If a crime happens in Trinidad and Tobago and no one films it, did it happen at all?
I’ve had occasion to ask myself this question several times over the last few weeks as viral video after viral video emerged to prompt the police into uncharacteristically swift action. After all, in a country where a video wasn’t enough to prompt an investigation into a government minister, how is it that things are suddenly moving so smoothly? Maybe we were turning a corner here.
Then came the video of the woman being brutally beaten by a man in an Arima bar.
As with all the other videos, this one spread like wildfire on Facebook, autoplaying all over my newsfeed and prompting the requisite outrage. Folks were understandably appalled at the sight of this man throwing a woman to the floor, kicking her and beating her with a metal object. They wanted him found and they wanted justice for that poor woman.
At least, most of them seemed to. Some of them were already laying odds that she wouldn’t cooperate with the investigation, that she’d go right back to her abuser, that this was all sound and fury signifying nothing. Still, the wheels of Facebook justice turned and before long, the suspect was identified. He then surrendered to police and this is where things took an ugly turn, because his alleged victim went with him.
The pundits were right. Still, it seemed like he would face justice for the beating that everyone agreed was horrific, as the police reportedly believed they had enough evidence to charge him with assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm. A video and seven witnesses should be enough, right?
Cut to this morning, when the Guardian published an article indicating that the police may not, in fact, have enough to charge the suspect because the victim is (surprise, surprise) unwilling to cooperate with the investigation.
Let’s just pause here for a moment and review:
- There is a video of a man assaulting a woman.
- There are at least seven people who witnessed the assault.
- The couple willingly walked into police station and identified themselves as the people in the video.
“…attorney and former police officer Lyndon Leu said the police could only lay charges if the victim gave a statement or if the victim’s medical notes or a statement from the doctor showed the victim admitted to being beaten by her partner. ‘It is a very difficult situation for the police. They can’t do much without a statement. Without a statement from her there is no victim,’ Leu said.
Leu said, however, that it was common for victims of domestic violence situations to refuse police help.”
What this boils down to is that assault is only a crime if the victim deems it so. That may seem logical; after all, shouldn’t an adult of sound mind be able to decide whether they want to pursue a matter? However, in instances where the crime itself forms part of a larger pattern of domination and intimidation — such as domestic violence — it is ridiculous to put the burden on a victim who is often unable to shoulder it. (If you don’t understand why, there are many experts and survivors willing to explain it to you.)
Among many other things, the State is tasked with protecting its citizens and ensuring law and order. There is no way it can call its efforts effective when abusers are given carte blanche to attack and then silence their victims. In fact, as things stand, the only way an abuser with a sufficiently terrorised victim will face justice is when he kills her. Only at that point will the State will be able to step in and speak on her behalf.
This has to change, and not just in the legal sense. The problem here is incredibly pervasive and deeply embedded in our society. This is a place where women are often still treated as the property of their partners, expected to conform to patriarchal norms and often blamed for the crimes perpetrated against them. Just take a look at the backlash against the woman now that she has refused to cooperate.
The same people who were so outraged at the sight of the beating are now, at best, exasperated, and at worst, disgusted with her for being unwilling (or unable) to stand up to a man who felt comfortable brutalising her in public (and if you believe the Guardian, beating two other women who tried to help her). But, why would she be? According to this terrifying list of statistics, a woman is 70 times more likely to be killed by her abuser after she leaves him than during the relationship. And that’s in America, where there are a fair amount of battered women shelters and somewhat more modern laws that purport to protect them.
It’s easy to watch that video and ask how she could take it, but what we should be asking is, where could she go? Where are the shelters that take a woman and her child in and protect them from her abuser? Where are the legal advocates to ensure that she doesn’t lose custody of her child to him if he should decide to fight? Where is the counselling to help her see that what she is living through isn’t love?
Most of all, where are the laws that allow the police officers to do their jobs? They have all the evidence they could want of the beating and still, without a statement from a woman likely terrified of reprisal from her abuser, they can do nothing about it until the beating that finally kills her. At that point, we’ll all shake our heads and murmur about how she should have left when she had the chance.
In the meantime, we engage in yet another round of victim-blaming (“she mus-see like it so”) and equivocation (“what happens between two consenting adults…”) and abusers nationwide feel even more emboldened to batter their victims wherever and whenever. Because, no matter how badly they’re beaten, they’re not victims unless they can stand up and say so.