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Battered Women Are Left With Nowhere to Run
By Virginia Hardy, IPS, 2 June 1998
KINGSTON, Jun 2 (IPS) - In January this year women's groups here called for the government to establish more shelters for battered women. Almost five months later, the only such facility in the island has been forced to close its doors leaving victims of domestic violence with no place to run.
According to the members of Woman Inc, the voluntary organisation that ran the shelter for the past 14 years, the money has run out leaving them with nothing to pay salaries and operational costs. It costs about 84,000 dollars per year to operate the shelter
The money for running the shelter came mainly from fund-raising events put on by Woman Inc and donations from organisations and individuals.
The Centre provided counselling on the telephone and in-house to victims of violence, rape and domestic abuse as well as a shelter where women who had been abused could take refuge.
And with Jamaica's unenviable track record for violence against women, the population can scarcely afford to be without the shelter, observers say.
Incidences of sexual assault, incest and domestic violence have increased by about 30 percent every year since 1990, according to Women's Media Watch, (WMW) a local Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).
WMW has also revealed that 20 percent of all Jamaican women between the ages of 15 and 55 have been assaulted by a man.
The Crisis Centre provided counselling for more than 3,000 women who were victims of violence last year, 50 percent more than the number who sought counselling in 1996.
Also, statistics from the local police indicate that close to 100 women were murdered in Jamaica in 1997, most were in domestic situations.
Ironically, the closure of the shelter comes at a time when local women's right activists were calling for more safe houses to be set up in several parishes across the island as part of the strategy to deal with high incidence of domestic violence.
Last year, when the Bureau of Women's Affairs was conducting workshops to sensitise women in rural communities to the laws concerning domestic violence, they heard many complaints from the women in these communities about the lack of shelters outside of Kingston where the Crisis Centre's shelter was located.
Dundeen Ferguson, president of Woman Inc said women from rural areas who are fleeing abusive situations are prepared to travel to the capital city to seek refuge.
"Those are the women we feel deeply about, the ones who come from distant parishes. Now we have nowhere to put them," she says.
"We try to urge them to stay with family and friends but some women really don't have anywhere to go. The fact is that women will suffer as a result of this closure."
Although the safe house is not operational women are still turning up and hoping to find accommodation.
"They come or they call in, wanting somewhere to go and I have to tell them that the shelter is closed and I have to try to help them to find alternatives," says Ferguson.
Dorothy Gregory who was a counsellor at the Centre says on some occasions, she had to turn away women who had been recently beaten and were nursing injuries.
"When you tell some of these women that you have nowhere to put them they will tell you that they prefer to stay on the streets rather than go home and that makes them even more vulnerable to danger," Gregory says.
It was also particularly difficult, she says, to break the news of the closure to the women who were already staying at the shelter when the decision was taken.
"We knew we were on thin ice, we realised there was not sufficient funds, so we had to tell the women to go and some of them took it very badly," she recalls.
"We had a woman and her children who had been put out of their house and we were trying to help her to plan for her future but instead, we had to ask her to go."
But Ferguson says Woman Inc has no intention of allowing the shelter to remain closed permanently. The group is currently lobbying the Ministry of Labour and Social Security -- which has responsibility for women's affairs -- to make funding available.
"We are putting together a proposal for the Ministry," says Vynette Cameron-Peart, a member of Woman Inc. "In the past they have made donations to us, now we want to see if they would be willing to do this on a consistent basis."
"We hope to have meetings with representatives from the government," adds Gregory. "And we intend to convey to them the magnitude of the problem and the need for a shelter."
"We're taking it one day at a time," says Ferguson. "We want to see the shelter re-opened within the next few months but right now we have had to be trying to put the funds together to pay our staff their salaries for the month of May."
Although the situation has been publicised in the local media, the response to the predicament has not been discouraging.
"It is not going well," says Althea Beckford, the administrative assistant at the Crisis Centre. She says so far they have received just about 1,100 dollars from donations.
"It's a slow crawl. We've had one or two people who have indicated that they will do things like put on shows to raise money but we don't know what the monetary gain from those ventures will be like and how much these people will be in a position to donate," says Gregory.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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