2939689
Joanne Hood

Forty-five women and two girls have been murdered so far. With the murder count presently at 362, females represent 13 per cent of the homicides to date.

And while these women fell victim to cold-blooded killers, jealous lovers and men with twisted sexual fantasies, hundreds of other women remain the victims of abusive relationships, some even in the confines of their own homes.

The T&T Police Service (TTPS) said of the 745 people reported missing for 2020 a staggering 416 of those are women and girls—which is more than half of the missing persons figure. The police said there was no confirmation as to how many of that number remain missing.

The discovery on Friday of the body of 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, who left her San Juan home last Sunday to attend her grandmother’s birthday party in Cocorite has incensed and enraged most of the population.

Ashanti’s nude, decomposing body was dumped by her killers in a shallow stream in La Canoa, Santa Cruz. Two men, including a 32-year-old taxi driver, are currently in police custody for her murder, while they continue to hunt a third suspect.

Ashanti was picked up in a blue Nissan Almera outside of her Sunshine Avenue, San Juan home last Sunday. CCTV footage showed the teen getting into the car, which later stopped and picked up two other men in San Juan.

The driver of the car was detained by police on Monday and after four days in custody broke his silence- providing police with information about where Ashanti’s body had been dumped.

During the five days that Ashanti was missing, social media users shared her photos tirelessly and urged anyone with information on her whereabouts to come forward or notify the police. As photos of a smiling Ashanti flooded social media on Friday, many citizens expressed hurt and anguish over her murder.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he was pained by Ashanti’s murder. He said it was unfortunate that such evil continued to be produced right here in T&T.

Rowley, a father of two daughters, said, “I too am exposed to that.”

Recalling Mano Benjamin who was referred to as the Beast of Biche back in the 1960s, Rowley said it was a similar tale.

Benjamin was an outsider whom Biche children called the green-faced man but to the rest of the country, he was known as the Beast of Biche. He became infamous after it was discovered that he had held two sisters, Lucieann and Dulcie Ramirez, captive inside a house at the Biche quarry where he raped, tortured and abused them in the 1960s. He served 20 years in prison for his crimes. One of the sisters was blinded with acid while the other was sexually mutilated. Both women have since died.

Rowley said, “There is something happening and I mentioned it to the Minister of National Security and the population is going to have to deal with this matter somewhere along the line.”

The prime minister said, “There was a time in this country when you could not operate a motor vehicle for hire unless you were cleared by the State to be a person of good character and your vehicle was so marked…”

He said, “every Tom, Dick and Harry is now being granted a licence to operate a vehicle and pick up people—this is the possibility one faced.

“There are in T&T today, a large number of people operating motor vehicles, unknown to the State’s registry because there is no real registry since we disbanded the system of you coming to licence your vehicle every year.

“I am coming to the conclusion that the State does not have a good handle on who is operating motor vehicles in this country and among those people…many of them are people who should have nothing to do with picking up people in that motor vehicle because their character is not a recommendation to the rest of the population.”

The PM said the question now was what should be done about it.

Reinforcing that personal safety was something everyone had to pay attention to at all times and take steps to preserve, Rowley said by equipping people with pepper spray and tasers to protect themselves, it might be a situation where it could be used against the victim as well.

He said, unfortunately, there was evil in our society and people are diminished whenever such gruesome acts are committed.

The Office of the Prime Minister-Gender and Child Affairs, the UNC’s Women’s Arm, COP’s Women’s Arm, and many prominent citizens and entertainers also condemned the teenager’s murder.

Members of the public seemed bewildered, as they lamented the high number of women who have been murdered for the year so far, some of them trying to fathom the terrifying last moments Ashanti faced at the hands of her killers.

Her murder evoked condemnation with people chastising the police for the handling of reports made by relatives when women are missing. Some even called for the death penalty for those who commit heinous acts against women and children, while others called on men to do better. Women and girls are also being urged to download and use family tracking applications to ensure their families know their whereabouts when they are travelling.

But Ashanti’s murder, while heart-wrenching, is not unique.

The nation reacted similarly in late September when the mother of two, Reshma Kanchan was hacked to death by her abusive ex-husband while waiting for a taxi in Penal. Kanchan, 25, had left Sunil Dookie months before the attack. According to her mother, Davica Kanchan, Dookie stalked and abused Reshma until the day he took her life. The attack, which took place along a busy main road in Penal, was so vicious, that the man almost severed Reshma’s head.

