AN incident of domestic violence involving a blind woman has left yet another blot on members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), who the blind woman said made a mockery of her abuse when she went to report it.
The blind woman, who was part of a panel of representatives from vulnerable communities sharing their experiences about access to justice in Jamaica at the HIV and Access to Justice research dissemination forum, conducted by the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life on Thursday, stunned guests when she recounted discriminatory treatment she received at a police station in 2019 whilst making a report of intimate partner violence, which involved threats to her life.
“The officers took it as a joke. They laughed and said if me can see him, how me know is him and all these things. I’m blind. It never mattered that this man was abusive and promised to chop off my neck and run knife through me. We are at the age where you know blindness and how blind people function, so [when] you as the officer ask how me know is him, if mi see the person and all these things – it’s upsetting. Plus, when I report the matter, they don’t come,” she said.
The blind woman further explained that the matter got worse when it got to court and the judge ordered that her abuser be removed from her home.
“The judge ordered that he should be removed. The police served him the summons, but didn’t remove him. When we returned to court this angered the judge and again, the order was made for him to be removed. Instead, the police served the summons again. I called the station and said I don’t understand what is happening, the judge ordered that he be removed and the police said, ‘Woman use some discretion,’ “ she said.
The forum was based on research conducted by the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and funded by the European Union. The study – ‘HIV and access to justice: Situational analysis of access to justice among key population affected by HIV and AIDS’ – reveals that despite Jamaica ratifying several international and regional treaties, which seek to protect the human rights of individuals’ efforts to combat HIV-related discrimination, access to justice continues to be weak as vulnerable populations are still denied basic human rights.
A transgender woman, who was part of a panel, said in 2018 she was beaten by a group of people and when she went to report the matter she was chased from the police station.
“I went and said I want to make a report with regards to an incident and an officer asked me what I was doing there. I told them, and then another officer came and asked me to leave. I said I’m making a report and another officer came from around the back and said I must come out of the station as they do not tolerate these things, in reference to my sexuality. Most of the officers also went around the back, avoiding me. I turned and said, ‘Am I not a Jamaican? Can I please make a report?’ He started being aggressive, pushing me, almost spraining my neck. I had to leave as I couldn’t handle the risk of being pepper sprayed,” the trans woman said.
She told the Jamaica Observer, “No justice was served because when I went to the station I was asked to leave because of my gender identity and because of who I am. I am not going to pretend to be someone else to please them to make a report, even though it’s my right. I was offended because they asked me to leave because I am a trans person and I did not dress as how my birth given name was.”
Another participant, a victim of domestic violence, said about three years ago she was in an abusive relationship and she remembered calling the police for assistance in the middle of the night, only to be told to physically go to station and make a report, despite the circumstances and being unable to make the journey.
“I explained that I could not come as it was in the middle of the night. I asked if they couldn’t send a vehicle and they said ‘no’, as they didn’t have any to send. Anyway, they told me to wait until morning, even though I explained the domestic violence,” she said.
Subsequently, these vulnerable communities often shy away from interactions with law men and as a result, end up being denied access to justice.
During the forum, Jamaicans For Justice Executive Director Rodje Malcolm said reporting to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also showed discrimination in government agencies — particularly police stations, courts, and in communities to include schools and churches.
Malcolm explained that with the police there is an unwillingness to take complaints seriously, especially for the LGBT community, and in instances that involve gender-based violence. He said there were reports of denial of medication to people living with HIV (PLHIV), even in police lock-ups, and abuse of power. Subsequently, vulnerable populations were more likely to report to NGOs than to the formal justice system.
Moreover, the panellists all agreed that professionals need to be sensitised on how to deal with vulnerable groups and human rights training improved as what they ought to know is not being exercised across the board.
When contacted by the Sunday Observer, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Stephanie Lindsay said hearing of the situations was unfortunate, as any citizen, regardless of sexual orientation has a right to go to the police station and make a report, plus the JCF has a diversity policy in place that covers every diverse group in the country.
“When you look at the time those reports were made and the experiences being shared, they are not in keeping with what we’re doing currently. In the last three years or so we have made significant adjustments. The diversity policy came against the background of the LGBT community feeling they were not being treated fairly by police. To remove that stigma and level the playing field that every citizen is entitled to police service, the diversity policy was developed and is part of what we do,” SSP Lindsay said.
SSP Lindsay added that the JCF has even set up domestic violence centres where anybody who is a victim of domestic violence can go. She, however, explained that the legislation might affect how the crime is recorded.
“As police officers we act within the confines of the law and domestic violence has a particular definition in law so it will speak to an abuse between persons in an intimate partner relationship – man and woman. Our law does not yet cover same-sex relationships, so the police would have to treat the incident as assault. If the situation is one where we see life is threatened, we proceed to treat with it as how we treat with any other citizen making a report of assault or abuse. But when it comes to domestic violence as a definition, the letter of the law doesn’t speak to same-sex unions. But outside of the letter of the law, we are very aware of the reality that exists out here, so we carry out our functions accordingly,” she said.
SSP Lindsay implored victims of domestic violence, PLHIV, the LGBT community and other vulnerable groups to make reports when incidents occur and follow through with the reports.
“Sometimes some of those persons will come and want to make a report, but because they want to protect their own privacy and their own lifestyles they don’t want to go through with the process. Most times the police can take an initial report and make a verbal communication, however, some of what is reported requires a statement and some more follow-up action, as these are actions that need to be circulated in the court,” she said.
She, however, acknowledged that she understood why vulnerable groups may be fearful of approaching the police, but encouraged them to look past the fear and engage the system to access justice, and where denied, the IPROB [The Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau, formerly the Inspectorate of Constabulary] department monitors those.
SSP Lindsay added that “violence is violence, a crime is a crime, so regardless of who it happens to, the police force ought to treat with those matters, to investigate them and take the appropriate action”.
She said: “I would encourage everyone who has such a problem to go to a police station and report it, and when they don’t get the service, they can complain about it. Make sure when they go to the police station they have a record of the police officer who they talked to, [and] they get their receipt when they make a report. Once they go to make a report, it is a requirement to get a receipt, so they should not leave without a receipt and that receipt should indicate the time when they gave the report and who actually appreciate the report in the station. In those instances we are able to trace where people are not treating them as a citizen with a problem that requires police service. If they don’t have the formal receipt ask for some information – the date and time you went to the station and made the report.”