The Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) wants legislation to be created that spells out all the steps which the police must take, once they get a report of domestic violence.

According to the Coalition, such procedural guidelines must become part of the Domestic Violence Act, to ensure that victims get the fullest police protection when they seek it.

The call comes on the heels of Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass, who reportedly was killed in a domestic violence incident with a man who reportedly had a history of such behaviour.

In an official statement issued on Saturday, the Coalition argues that the police must “implement a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence”. It also recommends that the Attorney General add an amendment to the Domestic Violence Act that clearly spells out the Police Service’s “responsibility to investigate all domestic violence reports and what they must do once they receive a report”.

The text of the Coalition’s statement, follows…

STATEMENT ON MURDER OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM, TRICIA RAMSARAN-RAMDASS

Trinidad and Tobago once again faces the horrific news of the murder of Tricia Ramsaran-Ramdass, a case of domestic violence. What stuns the country is the knowledge that this is the second killing by the same person. The perpetrator, referred to as a man from Barackpore by the newspapers, had killed another, was charged with manslaughter and whilst found guilty, was released on bond to keep the peace.

There would have been specific factors in that case that informed leniency. We cannot second guess the judicial determination of that case, at least not without a careful review of the court records, of the evidence before the court, of the judge’s summing up of the evidence or of what was said in justifying a non-custodial sentence.

But it seems that this man was released without psychosocial assessment, any directives on psycho-educational interventions or counselling and without sufficient monitoring and follow up. He was released into the community without any oversight.

This murder of Tricia by strangulation was the final act in a long history of abuse as is common in domestic violence murders. In the words of her mother, Tricia was tortured. She had gone to the police a number of times but it seems she could not make a decision to finally leave her abuser. Many victims, like Tricia, may not think what they are experiencing is serious enough. They may be economically dependent; they may fear the consequences of disclosure, including the dread of further abuse. And then there is the emotional connection, what the author Leslie Morgan Steiner calls ‘crazy love’, a belief in the perpetrator’s love, the frantic delusion that he will change.

We also learnt that Tricia’s mother wanted to get a protection order on her behalf but could not; that the police had received reports but apparently never arrested or charged the perpetrator. Police officers continue to hamper themselves by insisting that there is nothing else they can do if the victim does not cooperate. In cases of murder, there is no victim to give evidence, but the police have other evidence available to them to arrest and charge. It is time that the police develop and implement a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence. If a serious offence has been committed or is threatened, the police must act independently, whether the victim cooperates or not.

This case highlights the need for improvement in the legal framework as well as the need for continuous police and judicial training so that all those in the administration of justice understand the complex dimensions of domestic violence and are empowered to act effectively so that the perpetrator is held to account; is given psycho-educational treatment and is monitored to ensure behaviour change and victim safety.

The Attorney General introduced amendments to the Domestic Violence Act which are now before the Parliament. Many improvements are contained, including better protection of children and vulnerable populations such as those who because of age or disability, depend on others for care. In addition to these improvements, we need clear direction to the Police on their responsibility to investigate all domestic violence reports and what they must do once they receive a report. In making a decision on arrest and charging they should have the capacity to undertake risk assessments to get a sense of whether the perpetrator is a danger to the victim and/or the community. A risk assessment would provide information to police as to whether there is a pattern of escalating violence.

In the case of Tricia, we understand from newspaper reports that in the days before the perpetrator killed Tricia, he stabbed four car tires, smashed a car glass; threatened to chop her up; and told her that he had already killed one woman.

What more should the police have known before they acted?

We all must do better for victims of domestic violence and the police have a special obligation. They must do better and be given the tools, training and have the right temperament to effectively protect and serve.

The Coalition Against Domestic Violence calls for the clearest guidance on what police must do once they receive a report of domestic violence to be included in the Domestic Violence Act. This Act must be enacted as soon as possible and we call on members of parliament and the senate to ensure that this happens before the end of current parliamentary cycle.