After he allegedly killed her, the man tried to slit his own throat before driving off and crashing his vehicle a short distance away.

But the extreme, sadistic violence meted out to women this year was not reserved for only younger women.

On November 11, Deokie Meera Mungroo, 74, was found beaten, bound and strangled at her Diamond Village, San Fernando home. Her body was found by her husband, Ramjewan Mungroo, who had left her alive and well only two hours before.

The Coalition Against Domestic Violence has said between 2005 and 2015, 300 women were murdered in T&T. In 2017, 52 women were killed—with 43 of those murders being linked to domestic violence.

There have been increasing concerns not only in this country but worldwide that the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns it has forced, would only exacerbate domestic violence and sexual abuse cases in the homes.

In the recent weeks, there has been an increasing number of sexual assaults and rape cases being brought before the courts locally, as disturbing information of young girls being raped by their fathers, neighbours, family friends and even a church elder surfaced.

According to the TTPS statistics, there were 352 rapes, incest and sexual offences reported in 2019.

In 2019, 82 cases were labelled as ‘detected’. Up until October 31, 2020, there were 332 cases reported to police, while 119 cases were labelled as ‘detected’.

‘Home space not as safe’

In an interview with the Sunday Guardian, general manager of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV), Sabrina Mowlah-Baksh said T&T was facing a crisis as it pertains to women’s safety and security.

She said the attacks on women and girls that surface nearly daily are a clear demonstration that they continue to be targeted for acts of violence.

One in every three women experience at least one form of violence in their lives, she said.

Addressing the almost-daily reports of girls and women missing, Mowlah-Baksh said the high number of disappearances highlight the extent of the abuse that they face.

“Daily/weekly reports of young girls disappearing may be an indication that they may be uncomfortable or experiencing difficulty in the space in which they are residing. It is important to treat each case with its own merit. Listen to these girls, they may be sounding an alarm without being in a position to disclose fully,” she said.

“The home space is not as safe as it ought to be for many. The fact is that women and girls continue to be harmed by those closest to them: partners, fathers, uncles, brothers, trusted family friends, neighbours.”

Mowlah-Baksh said when these cases are reported, the blame is heaped on the victims by the public.

But, she said a critical step in addressing violence is treating with the issue of the perpetrators.

“Women and girls can do self-defence classes, stay at home, install burglar proof and alarms but the violence will not stop unless the source of the violence is addressed. We need to identify ways in which we socialise, support, protect and enable perpetrators of such violence. Prevention is critical to eliminating violence against women and girls and ensuring that it does not continue to affect generations to come.”

She again called for proper training for teachers, school-based and youth interventions, gender-sensitive parenting programmes, and programmes engaging boys and men including perpetrator interventions/batterer’s intervention programmes.

She said the public needs to take up the responsibility of reporting abuse when they see it happening in their communities.

“We all must become active bystanders. For our part, we at CADV know it can be difficult to know how to be active, where to start and what to do. If you know someone is in harm’s way, let us break the silence.”

Bhagan: Speed up prosecution of rape, domestic violence

Caribbean Committee Against Sex Crimes chairman Jonathan Bhagan said the Director of Public Prosecutions needs more funding to complete domestic violence trials faster.

“The whole court system is very overburdened and messy. It still takes like two, three and four months to get a protection order even if there is a fair amount of violence that had been taking place. If the magistrate is satisfied that the violence was not ongoing or not an immediate threat, they will let it go to trial and they may not get the interim protection order,” Bhagan, an attorney, said.

He said he finds it is absurd that victims of domestic violence have to ‘fight’ through a trial to be granted protection. He also called for communities to do more to address the root of domestic violence by teaching men to manage their anger and emotions.

Deyalsingh: Implement special police protocol for missing girls, women

Psychiatrist and secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of T&T (APTT) Dr Varma Deyalsingh said there need to be special protocols put into place to find women and girls when they are reported missing.

Deylasingh told the Sunday Guardian when someone is reported missing, their families have to act as search parties and parents are often left trying to do police work or become computer and phone hackers trying to search into their relatives’ social media accounts for clues.

He said while 80 to 90 per cent of women and girls who go missing will be found, the relatives of the remaining ten per cent will also be haunted by their unexplained disappearances.

“It is the remaining who vanished that would cause family dismay for the rest of their lives. Families live in emotional limbo reliving the trauma whenever they read of a missing person or a body found,” he said.

