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Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy, during debate on the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill in the Senate yesterday.

Proposed law to curb domestic violence will cover intimidation, abuse and stalking of people by unwelcome online and other digital means—and the proposed law will also apply to people who are dating.

The bill will also allow youths over age 16 to seek protection orders on their own against abusers.

That’s contained in sweeping changes to the law to allow protection orders and emergency orders concerning domestic violence.

Gender and Child Affairs Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy piloted the bill in the Senate yesterday. The government launched the bill as state-run domestic violence shelters opened their doors yesterday.

Webster-Roy cited domestic violence statistics in the thousands since 2017 with 134 reports up to April 2020. Police statistics showed a breach of protection orders in all nine police divisions numbering 2,664 up to this month.

“Undoubtedly domestic violence remains a serious problem in T&T and requires help from all sectors of society—women are the majority of victims,” she added.

The bill’s clauses expand the range of the current Domestic Violence law and deal with areas unaddressed by that law. The bill covers 13 types of relationships from children and those over 16 to those in dating (romantic and sexual) relationships and those who are targets of abuse via technological means. It also gives a more expansive definition of emotional/ psychological abuses.

Emergency protection orders would be done once a senior police officer applies to the courts for this via phone or video in a situation where a person may be in danger of serious physical injury.

Webster-Roy said youths age 16 and older will be able to apply on their own for protection orders. The courts will also have the discretion to direct that such youths apply through a parent, guardian or a person responsible for the youth. This would apply to youths who are intimidated by courts and lack the courage to explain why the order is needed.

Webster-Roy said the bill captures conduct involving the digital and computer environment and video/Internet/technology platforms. She said these could involve new avenues for threatening, controlling and similar types of behaviour detrimental to people’s emotion and mental well being. Behaviour on such platforms could also be a predictor for harm or deaths.

The scope of emotional and psychological abuse covered in the bill includes unwelcome, intimidatory contact by any means including electronic means, online stalking, and unwelcome intimidatory online conduct.

Also covered is the display of intimate images of a protection order applicant or of their child.

Other clauses cover people in dating relationships where parties don’t live together but are in an intimate/sexual/romantic relationship. Webster-Roy said, “Many young people are dating and violence in dating remains hidden due to non-reporting to police. The courts would decide if these relationships exist or not.”

She said even silent threats like the placement of a weapon under a bed can undermine people’s mental well being.

Patterns of behaviour (not a single act alone) on the part of a culprit would have to be submitted before a protective order is granted. Such a pattern will involve any act /behaviour that will undermine a person’s mental well being.

The bill also covers psychological/emotional abuse of children who witness domestic violence of a person with whom they have a relationship – including seeing bruises on a parent.

“Experts say there are harmful effects on emotional/behavioural development of children who witness abuse..it’s not unusual for them to display emotional distress and high levels of aggression, to become withdrawn or anxious or suffer deep, lasting scars.”

Persons can also apply for protection orders to remove children from a home or school if it’s felt the child is in danger of domestic violence physical injury.

The bill also creates a criminal offence for people who don’t report to police suspected domestic violence being perpetrated on vulnerable adults (elderly or suffering infirmity) who can’t protect themselves.

Opposition welcomes clauses in bill

UNC Senator Sean Sobers said there was nothing wrong in the Opposition agreeing with Government on the bill.

“We’re on the right path with the bill…I can’t believe we’ve reached so far with amendments,” he said.

Sobers said he was happy to see clauses on emergency protection orders. Sobers said he was greatly upset by a client’s grief when she was told she had to wait seven days to get an order.

UNC Senator Kadijah Ameen claimed with T&T entering elections there’s a “threat” of attempts to be made to intimidate candidates- especially women- for parties to buy images from aggrieved people and threaten candidates to expose images.

“I encourage anyone who wants to do this to desist,” she said.

She said the bill didn’t address causes of domestic violence problems or statements by people who compared women to “golf courses and grooming” and when victims were publicly shamed. She said the words of politicians, businessmen and entertainers were important in shaping responses to domestic violence. Ameen noted views that the “man doh love you if he don’t hit you.”

She also noted women are often condemned for certain things- such