Opinion — 12 September 2014
Right to the Point: Domestic violence is at heart of social crisis

In recent years many known characters in Belize have done their utmost best to bring to light the issue of domestic violence and to educate the population about the need to curb this social ill. Domestic violence takes many forms. The one most Belizean think about is the actual physical beating or assaulting of one family member on another. But there is also the sexual, psychological, emotional and 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. Thus the misconception is that domestic violence is only against a spouse. Clearly it can be against a child of the family be it an adopted child or a biological child.

The other misconception which the 2007 amendment to the Domestic Violence Act, Chapter 178 is who is a de facto spouse, which is defined at section 2: “”de facto spouse” in relation to a person, means a person of the opposite sex to the first mentioned person who is living with the first-mentioned person as that person’s husband or wife, though not legally married to each other, or if not living together, is a parent, but not a grandparent, of a child of the first-mentioned person, or is pregnant by the first-mentioned person, and includes a cohabitant, a person in a visiting relationship”.

One of the growing problems that the country was facing was violence in visiting relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend) which a couple of years ago had seen a spike in reported incidents of physical abuse, and in one case the girlfriend was almost killed and she now remains in a wheelchair.

 

Reporting of Domestic Violence

Many who have never been in an abusive relationship will never appreciate that it is not easy to make a report, much less follow it through. After being beaten and undergoing a traumatic event the victim wants to report it or does, but after mulling over it a day or two may have regrets because they may feel ashamed to have others know and also because friends and family or even the abuser may be telling “him or her” that they need to think about other things such as children, money, shelter, prestige, position and a myriad of factors. Also the victim cannot cope with the sudden loss of that person they “love” and the lack of that companionship and even the plans they had already had for the next few days or month. Don’t be mistaken: it is a trauma for one day to be Miss-so-and-so living a quality of life or with plans that fulfill your dream and suddenly because of one beating to have to totally drop that prospect and become “Miss-without” who has to start all over and on another tangent because this other significant person is no longer part of those plans.

It is the same trauma for children, who have to turn and give evidence against a parent who abused them and suddenly, they feel that is because of them the family unit is broken, siblings are separated and life is just too drastically different … and they too cannot conceive it is not their fault, but the fault of the person who did that one atrocious act, that hurt them and in return they have to stand up. Many children do not stand up. I knew a teen girl who just could not testify against her step-dad who sexually abused her and her two sisters because their mom was pregnant and they had three other smaller kids and the step-dad was the only bread-winner, so she felt it is her fault the family will crumble … abusers bank on this weakness of mind and self-inflicted guilt of a victim. My point is abuse is so traumatic, very few, or only the strong, move out of it and live past it, but none ever forget it. I have been there so I know it and will not judge any who cannot crawl out of it … because trust me … you do not run nor walk out of it … you barely crawl out with your life!

 

Patrick Faber’s saga

That said, the recent complaint by one Nickiesha Polanco has once again brought to the public discourse of domestic violence and while the details of the attack have not been denied by her or the Minister of Education, the HONOURABLE Patrick Faber, the fact that the police proudly say the report has been withdrawn does not change the reality that an incident did occur. But if one did not occur and the police are misled and so the public by extension, then they know they need to pick up Nickiesha and charge her with a mischievous act, as they do to the black men on Southside or for making a false report, which is also a criminal act. I will deal with the police’s response, or lack thereof, but for now I will deal with Minister Faber’s saga.

I am sure the Minister is educated enough to know that once there is a police report on the matter, it stops being a private matter and it immediately becomes a part of the public realm as the police report is all about a citizen going to the authorities, the police, and asking the state to intervene and act on her behalf, which the state must do for all its citizens. That is why in criminal matters, as this would be from the details of the attack, the case becomes the DPP representing the State against the accused. The Minster said to the press: “It is true that if a complaint is made then it is the business of the public. That complaint has been withdrawn.” So is the Minister saying that the public’s interest must likewise be withdrawn … like a yoyo?

 

A squabble is enough!

But the response of the Minister of Education on the attack itself was very telling, as he never said NOTHING happened. Rather here are his words as he spoke with the media Monday 8th September, 2014: “A report was made and I believe subsequent to that that report has been withdrawn for the mere reason that the situation did not occur as it was reported. So it was withdrawn and so there is no issue there any longer. The young lady is my friend. All of you know that in fact my wife and I have undergone a separation that is going on to almost a year now, and we had an unfortunate squabble if you will, but nothing like what has been reported and so the complaint was withdrawn.”

