One-stop shop for victims

Nalita Gajadhar and Marrianne Burnham.
Nalita Gajadhar and Marrianne Burnham.

Having a one-stop facility for victims of domestic abuse to seek all the services they could possibly need is not completely impossible.

That’s the view of President of BPW Barbados, Marrianne Burnham, who told participants in a current partly EU-funded week-long training course for advocates on gender-based violence that it could be a very good thing for Barbados.

“We aspire towards having that one-stop shop here in Barbados where you can just go one place and get all the services rather than several places. It would save time and it would save money and essentially it would save lives.

“I would say we would have more than gotten this off the ground. We are actively working and having a model such as that in Barbados is nowhere impossible, it is quite doable, but we have to continue talking; we have to continue this process,” she said at the opening ceremony. The model she referred to was one explained by Child Advocacy Coordinator with The Centre for Women and Families in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Joanne Martin, who is one of the presenters in for the workshop.

Martin had explained that the centre dealt with issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, ran a safe house, facilitated and ran community programmes, and basically was a coalition that brought together all the agencies associated with different forms of violence and abuse. She said as well that they were moving toward becoming a family justice centre which would be the one place victims could go to have all their needs taken care of.

“What we are aiming for under the family justice centre, we would have our advocates, community education, we would still have the multidisciplinary team, but we would also have law enforcement housed there, we would have medical practitioners housed there, we would have people from the court housed there; we would have attorneys housed there.

“We would have anything that a woman might need if she were to come forward with a claim of domestic violence or sexual assault, because as you all well know, for a woman to go through the process they have to end up going to four, five, seven different locations… So we would have one place they could go into and hopefully have all their needs taken care of.”

Martin added that mental health practitioners and child care services would also be part of the centre, so women with children would not feel like they had no alternatives or options.

“We are understanding too that that multi-disciplinary approach is: 1) it’s cost effective; 2) it provides the best service for the victim; and, 3) it probably ends up resulting in a higher conviction rate.

“When you have that collaborative effort, you start talking to each other. You are in the same room, you are down the hallway, you are understanding what the other person’s perspective is, and at the centre of it, hopefully, is the victim,” she said, adding that it fostered better understanding of the victims’ needs as well.

She explained that the process of getting the centre up had been about five years in progress and would include as well interview rooms, forensic specialists, child protective agencies and for Barbados to do something similar could possibly take between two to five years to get the right set-up depending on the willingness of stakeholders.

Programme Officer with the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Nalita Gajadhar, noted that this was one of the things proposed by UN Children’s Advocate, former magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris.

While it might not be possible exactly to have all the bodies related under one roof, she added that it was something that was engaging the interest of stakeholders.

Representative with the EU, Head of the Social Development Section, Zissimos Vergos, noted that the Union was pleased to play its part in the training of those who work with victims of this kind of abuse.

After two years living in the Caribbean, he said he had realised that women were a central institution in society, noting that domestic violence was a crime and one that should be dealt with by education, dialogue and within a human rights framework.

The course, which targets persons who may work in areas of gender-based violence or with vulnerable or “at risk” populations including women, children, lesbian or gay communities, etc, is a 40-hour training session being facilitated by members of the Center for Women and Families from Bridgeport. It will include multidisciplinary aspects of gender-based violence including domestic violence, human trafficking, child sexual abuse, police response, medical evaluation and response, handling disclosures, crisis intervention, and court response among other topics. (LB)

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