He said this was a problem not only facing T&T but one that plagues the entire region.

He said some victims may be captured into human trafficking and forced prostitution, some run away from sexual or physical abuse or poverty at home, while others may be kidnapped, raped and killed by individuals who prey on women.

He said some runaways are because of depression while some are young girls leaving home to live with their boyfriends.

Deyalsingh said some women are killed because of their involvement in crime or as collateral damage to send a message to their partner, who may be involved in crime.

Regardless of the cause, he said families need assistance in tracking and finding their loved ones when they go missing.

“Distraught relatives would do more than an underpaid, overworked police officer. They would not sleep or eat till their loved one is found,” he said.

Deyalsingh outlined several points that he said can assist in finding missing girls and women faster.

“We need to adopt and implement immediate search protocols for missing women and girls in the police organization, allow family access to CCTV cameras footage. Our country needs to develop a link with private home security footage linking with the police surveillance unit. We can follow the victims’ whereabouts easier.”

OPM, Gender and Child Affairs condemns violence against women, girls, boys

The Office of the Prime Minister, Gender and Child Affairs, (OPM-GCA) also strongly condemned the recent acts of violence perpetrated against women, girls, and children and reminded the public that all men, women, boys and girls have the fundamental right to live a life free from all forms of violence.

A release yesterday from the OPM-GCA said domestic violence, child abuse, rape and other forms of violence are punishable crimes.

“Gender-based violence is an infringement on one’s human rights and is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As individuals, we must make a conscious decision to do better and be better.

“Change starts with each individual doing their part to end violence against women and girls by promoting behaviours and attitudes, which will bring about inner peace and peace in homes and social environments.”

They stated that through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, free and confidential counselling is available for all.

Responding to questions by the Sunday Guardian on the women in T&T being killed and abused and the disappearance of young girls, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy said “The increased number of cases of violence against women and girls is of serious concern to the Government and to all residing in this country.

“Recently, our sensibilities were again shaken with reports of killings and ambuscades on women, girls, and children. The Government recognises the fundamental rights of all women, men, boys and girls to live a life free from violence. However, it is a fundamental truth that women are impacted disproportionately by gender-based violence.

“Instances of such violence against women are often perpetrated at the hands of men in intimate partner relationships, familial relations, and by a non-intimate male stranger.”

She said more recently, women and girls were becoming more and more the victims of abuse by strange unknown men, causing death and serious lifelong injuries.

Webster-Roy said the statistics revealed that the world over, including T&T, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it an escalation in domestic violence and other forms of family violence.

She said women and girls were also an estimated 83 per cent of the victims of such violence, based on the reported cases.

Webster-Roy said the reality was that the country had seen its own escalation in crimes against women, with assault by beating accounting for approximately 52 per cent of the cases, while threats and breach of the protective orders accounting for between 20 and 23 per cent respectively and there was a similar trend in the number of reported cases of child abuse.

She said over the years, the Gender Affairs Division had worked with the NGOs and UN agencies to change the norms and stereotypes in an effort to modify behaviour surrounding domestic violence.

Webster-Roy said for the next three years, the Government plans to scale up all its activities in order to deliver on the goal of gender equality and the empowering of women and girls.

She said these included efforts to create the structures to support victims and perpetrators via policy and services.

This was coupled with programmes to build awareness on domestic violence and discuss the core issues driving such violence within families, such as unequal power in all its forms.

Webster-Roy said this effort was well supported by the NGO community as evident during these 16 days of activism against gender-based violence which commenced on November 25, 2020.

She said domestic violence and all forms of violence can and will end with individual and community responsibility which indicated that it was unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

45 women, two girls killed so far in 2020

January

5- Polly-Ann Chunisingh, 31, killed at her Arima home along with her brother and uncle by an ex-lover.

6- Jezelle Phillip was fatally stabbed by a man she knew at the Baby Pre-School on George Street.

10 —Gabriella Du Barry gunned down by a man she knew at her Avocat Village, Fyzabad home.

27 —Naiee Singh, 31, a Loan Officer at Venture Credit Union shot to death by a man she knew

February

7 – Cindy Joseph, 33 shot dead at her Claxton Bay home along with a friend.

