By RUPERT MISSICK Jr
VIOLENCE against women continues to be a “serious, widespread problem” in the Bahamas, a newly released 2012 human rights report from the US Embassy allegeges.
In August of last year, the police reported that 464 domestic violence cases were registered in 2011, representing the highest recorded in the previous three years. One third of the 1,285 interventions conducted by the Bahamas Crisis Centre (BCC) in 2011 related to domestic violence, and the centre experienced similar trends during the year.
The country’s record with regard to its treatment of women has been documented by other organisations as well.
The Bahamas is listed by The Small Arms Survey – an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland – as being among countries that have a very high level of lethal violence against women – six women per 100,000 of the female population.
According to The Small Arms Survey, firearms play a major role in these deaths.
“Many women report having been threatened with a firearm before they fall victim to a (murder). Firearms in the home similarly represent an increased risk to women as they are more likely to be used to threaten and inflict harm on family members than to protect the home from intruders.”
In July, the police commissioner reported that many of the murders that took place were related to domestic violence, and another official indicated that 45 per cent of all homicides over the last 20 years could be attributed to domestic violence.
Ten women were killed during 2012, compared with 16 in 2011.
According to the report, women’s rights groups cited some reluctance on the part of law enforcement authorities to intervene in domestic disputes.
The BCC worked with police by providing them with a counsellor referral service to utilise when encountering rape victims.
“In June, a minister of state called for the BCC to change its policy of requiring those in need of counselling to come to the centre rather than dispatching volunteers to people’s homes. The BCC director pointed out that none of the centre’s staff are paid and reiterated that police should be the first point of contact for domestic disputes,” the report said.
The report pointed out that while rape is illegal, the law does not protect against spousal rape, except if the couple is separating, in the process of divorce, or if there is a restraining order in place.
The maximum penalty for an initial rape conviction is seven years; the maximum for subsequent rape convictions is life imprisonment.
The report points out however, that in practice, the maximum conviction was 14 years. Survivors reported 97 rapes during the year compared with 107 in 2011 – when authorities initiated only 40 prosecutions for rape.
Authorities declined to provide more recent figures.