Traditionally, women were seen as the victims of domestic violence and men were viewed as the perpetrators of such violence. However, it should be recognized and accepted that both men and women can be victims of domestic abuse. Recently in Barbados, the legislature amended the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act, Cap. 130A (‘the principal Act’) to make provision for a comprehensive definition of the term domestic violence; to extend the classes of persons who are considered to be victims of domestic violence, among other things. The recently passed Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) (Amendment) Act, 2016 (‘the 2016 Act’) reforms the law on domestic violence and reflects the realities of a modern society by maintaining the use of gender neutral language.
The gender neutral language is notable in the given definitions of important terms. In the 2016 Act, victim is defined as “a person against whom an act of domestic violence is committed and includes a child”, and perpetrator is defined as “a person who commits an act of domestic violence”.
Previously, the principal Act did not define “domestic violence” or “domestic relationship”. The 2016 Act inserts the following definition of domestic violence: “the wilful infliction or threat of infliction of harm by one person in a domestic relationship upon another person in that relationship and includes child abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse”.
The 2016 Act defines “domestic relationship” as “the relationship between a perpetrator of domestic violence and victim who is a spouse, former spouse, child, dependant or other person who is considered to be a relative of the perpetrator by virtue of consanguinity or affinity and includes cohabitational and visiting relationships”.
Some men complain that police officers do not take seriously men’s complaints of domestic violence. Section 11A (1) of the principal Act as amended by the 2016 Act now provides that “a member of the Police Force shall respond to every complaint alleging domestic violence”. Men who allege that they are victims of domestic violence may therefore find solace in this provision.
Both men and women should note that, as mentioned above, the 2016 Act makes clear that domestic violence is not limited to physical or sexual abuse but extends to emotional abuse and financial abuse. The 2016 Act defines the above categories of domestic violence as follows:
- Physical abuse means “any act or omission by a perpetrator which causes pain or injury to the body of a victim”;
- Sexual abuse means “the performance by a perpetrator of a sexual act on a victim by the use of force, threats, fear, manipulation or guile and includes the actual or attempted commission of any of the offences stated in Part I of the Sexual Offences Act, Cap. 154”. The offences under Part I of the Sexual Offences Act include, among other things, rape, incest, buggery, indecent assault and serious indecency.
- Emotional abuse means “any act by a perpetrator which causes psychological pain or injury to a victim and includes harassment, the use of threatening words or behaviour and withholding from a victim, access to the victim’s child, parent or guardian”;
- Financial abuse means “the exercise of control by a perpetrator over a victim’s access to financial resources through coercion, deception or intimidation, the effect of which is to hinder the victim’s financial independence or ability to maintain a child or dependant or to ensure financial dependence on the perpetrator and includes exploitation of the victim’s financial resources and withholding the financial support necessary to maintain a victim, child or dependant”.
This piece of reformatory legislation is expected to aid members of the society to accept that men can also be victims of domestic abuse and assist in combatting the scourge of domestic violence.