10 – Neera Ramnath, 39 shot dead along with Craig Hong Poi in Princes Town

11- Mukeisha Maynard, eight, beaten to death by her father

13 – Alana Mohammed, 38 shot dead at her Dass Trace Branch Extension home in Enterprise, Chaguanas.

21– Rachel Logan, 46 chopped to death at her Siparia home by her husband

23 – Joanna Hood, 31, shot dead at her Valencia home by masked intruders

28- Ceslyn Farrell, 69 and Seyelle Farrah, 41, burnt to death in a house in Guapo

March

2- Ann Marie Susan Seepersad, 34, murdered by a deranged neighbour at her Debe home.

3- Sharlene Ramkissoon shot dead in Acono Village Maracas, said to be an innocent bystander

12- Chandramatie Sammy Rojan, 45 shot dead at Darneaud Trace, Gasparillo in a land dispute.

29 – Mary Mark found shot dead in a car along with a man

April

1- Makeba Nurse, 43, shot dead along with a man in Morvant

11- Sharmin James, 37, of Malabar found dead along with a man in a car in Trincity.

22- Aaliyah Thomas, 18, found decapitated in Guapo forest along with her boyfriend

23- Vishanie Chitbahal, shot dead along with her brother, Vishal at their Couva home by a man who came demanding to see Vishanie.

MAY

18 Lilawatie Mackhan, 65 found dead in her Cunupia home with her husband Kenneth, 62

25- Guimar Jose Rausseo Marcano, shot dead along with three men

JUNE-

04- Reanna Jordan, 23, shot dead in a parked car in Diego Martin

5- Kathy Theroulde, 56, shot to death at her Tunapuna home along with her son

10- Tricia Ramsaran, 37, allegedly strangled by common-law husband in Barrackpore

16- Geeta Newman, 53 found strangled in her Couva home

17- Ellena Dial, 19, from Carnbee Tobago died after she was doused with a flammable liquid on January 28. She was hospitalised for five months.

20- Aniah Mcleod, two, shot dead along with her father, Stephon Mc Leod.

30- Ornella Greaves, 30, shot and killed during a protest against police killings along the Beetham Highway.

July

1- Adana Dick, 36, stabbed to death by a former lover in Claxton Bay

30-Vera Gurabie, 29, throat slit and stabbed at her Matura home by her husband, who was a Special Reserve Police officer.

August

1- Sherma Francis, 55, killed in a drive-by shooting in front of her Biche home

25- Kowsil Ramkhelawan, 71, stabbed to death in bed at her Sangre Grande home

September

02- Sherian Huggins, 29, Dan Kelly, Morvant chopped to death

05- Joann Diaz Sanchez found murdered at the home of her boyfriend. Her body was hidden in a cesspit.

14- Kimberly Ramsaran, 29, found at an abandoned house in Tunapuna with chop wounds to the neck

29- Reshma Kanchan, 25, hacked to death by an abusive ex-husband

October

14-Tenile Cupid murdered by an ex-lover and her body dumped in a field road in Santa Flora

23- Johandry Espinosa, Venezuelan, alleged strangled by her husband at her Flagstaff home

31- Cindy Charter, 50 killed at her Cocorite home along with her husband

November

11- Deokie Meera Mungroo, 74, beaten, bound, and strangled at her Diamond Village San Fernando home.

14- Toya Huges 31, shot dead while getting into her car in Trou Macaque

14- Unidentified woman found dead in a car park in Port of Spain.

19- Sandy Khan 37 and her daughter Stephanie Khan shot dead in Carapichaima

December

3 -Krystal Primus-Espinoza, 36 found dead in Toco

4- Ashanti Riley, 18, found dead in Santa Cruz after missing for five days

WHERE TO GET HELP

The Office of the Prime Minister has partnered with Eutelmed and UNICEF to offer free and confidential E-counselling services which is available 24/7.

To access this E-counselling service, log-on to caring.eutelmed.com and enter the password code: UNICEF-ECA to receive help from competent counsellors.

Seeing it, stopping it and reporting all cases of violence including child sexual abuse to the T&T Police Service at 999, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-SAVE (7283) and the Children’s Authority at 996 can save a life.

Here are some tips to help you make a difference in the life of someone experiencing domestic violence and child abuse.

You can: 1: Learn all you can about abuse;

2: Teach your loved ones about the signs of a potential victim and an abuser;

3: Actively listen to the victim;

4. Do not judge or give unsolicited advice and

5: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-SAVE for more resources. (Office of the Prime Minister)