Gender Affairs official reveals no spike in domestic violence cases

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By Carlena Knight

“We have not observed any trends that were different like say maybe a year ago,” so said Communications Officer at the Directorate of Gender Affairs, Raisa Charles, when asked about the growing concerns some residents may have over reported cases of domestic violence since the start of the Covid pandemic.

The public’s concern stems from several reports around the region where it was mentioned that there was an increase in domestic violence cases since the coronavirus first arrived in the region and was deemed a pandemic.

But according to Charles, based on their statistics, they have seen no such spike.

“In terms of calls and persons coming in, the numbers very much seem similar,” Charles said.

Charles revealed that their concern is more focused on an increase in reports they are receiving about person’s mental well-being.

“What we have noticed though, is that a lot of people calling in generally talking about their mental health and needing support for that. Some of the things that have been seen are persons being stressed about losing their jobs. Since Covid has happened, our tourism market has definitely been shaken up a little bit and so there are a lot of people losing their jobs and that creates a great deal of stress for an individual; that is going to have effects on their mental health and can also create tension within their relationships. When you have that kind of tension being created, there is a possibility for that to escalate into violence. So, it was definitely something that we were on the look-out for when the pandemic first started,” Charles explained.

Although there was not an increase in reported domestic violence cases, Charles is still advising residents to be vigilant and equip themselves with the right tools to be able to support a victim of these actions, since emotional, physical and psychological abuse are still very prevalent in Antigua and Barbuda.

“Knowing about the different support groups and centers that can offer help, whether it be Gender Affairs or the police, whosoever it is important. So that way, when the person comes to you, you can not only listen but direct them to the right authorities for them to get the right support and help that they need,” Charles said.

She expounded upon the importantance of listening and being open with these victims and not being judgmental in anyway.  

Charles also spoke on implementing boundaries, and cautioned persons to not get overly involved in these matters.

“We want to make them feel better. We want to help them fix their problems, especially if you can sense the pain that they are going through; you want to make that stop, especially if it’s someone that you care about. That’s completely normal, but it is important not to take that problem on as your personal problem because that’s not helpful for the persons that are in the situation, and it can also be damaging for the person that is trying to help. So, it is important to create some boundaries there. Understand how much help you can reasonably offer as well. So, if it is you can maybe help this person with taking care of their kids once a week or so, so that they can get some time to themselves, then do something like that, but definitely don’t over extend, don’t take on more than you can reasonably manage, because you want to help,” she suggested.

On the subject matter of male victims, Charles is encouraging men in our society to be courageous and speak up. She revealed that although the Directorate has responded to a few cases where men have been abused, she believes there are still a lot more cases out there, but because of the societal stereotype for a male, they shy away from doing so.

“This is not something that is specific to women or specific to men. What we have observed as a  trend is that women are more likely to report, and from what we see, women are more often the victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence, but men can and often are victims as well, and where men are victims, it is actually really important for them to speak up, because the more they speak up about it, the better understanding we as a society can have on the issue, and the more productive conversations we can have about ways to end it,” Charles declared.

Persons who may be victims of domestic violence can reach out to the Directorate of Gender Affairs via their hotline, National Gender-based Violence Crisis hotline at 463-5555.

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