Violence Against Women and Girls: The Shadow Pandemic Affecting T&T

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Violence Against Women and Girls: The Shadow Pandemic Affecting T&T

As more countries report COVID-19 infections and lockdown, more domestic violence helplines and shelters across the world are reporting rising calls for help. In Trinidad and Tobago, government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society partners have flagged increasing reports of domestic violence during the crisis.

Reported yesterday, were the deaths of two women; Krystal Primus-Espinoza, a mother of two who was reported missing on Wednesday and Ashanti Riley, who went missing on Sunday after departing into a PH Taxi. This has ignited national concern about the protection of our women and girls.

Data from the Crime And Problem Analysis (CAPA) Branch of the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service (TTPS) revealed that there were approximately 11,441 reports relating to domestic violence incidents between 2010 and 2015. Approximately 75% of these reports were related to female individuals. During the same period, there were 131 domestic violence-related deaths of which 56% were female.

During November 2020, it is reported that twenty-one (21) men have been charged for rape, in which cases also involved minors. Men’s sexual violence against women is a societal issue that negatively affects victims’ physical, psychological, and social health. Discussed below are contributing behavioural and clinical reports that suggest extreme influence towards violence against women.

Psychopathology and Personality Traits – Several studies have found a high incidence of psychopathology and personality disorders, most frequently antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality organization, or post-traumatic stress syndrome, among men who assault their wives. A wide variety of psychiatric and personality disorders have also been diagnosed among sexual offenders, most frequently some type of antisocial personality disorder.

Distinctive personality profiles have been reported for rapists and sexually aggressive men and batterers. Rape, for example, is one of the most underreported crimes and only a small proportion of reported rapes result in incarceration. Men may be reluctant to acknowledge that they have engaged in sexually or physically violent behaviour or the men who report this behaviour may be different from those who have engaged in the behaviour but do not report it.

Attitudes and Gender Schemas – Cultural myths about violence, gender and sexual roles, and male entitlements are represented at the individual level as attitudes and gender schemas. Sexually aggressive men more strongly endorse a set of attitudes that are supportive of rape than do nonaggressive men, including myths about rape and the use of interpersonal violence as a strategy for resolving conflict.

Beliefs and myths about rape may serve as rationalizations for those who commit violent acts. For example, incarcerated rapists often rationalize that their victim either desired or deserved to experience forced sexual acts. Similarly, culturally sanctioned beliefs about the rights and privileges of husbands have historically legitimized a man’s domination over his wife and warranted his use of violence to control her. Men, in general, are more accepting of men abusing women, and the most culturally traditional men are the most accepting. Batterers’ often excuse their violence by pointing to their wives’ ”unwifely” behavior as their justification.

Sex and Power Motives – Violence against women is widely believed to be motivated by the need to dominate women. This view conjures the image of a powerful man who uses violence against women as a tool to maintain his superiority, but research suggests that the relationship is more complex. Power and control frequently underlie intimate partner violence, but the purpose of the violence may also be in response to a man’s feelings of powerlessness and inability to accept rejection.

It also has been argued that rape, in particular, represents fulfillment of sexual needs through violence, but research has found that motives of power and anger are more prominent in the rationalizations for sexual aggression than sexual desires. Sexually aggressive men openly admit that their sexual fantasies are dominated by aggressive and sadistic material.

Social Learning Social – learning theory posits that humans learn social behaviour by observing others’ behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour, forming ideas about what behaviours are appropriate, trying those behaviours, and continuing them if the results are positive. From this perspective, male violence against women endures in many Caribbean societies because it is modeled both in individual families and in the society more generally and has positive results: it releases tension, leaves the perpetrator feeling better, often achieves its ends by cutting off arguments, and is rarely associated with serious punishment for the perpetrator.

One of the mechanisms through which social learning occurs is social information processing—the decoding or interpreting of social interactions, making decisions about appropriate responses based on the decoding, and carrying out a response to see if it has the intended effect. It has been hypothesized that violent men may be deficient in the skills necessary to accurately decode communications from women.

