The Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas are joining forces in an effort to end domestic violence.
Members of the nation's clubs took part in a Road To Peace Committee as part of their third Peace Conference, with expert panelists from the US and The Bahamas.
One of the panelists was Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, founder of the Bahamas Crisis Centre, which has been operating since 1982.
She and a band of volunteers work with the Ministry of Social Services, the police and hospital personnel to be a refuge for people who find themselves in abusive situations.
The centre has received twice as many calls since the lockdown began in March, compared to what they received in 2019 during the same time period.
While the high volume of calls this year is frightening enough, the incidents that make people reach out to the Crisis Centre for help are not new. In an IDB report from 2016, The Bahamas had the most reported incidents of domestic violence in the Caribbean, an area that already leads the world statistically in gender-based violence.
“What would be really good is to have a place where the perpetrator can be housed, particularly when a mother and children are involved,” said Dr Dean-Patterson, because many times there is a single offender but the victims are often women and their children. Re-housing a family is much more difficult than having a single person moved to another location.
A temporary place to house the offender would allow for intervention by a counsellor so that individual can be helped, she said. One such programme, now on hiatus due to COVID-19, is the 26-week GBV perpetrator counselling initiative run by the Catholic Church, which has reportedly helped many men who committed acts of violence against their partners.
When asked what the Crisis Centre most urgently needed, Dr Dean-Patterson said, “A national awareness campaign to raise consciousness and understanding about domestic violence. We need to confront the belief systems that fuel and underpin our tolerance and tacit acceptance of violence in intimate relationships.”
Another problem faced by victims of domestic violence is the processing of summons. The courts regard this as a civil matter, so when a summons is served for the accused to appear before a magistrate, the victim, often someone of limited means, needs to pay for that summons to be served. The Bahamas Crisis Centre believes that if bailiffs are entrusted to do this as they do in criminal matters, more domestic violence filings would find their way through the court system and hopefully be resolved.
There are real social, economic and political consequences for 'waiting on time’ to paraphrase Dr King, to solve this pervasive problem, said the Rotary Clubs in a statement. They added: "With a pandemic raging we can see the structural cracks in many of our institutions and the way challenges are often left unmet. We should not seek to just plaster them over and carry on as usual but make the changes necessary and build back better to embrace a more equitable society where everyone can live free from the fear of violence and abuse."