Thursday, May 25, 2023
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
SOCIAL Services Minister Obie Wilchcombe tabled the Protection Against Violence Bill yesterday, the long-awaited legislation purporting to establish mechanisms to protect victims and help them get justice.
Among other things, the bill would establish a Protection Against Violence Commission to support victims and liaise with police officers when victims feel they lack full cooperation from the police.
“Under the bill, the overarching functions of the commission include strengthening the involvement of multi-sectorial stakeholders and private-public partnerships to combat and respond to violence with effective strategies and policies to provide care and support services through shelters, counselling and care and custody of affected children to victims of violence,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“This is just another step, but an important step. We must do all we can collectively to reverse the negative trends of our society and bring an end to violence.”
The bill did not receive universal praise yesterday.
Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas, called it an “insult to the work done by the National Task Force on Gender-Based Violence” and the strategic plan to address GBV issues that the committee produced.
She said by failing to call the legislation a Gender-Based Violence Bill, the government is ignoring that the violence it must address “disproportionately impacts women and people of marginalised genders and sexualities”.
She accused the minister of tabling the bill without sharing it with non-governmental organisations with the technical expertise to review and benchmark it alongside international human rights standards.
Mr Wilchcombe had previously said the government consulted the Bahamas Crisis Centre on the legislation.
According to the bill, the commission’s responsibilities include recommending a national strategic plan to combat and respond to violence.
The commission’s functions include liaising with the minister of social services to ensure sufficient shelters are available to victims throughout the country.
The bill would establish a Protection Against Violence Foundation to raise funds so the commission could perform its duties.
It would establish a Protection Against Violence Secretariat to coordinate and formulate protocols relating to applications for the commission.
The bill lists the rights of victims of violence and outlines how their complaints should be handled.
These rights include the right to be treated with compassion and dignity, to be informed, to confidentiality, to privacy and to access a telephone hotline.
The victim or someone with information about the victim can complain to the police under the bill. They must write a detailed report of the alleged crime and notify the commission about the act and the complainant’s background.
The bill says officers must assist the victim in obtaining medical treatment or securing a safe residence.
“Where a person is a victim of sexual abuse,” the bill adds, “that person should seek to be attended to immediately by medical practitioners engaged by the commission or otherwise for a thorough examination by that practitioner, including the taking of any samples as evidence to support the prosecution of the offence; the recording and documenting (of) any visible markings or bruisings; (and the) administering of any drug or medication considered necessary in the circumstances.”
The bill mandates that police officers help victims get medical treatment and accompany them to remove their personal belongings from the residence of the alleged offender.
Where necessary, the commission must help victims get psychological counselling in the language they can understand and legal assistance or information.
The legislation also provides for establishing a violence fatality review team to research the causes, consequences, and frequency of deaths caused by violence.
According to the bill, the commission would consist of at least 14 people and no more than 17 members. These would include representatives of various government agencies and people appointed as service providers.
Members of Parliament and people who are directors or members of two or more statutory bodies are ineligible to be commission members.