Abuse of children and in boyfriend/girlfriend situations
Continuing on our issue of domestic violence, I want to address the rights of a child, and young persons in “relationships/courtships”, under the Domestic Violence Act Chapter 179, Laws of Belize (herein DVA). This is important, especially since for all intents and purposes a child cannot access protection under the DVA on his or her own and young persons in “relationships/courtships” are not adequately addressed as having any protection. Ironically, however, children and young persons are the most vulnerable under the DVA and yet the most voiceless…. In many ways I believe the DVA fails these two most vulnerable groups and this has got to change.
Who is a child?
Let’s look at the definition of child under the DVA, where in its definition sections it states:
“Child” means a person under the age of eighteen years who ordinarily or periodically resides with the applicant, whether or not the child of the applicant and the respondent or either of them, and includes: (a) An adopted child;(b)A step child;(c) A child who is treated as a member of the family or who resides in the household residence on a regular basis but who is or has not been married; (d) A child, whether or not a child of either the applicant or the respondent, who is or has been living in the household residence as a member of the family;(e) A child of a man and woman who are legally considered common-law spouses, whether or not the man and woman still cohabit as common-law spouses;(f) A child of a man and woman who are or have engaged in a visiting relationship as cohabitants;(g) A child of whom either the man or the woman is a guardian;”
I, however, would go as far as including the child of either the present or ex-cohabitant, that is not a child from that relationship, but who is neither an adopted child nor child ever recognized by the visiting partner. Here I am thinking about those scenarios where women have a “boyfriend” who is in a visiting relationship and she already has children of her own, but not of his, and who nonetheless are part of the equation of the relationship by virtue of her relationship with the partner, and vice versa. I would go further and include any and every child, regardless of their status in relation to the applicant or respondent since it would then mean that a child who has been sexually, physically or psychologically abused by a neighbour, cannot obtain a protection order against said neighbour. At least for the protection of children and young persons I would want to give the DVA a wider interpretation of who is a child for the purpose of the DVA.
Remember the definition of domestic violence? While it sought to be wide, I am of the view that it is still very limited. Per the definition of domestic violence at Section 2 of the DVA, it “includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, de facto spouse, or any other person who is a member of the household of the applicant or the respondent.” [emphasis mine] This section dealing with “household” may have been intended to widen the scope, but it really narrows it to the household of the applicant and respondent, but given the dynamics of our society, it actually serves to narrow it to too much to a literally “domestic” situation, rather than a local community situation.
Child protection beyond the home
Likewise, when we look at the definition of child we see how it is limited when it comes to the reality of what takes place in our communities against children. Sadly, a child would not be able to obtain a protection order against the neighbour because said neighbour is not a member of his/her household and in relation to the child, the neighbour would not be a spouse, be it de facto, common-law, or even visiting, to him/her. This may seem trivial, but there have been grown adults who have harassed, physically attacked or in some form abused children, purportedly in the name of fighting to protect their own biological children. I saw on Facebook a big woman going after a high school girl, claiming she was settling a score over her little sister. In those situations, there not being a common-household between the parties, the child would not be able to get any instant protection order against that woman and the child may be too young to testify at a criminal trial. This is the same situation where a child is a victim of bullying (which can be psychological abuse and even lead to suicide), especially by persons not a member of their household, and not within the category of persons included in the definition of domestic violence.
My personal view is that “domestic” has been given a very narrow definition and interpretation and in so doing the lawmakers do not see as “domestic”, those situations involving the realities of daily lives of persons, especially children and young persons. It is too focused on “household” situations, but the reality is that violence, especially against children, don’t always occur at “home” and does not always take place only in the “households” and by people from the “household” or connected to their “household” or the household of the accused. It takes place on the streets, at school, in the home of friends and family, in the neighbourhood or even at church.
In looking at children, one needs to also take into consideration who a guardian is in relation to a child, as the child then becomes connected to the household of the guardian. Per the definition in the DVA, it includes a person who has custody of that child, and thus can be a blood relation or a non-blood relation.