Additionally, friends’ attitudes and behaviour were frequently identified as risk factors for sexual aggression. Conversations with friends about real and hypothetical dating and sexual partners help men establish, test and clarify shared norms about expected and appropriate sexual behaviour. Friends’ use of objectifying language about women and relationships creates a climate in which coercive tactics can be normalized. One common strategy to prove one’s masculinity and achieve status is through treating sex as a commodity rather than an act of intimacy. Potential perpetrators may be eager to demonstrate they’re heterosexual prowess as a sign of their masculinity and power.

Family and Religion – Families are where all socialization begins, including socialization for all types of violent behaviour. Studies of violent criminals and violent sex offenders have found these men are more likely than other adults to have experienced poor parental childrearing, poor supervision, physical abuse, neglect, and separations from their parents. Increased risk of adult intimate partner violence is associated with exposure to violence between a person’s parents while growing up. One-third of children who have been abused or exposed to parental violence become violent adults. Sons of violent parents are more likely to abuse their intimate partners than boys from nonviolent homes. Men raised in patriarchal family structures in which traditional gender roles are encouraged are more likely to become violent adults, to rape women acquaintances, and to batter their intimate partners than men raised in more egalitarian homes.

Sexual abuse in childhood has been identified as a risk factor in males for sexual offending as an adult. Experiences of sexual abuse in one’s family may lead to inaccurate notions about healthy sexuality, inappropriate justifications for violent behaviour, failure to develop personal boundaries, and contribute to communication and coping styles that rely on denial, a reinterpretation of experiences, and avoidance.

Media – Many feminist writers have suggested that pornography encourages the objectification of women and endorses and condones sexual aggression toward women. Exposure to pornography under laboratory conditions has been found to increase men’s aggression toward women, particularly when a male participant has been affronted, insulted, or provoked by a woman. It appears that it is the depiction of violence against women more than sexual explicitness that results in callousness toward female victims of violence and attitudes that are accepting of such violence.

It is not only pornography that depicts violence against women. Television and movies are filled with scenes of women being threatened, raped, beaten, tortured, and murdered. Many studies of television point to the deleterious effects of viewing media portrayals of violence (e.g., Eron, 1982; National Institute of Mental Health, 1982; Huston et al., 1992). Eron discovered that children who watched many hours of violence on television during elementary school tended to exhibit more aggressive behaviour as teenagers and were more likely to be arrested for criminal acts as adults. Those who are exposed to television and cinema violence may also become desensitized to real-world violence, less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and begin to see the world as a mean and dangerous place.

This shadowed pandemic of violence must be closely monitored and urgent action by politicians, authorities and the general citizenry. Data provided by the TTPS and the National Domestic Violence Hotline reveal that approximately 80% of the reports relate to female victims, hence the major emphasis on this sector of the population.

Transformative masculinities must work to address violence against women and girls works in solidarity with women-led efforts, so that such work reinforces existing initiatives. In practical terms, this means nurturing relationships of trust and collaboration and maintaining clear lines of communication and accountability. This accountability must also be extended to male-dominated institutions and how their action or inaction serves to maintain harmful norms of masculinity and fuel violence against women and girls.

Measurement of prevalence, adequate research in other domains and treatment of victims remains a large gap in national service delivery. The latter concern has been echoed by Jennifer Holder Dolly who indicated that “we do know that there are some common responses to the trauma of domestic violence that women experience including paralyzing fear, a sense of helplessness, what Barnett and La Violette (1993) call ‘learned hopefulness’ which they describe, building on learning theory, as a response to the cycle of violence in which the woman becomes conditioned to hope after the honeymoon phase that things will get better.”

COVID-19 is already testing us in ways most of us have never previously experienced, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. The violence that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic is a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and shared humanity. We must not only survive the coronavirus but emerge renewed, with women as a powerful force at the center of recovery.


Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline: 1 (868) 800-SAVE or 800 7283

The Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago (RCS) 

  • North office: Port of Spain – 24 Hour Hotline (868) 627-7273
  • South office: San Fernando – 24 Hour Hotline (868) 657-5355

Legal Aid: 1 (868) 625-0454

Family Court: 1 (868) 627-8716/623-2631/624-1307

The Children’s Authority Hotline Numbers:  996 / 1 (868) 800-2014

Victim and Witness Support:  1 (868) 624-8853