The NGOs stated that the lack of a clear definition of “discrimination” has prompted individual Ministries to set their own standards through adopting their definitions of discrimination; this in turn may create legal loopholes which can be exploited by public authorities, to the detriment of those aggrieved individuals seeking redress. Local NGO have discovered that here are difficulties of application and enforcement which makes the Act marginally successful.
For example, the police may be unwilling to interfere in domestic matters, a summons may not be served due to inadequate financial resources, the victim may fear losing her job through taking time off to appear in court, or she may feel embarrassed about the openness of a court action. Moreover, the applicant may be aware that few applications result in the grant of a protection order.
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In 1994, only 39% of the applications had a positive outcome, and this could be for a variety of reasons: pressure may be exerted on the victim to drop the case; a case may be withdrawn due to impatience with regards to the number of adjournments, or because the victim has resolved the situation with the accused and returns to the family home through economic dependency, and for the benefit of her children. Society’s tolerance of the subordinate treatment of women is a major hindrance.
Moreover, the practice of blaming the victim, and making excuses for the accused, can even be witnessed in the statements of respected members of Parliament, and in prominent newspapers. Obtain data concerning the number of women who have brought domestic violence cases before the courts and concerning women who have benefited from protection orders, or the number of women who have been killed through domestic violence, is difficult since the Central Statistical Office does not classify data by way of gender.
In the case of rape generally, there are problems which surround the definition of consent. If a woman is ‘immoral’, that is, a prostitute, or a lesbian, she abrogates her right to give consent if she is raped. In addition to this, although the legislation provides that mentally subnormal women are not able to consent to sexual relations, a disturbing number of these women are mothers to as many as six or seven children, and are also subject to physical abuse.
In 2000, the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) established a domestic violence training programme for Police officers and Social Workers, and the Rape Crisis Society raised public awareness about sexual violence, and lobbies for changes in legislation which discriminates against women. The Trinidad and Tobago Juvenile Bureau and Counseling Unit also handles cases of rape, abuse and incest sensitively. Incidences of violence and the acceptance of such behaviour among young people is an especially serious issue.
Young people, in groups such as Rapport, which deal with sexual health and family life as well as in other appropriate NGOs (for example the YMCA) and youth groups, should be trained to facilitate workshops in schools and communities by and for youth. Since “living on the earnings of prostitution is an indictable offence under the Sexual Offences Act”, this may prevent a prostitute from reporting sexual exploitation thereby perpetuating a cycle of exploitation.
Students are not supposed to be debarred from obtaining an education as a consequence of pregnancy. However, in some cases school principals deny girls re-entry into schools for fear of them ” influencing other female students ” and setting a bad precedent. Their male counterparts who father children can remain anonymous and are therefore allowed to remain in school.