He says an “unfortunate squabble if you will”, I take it in relation to Nickiesha Polanco, so it must be that the police along with a reporter he blames, tried to set him up because the report, which was given just few hours after the incident at the Minister’s house in his bedroom reads as follows: “Whilst utilizing her cell phone Patrick Faber approached her requesting her cell phone, where she refused, that was when Patrick Faber assaulted her by choking her on the bed. Nickiesha shouted for her friend when Dawn Herbert came into the room and spoke to Patrick. Patrick grabbed Nickiesha from her hair, pulled her off the bed onto the ground and pulled her to the curry (sic) door, whereby he punched her twice to the right side of the face causing her to feel pain, in the process she also sustained abrasions on the right knee and the right hand.”

But police are known to investigate a “squabble” defined as a “noisy quarrel about something petty or trivial” and charge for common assault, insulting words or threatening words at minimum … are they falling down on the job? Are they satisfied with the circumstances of how the case was withdrawn? Did they get back the medico-legal form and take pictures of the injuries to satisfy themselves it was a “squabble?” But if you want to believe the Minister, why would he be engaging in a “squabble” in his bedroom with a 25-year-old employee he calls “baby” whom he allows to sit on his wife’s dining table while he “cozies-up” to her and rests his left hand on her legs above her knees?

 

False report?

My, oh my …. Someone is lying here because there is a marked difference between the Minister’s claim of a squabble and Nickiesha’s claim of being choked, dragged by her hair and punched twice in her face … now who will dare investigate or intervene? Now would be a good time for us to have the Special Envoy for Women and Children to call against a cover up and a full inquiry to it and for the 20,000 strong to rise up as one voice and call on police to do their work properly when dealing with reports by women and to go to the aid of Nickiesha Polanco…. This is where our money needs to be spent!

This is some serious “false-report” if we are to believe the Minister of Education who is responsible for what our young people are learning … he must ensure this lying young lady does not escape with the tarnishing of his good name … plus he is her boss as she too works at the Ministry of Education so she is guilty of misconduct towards a superior … STOP! Or is the Minister guilty of misconduct for posting pictures which show him intimately touching her legs and then on his facebook page posting a message “Happy Birthday Baby” to Nickiesha Polanco? And why would he have her in his bedroom and why would he be alone with her? And why does he feel entitled to ask her for her phone; after all she is just a “friends.” Per Education Minister, “The young lady that you speak of has no issues with me certainly, and in an effort to try to protect whatever friendship is there too, I will not say anything more than that … No I won’t. I said I would not get into the details for the matter of the friendship that exists. We do not have any kind of animosity and I want it to stay that way.”

I wonder, is this the usual friendship the Minister has with all other employees? Is the Prime Minister not concerned about the conduct of a sitting Minister, and the one responsible for education at that? The UDP women’s caucus has maintained a deathly silence and the men-controlled government is treating it like “business as usual” …. After all it’s just “women”!

I have an issue with police taking lightly the withdrawal of a report of domestic violence or any report of women and children … I remember there was a time they did not just accept a withdrawal. They would fully investigate the case, even interview and take statements of the accused and those around him to make sure he did not influence or coerce the withdrawal and then present their findings to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution for directions … but now it seems an easy thing to do or maybe it is a double standard. If nothing more, this matter requires further looking into if for no other reason than what the Minister himself said when questioned by a reporter:

Reporter: “Categorically … did you hit the young lady?”

Patrick Faber: “I’m saying it did not happen in the manner in which it was reported.”

If he didn’t hit her why didn’t he just say a categorical NO? This situation is bringing to mind many similarities with the NFL player Ray Rice, for which there was initial cover-up but for which now the truth has come to light. Also in the Rhianna and Chris Brown drama, even though Rhianna no longer wishes to bring charges against Chris, the state would not countenance that as then she too would face charges.

 

Violence is supported!

There is a reason why domestic violence needs to be dealt with decisively and timely and why in Belize we have even amended our laws. As a society we have come to recognize that lots of social ills stem from all forms of abuse in the home and thus domestic violence in its many forms is at the heart of our social crisis. We have a society of abused people trying to make it through life and abused children acting out. We have become so accepting of abusive situations that many of us cannot recognize it anymore. We cannot afford for a situation that calls out our Minister of Education as one of those abusers to be swept under the rug … he cannot be the poster child of politics and education with an accepted propensity of violence. It does not matter how many women withdraw the public charge, because that would not change the fact of whatever happened behind their doors and lives. Then we have mothers condoning these abuses against their daughters so as to make it ahead in life … money, position, power … you name it!

If this is done for a person in position and a so-called role-model for our youth … then what is the message we are sending to our youth, our women and our young girls? We as a society take violence lightly and we are paying a high price for it now …. When Patrick Faber the aspiring politician had a violent confrontation with the security forces in Belmopan while in opposition, we praised it, but that was the writing on the wall that he deals with opposition through physical violence. To me, this report comes as no surprise … we applauded violence then and turned a blind eye and made him a hero … why should we expect any less now?

God bless Belize!

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