Hope for abused women

Posted by on Mar 15, 2010 in News | Comments Off on Hope for abused women

Donna Hussey-Whyte | All Women, Jamaica Observer

THERE is hope for abused women who can benefit from counselling or through the services of the domestic violence shelter operated by WOMAN Inc. WOMAN Inc is a private, charitable, non-profit organisation that has been operating in Jamaica since 1984. The organisation, which has the only domestic violence shelter in Jamaica, also offers counselling services to women who have been raped, are victims of incest, domestic violence and victims of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Joyce Hewett, WOMAN Inc past president and co-ordinator for public education and legal reform, said the main aim of the group is to provide help for victims of domestic violence as well as rape and incest.

“With regards to incest, we don’t serve those under 18, however, women over 18 — 25, 30, 40, 50 — who have been sexually molested and sexually assaulted as children, oftentimes carry the burden throughout their lives unless there is intervention. So that is why we have included incest, because many times people can be working, women in particular, and have difficulty coping and that could be as a result of something that happened earlier in their childhood, such as incest,” Hewett said. “So we have included that in the counselling sessions.”

Counselling at the centre is free. In addition to the in-house counselling sessions, there is a 24-hour hotline for women needing help.

“Everybody is anonymous,” Hewett explained. “So all the women are called ‘Auntie May’ and the men ‘Uncle Joe’ so that the persons on the other end of the phone don’t know who they are talking to.”

The hotline is monitored by 40 trained volunteers, supervised by a head counsellor.

WOMAN Inc was born in 1984 as a non-government organisation, following a trade fair first formulated in the Bahamas by an organisation known as WOMAN. Through the trade fair money was raised to assist abused women and the idea was quickly brought to Jamaica.

The idea kicked off in Jamaica with two women — Angela Jones and Carol Guntley — who recruited four women who then pulled 12 women together and started the first Woman’s Trade Fair in Jamaica. The sole purpose was to open a crisis centre and ultimately a crisis shelter.

By 1991 the trade fair had become so successful that persons would come from other parishes to be enriched, Hewett said.

It was also in 1991 that the organisation decided to extend its services to assist young women, who, at the age of 18, had to leave home without a skill and would sometimes find themselves in difficult situations which many times led to domestic violence, or situations that would not empower them.

Thus the idea of a hostel with a skills training centre was formed. This accommodated 18 young girls per year, who were trained and taught how to be productive citizens. But over time, all this became a strain.

“Unfortunately though, time has gone on and we have not been able to have the trade fair every year,” Hewett explained. “Because of the economic hardships in the late 80s and early 90s, along with the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar [we had to cut back].”

In 1995 a decision had to be made whether to keep the hostel going, or close the doors of the crisis centre.

“Needless to say we had to back up and go back to basics,” Hewett said. “Money was becoming more of an issue and by 1998 we had to close down the hostel skills training altogether and remain with the core of the crisis centre — the hotline and the shelter.”

Today, the shelter acts as an emergency temporary basis, where women and their children are allowed to spend two to three weeks if their lives are at risk from violent partners. In adverse cases women and children have had to be sheltered for months.

At the shelter, group support is provided and women are shown ways of helping themselves through support groups.

Hewett is encouraging women who may be victims of domestic violence and who may need to get out immediately, to contact the police who will then call the crisis centre. The women can also call the 24-hour hotline. Persons from the centre, along with the police, will assist them to the shelter.