Courts need to impose harsher penalties against abusers – Human Services Minister


By Isanella Patoir

Minister of Human Services and Social Security Dr Vindhya Persaud is calling for ‘stiffer’ and ‘harsher’ penalties for people convicted of domestic violence, expressing her disappointment in the courts imposing mild sentences against those guilty.

Minister Persaud said she is concerned about a recent escalation in domestic abuse reports, noting that while abuse increased during the pandemic, the situation has now become worrisome.

The minister’s call comes in the wake of a recent abuser who was caught on camera savagely beating his wife and was only handed an 18-month jail sentence.

“What I have been seeing in the courts leave much to be desired in the sense that we can see there is in an inadequacy when it comes to the legislation and the penalties granted,” Minister Persaud said during an interview with News Room on Saturday.

Noting that varying charges will have different penalties , Minister Persaud said, “Sometimes, I feel that the charges are not necessarily in consonance with what we are seeing, especially through videos or what we are reading.”

She believes that when such “inadequate” charges are instituted, it puts the abused victims in a dangerous position.

Dead: 19-year-old Shenese Walks

“When you see people horrifically battering young women and they are getting 18 months I think that is totally, totally ridiculous and much more needs to be done to make those penalties stiffer and sentences harsher,” Minister Persaud said.

In recent weeks there have been reports of women being brutally murdered as a result of domestic violence. Shenese Walks, 19, was murdered by her boyfriend on April 13. The young mother had suffered months of abuse and was trying to leave the relationship.

Savitri Raj, a 57-year-old woman of Foulis, East Coast Demerara, was murdered in her sleep by her husband on April 12. The couple had an ongoing court case after her husband reportedly abused her.

“What is of concern is the nature of the cases we are seeing, they are brutal, they are cruel and horrific in every possible way,” Minister Persaud said.

Murdered: Savitri Raj

The minister posited that while domestic violence is not an easy social ill to fix in a short period, there are many contributing factors that continue to affect the outcome of cases, especially in the court.

“From the ministry’s end, we are relooking at the Sexual Offences Act and the Domestic Violence Acts and they are going to be some recommendations that will address some areas, but by and large, sentencing in legislation will fall under purview of the the Legal Affairs Ministry and those are the things we need to look at,” Minister Persaud explained.

Another area of concern for the ministry is putting perpetrators on bail and in a lot of cases, the cycle of abuse will continue when this happens.

“We have seen cases where people are out on bail and they continue to do what they would have done; the restraining order is there for some measure of protection but even that the perpetrators go past.

“I believe in the terms of the legislation, that much much more needs to be done,” Minister Persaud said.

The ministry has introduced several measures aimed at reducing domestic abuse such as the 914 hotline. Soon, an amplified awareness campaign will be launched to have persons more familiar with the hotline.

“What we find is a lapse in the time of reporting, meaning that people, family members, the community would be aware of a case of domestic violence and you would read or you would hear that this has being going on for 10-15 years, so we want them to know, there is 914. They can call!”

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