News 16 Mar. 2008; US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). An article that appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago Express on 4 December 2005 refers to reports of insensitivity and inadequacy on the part of police, and gives details of one victim's experience of police inaction despite several complaints, including an incident in which she was jailed for half a day following a confrontation with her husband. The article quotes a family law attorney who maintains that, although the police force underwent a "makeover in the nineties" that led to an improved attitude toward domestic violence cases, the effort to train and "orient" officers must be on-going (Trinidad and Tobago Express 4 Dec. 2005).

In December 2007, the Trinidad and Tobago Express announced the pending release of a 39-page document called the "Domestic Violence and Investigative Procedural Manual," which was developed for use by police officers by an ad hoc committee appointed by the sitting Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago in 2003 (26 Dec. 2007). The purpose of the manual is to provide officers with guidelines on how to deal with incidents of domestic violence, including procedures to follow when an initial report is made and information on how to interact with victims, suspects, witnesses and minors who may have been present when the violence occurred (Trinidad and Tobago Express 26 Dec. 2007). The National Security Minister, who was responsible for handing over the manual to the Commissioner of Police, added that Victim Support Offices with highly trained and experienced counsellors would be set up at five "model stations" in San Fernando, West End, Morvant, Chaguanas and Arouca as part of the government's "Policing for People" initiative (ibid.).

Services

The website of Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs indicates that a Domestic Violence Unit was established in May 1997 to provide counselling, information and referral services, and outreach programs to victims of domestic violence (Trinidad and Tobago n.d.a). The Unit operates a twenty-four hour domestic violence hotline and community drop-in centres, which are open one day per week (ibid. n.d.b). In addition, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved a 24.5 million US dollar loan to Trinidad and Tobago to help reduce crime, including domestic violence (IDB 13 Mar. 2008).

However, according to United National Congress Alliance (UNCA) opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, programs that were initiated by the UNCA to deal with gender-based violence, including the twenty-four hour hotline, the establishment of twenty safe houses and a community policing project with specially trained officers to deal with domestic violence, have either been disbanded by the People's National Movement (PNM) government or allowed to collapse (Trinidad Guardian 3 Sept. 2007). An article in the Trinidad and Tobago Express noted activists' dismay over the "lost momentum" of the community policing initiative (4 Dec. 2005). Another article expressed the opinion that the Domestic Violence Act, 1999 has achieved only "limited success" due to problems with "application and enforcement" (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 27 Nov. 2005). Furthermore, another article observed that some mothers fleeing a violent home situation may be reluctant or unable to seek shelter in safe houses as they do not accommodate boys above the age of twelve years (Trinidad and Tobago Express 11 Dec. 2005).

Court Response

In March 2008, the media reported that "stiff" sentences had been handed down by a panel of judges in two separate domestic violence cases (Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday 5 Mar. 2008; ibid. 14 Mar. 2008). According to Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday, the panel stated that it was "breaking with the sentencing traditions of the past" and that it was time to set "new guidelines" in order to address domestic violence (14 Mar. 2008).

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 additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Freedom House. 2007. "Trinidad and Tobago." Freedom in the World. [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). 13 March 2008. "IDB Approves US$24.5 Million Loan for Citizen Security Program in Trinidad and Tobago." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]

Nation News [Barbados]. 16 March 2008. Tony Best. "Violence That Haunts the Home." [Accessed 17 Apr. 2008]

Organization of American States (OAS). 19-20 April 2005. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Work Meeting. Tracy Robinson. Access to Justice for Women Who Are Victims of Violence in the Caribbean. [Accessed 11 Apr. 2008]

Society of Applied Anthropology. Summer 2006. Mindie Lazarus-Black. "The Politics of Place: Practice, Process and Kinship in Domestic Violence Courts." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]

Trinidad and Tobago. 23 June 2005. Act No. 11 of 2005. An Act to Amend the Offences Against the Person Act, Chap. 11:08. [Accessed 15 Apr. 2008]
_____. 12 October 1999. The Domestic Violence Act, 1999. [Accessed 11 Apr. 2008]
_____. N.d.a. Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs. "Domestic Violence Unit." [Accessed 11 Apr. 2008]
_____. N.d.b. "Domestic Violence Drop-in Centres." [Accessed 17 Apr. 2008]

Trinidad and Tobago Express. 26 December 2007. Carolyn Kissoon. "Police Get Domestic Violence Manual." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]
_____. 11 December 2005. Cedriann Martin. "Domestic Violence." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2008]
_____. 4 December 2005. Cedriann Martin. "Domestic Violence." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2008]

Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday. 14 March 2008. Andre Bagoo. "Jail for Lesbian Murder." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]
_____. 5 March 2008. Andre Bagoo. "Judge: Violence an Epidemic." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]
_____. 4 November 2006. Susan Mohammed. "Mom of 3 Stabbed to Death." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2008]
_____. 27 November 2005. Suzanne Sheppard. ", No One to Sherida's Rescue." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2008]

Trinidad Guardian. 3 September 2007. Adrian Boodan."Kamla: Women's Health Issues on Back Burner." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]
_____. 26 November 2006. Corey Connelly. "At the Mercy of Abusive Hands." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2008]

United Kingdom (UK). 29 January 2008. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). "Country Profile: Trinidad and Tobago." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]

United States (US). 11 March 2008. "Trinidad and Tobago." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007. [Accessed 8 Apr. 2008]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International (AI), Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (Court Library Gateway), Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW), StudyStack, Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence, ttgapers.com, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Nations Inter-Agency Campaign on Women's Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE).

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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