October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the Government commemorated the start of the month with the inking of a far-reaching, and comprehensive Protocol for the handling of domestic violence and child abuse cases in the Virgin Islands. Similarly, an additional Protocol for the prevention, reporting, investigation and management of child abuse and neglect was also signed.
The two Protocols were signed on 1 October, by Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton, Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn, Director for Public Prosecutions, Wayne Rajbansie, and Commissioner of Police, David Morris.
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton described the Protocols as two landmark documents that will enhance the effectiveness of the Territory’s response to family violence. He told the gathering: “Today, as Minister for Health and Social Development, as a husband, as a father and a grandfather, as a member of this community, I am proud to usher in a new era in our quest for social justice. Domestic violence and child abuse offend the basic values of our society. The devastating physical, social, emotional and financial impacts go to the core of our sense of human dignity.”
Mrs. Petrona Davies, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development in her remarks announced that the Protocols were spawned by the need for greater clarity, consistency and efficiency in handling abuse cases, and are the first comprehensive, multidisciplinary set of guidelines for addressing domestic violence and child protection matters across various government agencies.
Mrs. Davies indicated that the Domestic Violence Protocol’s focus is restricted to acts of violence whether physical or verbal abuse on a sexual or intimate partner, or whether the parties live in the same household or have a visiting relationship. She said that acts of violence against children including those committed in the household are addressed in the child protection Protocol.
It was announced that the Domestic Violence Protocol emanated from a consultative process led by the Office of Gender Affairs involving key stakeholders in the fields of law, medicine, law enforcement, and social services. It establishes standards for contact between key agencies.
Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn in his remarks stated that long ago and sadly even today, many in the communities view domestic violence as a private issue. However, this is furthest from the truth and domestic violence is a very public matter.
The Minister also commented on the signing of Protocol for the Prevention, Reporting, Investigation and Management of Child Abuse and Neglect, and stated that the ratification of that policy sends a message to predators that decide to show their weakness by acting on the young. He said that the message is that the Virgin Islands will not stand for the innocence of children to be taken away: “Whether a child is physically, sexually or emotional abused, it is a vicious act that strips that child of the opportunity to develop in a natural and healthy way. The trauma of any form of abuse lives with our children for the rest of their lives,” the Minster said.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Wayne Rajbansie observed that the signing of the two protocols demonstrates the height of culture and civilization, both robust and refined: “We break the mold today as advocates for this cause and with a singular melodious voice, we state boldly, without vain recrimination or excuse, ‘stop the violence now!’”
Mr. Rajbansie explained that the protocols create a road map for capacity building amongst stakeholders. He said that it is a systematic guideline for co-ordinated action.