Evidence-based prosecution of Domestic Violence cases in Jamaica
Globally, the most common form of violence against women is intimate partner violence. Worse yet, the data shows that 38% of femicides globally are committed by intimate partners.
In Jamaica 1 in 4 women has reported being a victim of gender-based violence, having been physically abused by their intimate partners. On condition of anonymity, one Jamaican Prosecutor shared with the Jamaica Gleaner that 90% of the Domestic Violence cases that make it to court do not go beyond the first hearing as women cease to cooperate with the police to bring evidence against their abusers.
Despite the high educational achievement of women in the country, data shows low participation of women in the labour force, their high unemployment rate compared with men, their concentration in the low-paying areas of the labour market, and the large gender gaps in employment opportunities affecting rural women in particular. (CEDAW, 2012). The reliance on men for economic support, lack of institutional support or trust in the justice system to safely support women transitioning out of violent homes/relationships, and social stigma that shames victims into believing that they have “earned” the abuse, places tremendous pressure on women, sufficient to discourage the use of legal remedies against their abusers.
The Jamaican Law treats Domestic Violence cases as an Offence Against the Person which requires the victim to report and testify in order for the abuser to be tried and convicted. If the woman does not cooperate with the police and prosecutors a case cannot be pursued.
On January 1, 2021, the UWI Institute for Gender & Development Studies joined the UNDP in demanding legislative reform to end violence against women and girls as part of the Pillar One of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.
This call for legislative reform recognizes the need for authorities to have stronger legal avenues to pursue offenders, protect victims and prevent violence. There is room for more robust legislation that can truly eliminate violence against women.
In the United Kingdom, legislative reform to facilitate evidence-based prosecution of Domestic Violence cases not only saw a reduction in intimate partner violence cases but also a reduction in intimate partner homicides. The term “evidence-based prosecution” in domestic-violence cases refers to the practice of using independent corroborative evidence to prove the elements of the crime without relying on the victim’s testimony. Independent, corroborative evidence that can be used in such cases includes a 911-call recording; visible injuries photographed by a police officer or observed by a person other than the victim; physical evidence at the crime scene such as a weapon, broken furniture, victim’s torn clothing, or a telephone ripped out of the wall; medical testimony that documents injuries or statements made by the victim; eyewitnesses who saw or heard the event; transcripts of prior testimony by the victim; statements that fall under exceptions to the hearsay rule; and admissions by the defendant. (US DOJ, 2005).
A study dubbed Inquiry into Sexual Assault among Young Jamaicans, conducted by the Northern Caribbean University (NCU), shows that four in 10 Jamaicans between the ages of 18 and 30 have been sexually assaulted while complying with official stay-at-home orders issued by the Government under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).
The “shadow pandemic” rages on; home remains a high-risk space for thousands of women and there is room for legislative reform to shift that reality! It is within this context that I am making a proposal for the Jamaican Parliament to amend the Domestic Violence Act to allow for special evidence-based prosecution of domestic violence cases so abusers do not escape conviction because of limited or no cooperation from their victims.
Document Prepared by: Ms. Krystal Tomlinson