Abusive friendships/relationships amongst youths
One of the areas I believe the DVA does not adequately address is the “courtship” amongst young people. So these may be persons 16 to 18 years of age but also includes those just above 18 years, who are still young and not yet “married”; not living together; maybe not even sexually active to be considered as wife and husband; and surely not co-habiting in the sense of “wife and husband”. Yet this is a segment of the population that has increasingly seen horrendous cases of “domestic violence” in the wider sense of the word.
There has been this growing phenomenon of “abusive” courtships amongst young people, unlike the long ago old-days when courtships were only with chaperones and during specific hours of the day. However, because these young people are not from each other’s household, the DVA does not address their plight adequately. I say it does not address it adequately because it does not clearly include boyfriend/girlfriend who are not cohabitant, but are visiting each other in the sense of the courtship, rather than as “wife and husband” and who may not necessarily be spending the night at each other’s home, either because the parents do not allow it or they are not yet sexually involved in the sense of wife and husband. As I have learned over the years, very often these girls/boys are in very abusive relationships, especially physically, and more often emotionally and psychologically. With their quick access to the internet, even when they do not see each other in person the abuse is transmitted via texts, viber, and the cyber world in general. Young ladies in said courtships have been know to be threatened to remain in really abusive relationships because the “boyfriend” will expose her explicit messages and photographs, or are intimidated into submission through cyber bullying or blackmail using nude pictures or videos of them involved in sexually explicit poses or acts.
Many may not have known, but at least two suicides in the past year were as a result of a “boyfriend” releasing or threatening to release nude pictures the girls had sent them. While the news did not report those details because of privacy issues and the girls being minors (under the age of 18), those close to the girls subsequently learned of the psychological abuse that led to the suicides. But this topic is taboo and I advocate for it to be directly addressed in amendments to the DVA or independent legislations dealing with this phenomenon, just as was done with the Trafficking in Persons Act.
I don’t know how many news media reported the attack of a young lady in Punta Gorda earlier this year by her boyfriend, against whom the court had already given a protection order. I mention this as an example of where the DVA was interpreted broadly to ensure that she at minimum got the required order of the court; however, that did not curb the violent persistence of the boyfriend who went to her home to launch his attack on her. That matter remains to be tried in court, thus I will not say much.
Then let us not forget the 2005 case of sixteen-year-old Tracey Donis, who was brutally attacked on September 3, 2005 by her boyfriend, eighteen-year old Abdiel Sandoval, with whom she tried to end her abusive relationship. Per one report written by Anita Nembhard in the July 2007 edition of Amandala: “When she tried to do so, Sandoval, it was alleged, not too far from her home, cut her throat twice, then stabbed her multiple times in her back, damaging her spinal cord and she is now crippled as a result… In his defense, Sandoval, who took the stand yesterday, told the court that he was innocent of the crime, although he admitted to telling her ‘sorry.’ Nevertheless, he said that he did not stab Donis, but blamed himself for the injuries she received. According to Sandoval, Donis caused her own injuries, but he should be blamed because if he had not ended their relationship, then refused to take her back, then she would have not tried to kill herself. He said she had been suicidal throughout their relationship. He said that it was she who cut her neck, and later stabbed herself several times. He said he took responsibility for one stab, the one in the back that crippled her, but said that it was an accident.”
She was rushed to the hospital by Sandoval, who asked her desperately not to tell the police that it was he who had stabbed her. Nevertheless he did not think twice to find a way to paint her as suicidal, but she lived to tell her story, unlike Christie Carrasco who was painted very negatively by her killer, tarnishing her memory. Sadly, Tracey had silently suffered in her courtship and hid from relatives and friends the level of physical, emotional and psychological abuse she was subjected to. The DVA needs to adequately address protection orders in these situations so as not to leave it up to the interpretation of a magistrate to say if girls or boys in boyfriend/girlfriend courtship are equally entitled to protection as those “living together as wife and husband” or cohabitants.
