Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stock up on tasers, not bullets


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Highlighting the current spike in domestic violence incidents, the copycat syndrome of burning alive women spouses and partners focuses fresh concern on a long-standing phenomenon in which law and law enforcement appear one step behind the dread reality of passions—not necessarily including love — that know no bounds.

Senior counsel and former prosecutor Dana Seetahal in her Saturday Express column cited the predicament of police officers who, called to protect women from men against whom a restraining orders have been imposed, are often thrust into a zone of ambivalence where they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

In a fatal incident last week, police shot dead a man who was terrorising his family, who had taken out a restraining order against him. When the police arrived, he attacked them with a cutlass and they responded in kind. His family, however, has since accused the officers in question of using excessive force, and his wife said she had expected the police to counsel him.

The Domestic Violence Act, which was passed in 1999, made possible speedier court intervention in cases where violence was threatened so that victims could obtain protection orders against those who threatened them.

Police officers were also trained to react more assertively to situations which in the past had been dismissed as being private, of no consequence, or even normal and acceptable — a way of thinking that, regrettably, is still prevalent.

Ms Seetahal's column reflected the continuing frustration of police who must deal with the mindset of habitual victims of domestic abuse.

As a former prosecutor, Ms Seetahal encountered numerous cases in which the chief witness for the prosecution—the victim—had changed her mind, saying she loved her abuser and did not wish to give evidence against him. Many cases had to be dropped as a result.

This illustrates the complex, contradictory psychology of domestic abuse, in which physical violence is only one means to an end—to assert control. The abuser uses various methods to bring the victim gradually under his sway, so that she ends up being emotionally dependent on him. That is why victims—who may also be male, of course—endure seemingly unbearable situations until a breaking point, sometimes fatal, occurs.

There needs to be a wider public understanding of the way domestic abuse operates, so that potential victims and those around them can spot the signs and stop the cycle before it escalates into potentially fatal violence.

In the meantime, it remains a grievous shortcoming of law-enforcement capacity that, to subdue a potentially dangerous perpetrator of domestic violence, police have available to them only lethal force.

Thrust in the middle of heated contending forces, police clearly need more resources—such as tasers, stun guns, and pepper spray—and not only cold lead bullets.