Killings involving estranged boyfriend/girlfriend
We have often read headlines about abusive relationships making the news, but where those relationships stem from more mature relationships that at minimum can be considered outright visiting relationships of cohabitants, then there is no doubt whether the DVA adequately addresses those. However, it is those same abusive courtships which one tolerates, remains in and finds no help for, or gets no protection from, that eventually end up in the headlines below as they graduate from “courtships” to “spouse” status as defined by DVA. The fact that those relationships at some point finally ended, at least from the perspective of one partner (the one leaving), does not bring an end to the parties’ rights and protection under the DVA, which is a positive feature addressing the realities of bad relationships and the subsequent threats that may ensue.
Do readers recall these headlines: “Woman Shot up in Mango Creek, Abusive Boyfriend Detained,” reported by Channel 7 in October 2014. The script read: “9:00 in the morning police found the body of 33 year old Ilda Aldana near the Texmar Shrimp Farm Road. Aldana had been shot 8 times – including twice to the stomach, once to the chest, and 4 times to the left side of the temple. A brutal and excessive end – but her friends say it is the culmination of a violent, possessive and abusive relationship she had with an ex-cop who’d already served time for manslaughter.” To date no one has been arrested in her death.
Then there was the one that stated “Manslaughter for woman who killed boyfriend” reported by Channel 7 News. The script read: “Tonight, Leshawn Lino is spending her 25th birthday in lockdown at the Ladyville police station. That’s because last night she stabbed her boyfriend and baby’s father to death with a single slice across his throat. But, it is manslaughter, not murder, because, again, there was a long history of abuse which culminated in the fatal stabbing. And interestingly, both the deceased and the accused are the children of ranking police officers.”
The outcome of the trial was reported in a story written in the Amandala by Rochelle Gillett in May 2013 and reads as follows: “Leshawn Lino, 26, a mother of three, was acquitted last night after a jury of nine found her not guilty of manslaughter in a ratio of 8 to 1. Lino was accused of stabbing Shamir “Metro” Henry, 23, in his throat on September 2, 2011, causing him to bleed to death after he collapsed on the street. The incident occurred on Cahal Pech Street in the Belize Defence Force Housing site in Lords Bank Village. Reports are that Henry went to visit Lino, the mother of his child, at her house sometime after 7:00 that night. The house is located a short distance from the street, so Lino had to walk out to Henry, a distance of about 25 yards. A few minutes later, Lino was seen running toward her house, screaming for someone to call the police. Henry was then observed lying on the ground, apparently dead from a wound to his neck. During the trial, which started last week Wednesday, May 8, Henry’s mother, Rose Henry, testified that when she arrived at the scene, she saw her son lying on the ground, apparently dead. She said that Lino then ran to her saying, “Ah neva mean it, ah neva mean it, Ms. Rose.” Allan Braddick also testified that he was at the house that night, visiting Lino’s sister, when the incident occurred. He testified that after he heard some noise from the area where Lino and Henry were, he saw Lino running toward the house, shouting for someone to call the police. He testified that when he saw Henry’s body on the ground, he asked Lino what had happened and she replied “He mi di beat me so ah stab him.”
It also came out in evidence that “she had minor swelling and bruises to her head and face,” supporting her claim of self-defence.
As we explore the persons protected by the DVA we can see where protection needs to be expanded, while applauding the starting point of even having such a law in our rather violent society, where women are degraded, disrespected and culturally sensitized to accepting it as a way of life. As a woman growing up in Belize, from experience I can categorically say we have failed to raise a society of men who view women with great respect. The media portrayals, attacks and jokes involving women are an excellent barometer to gauge how Belize sees its women! The lack of female representation at the highest political level and the degradation of women when in politics and public life by no other than members in the National Assembly are the best sources of evidence to find our society guilty of misogyny, especially when those attacks are spewed by our male parliamentarians, led by no other than our Prime Minister…. The records, news reports and Hansards speak for themselves… res ipsa loquitur! God bless our women!