Opinion: Can of worms

POSTED: 10/2/11 11:58 PM

Not surprisingly, the call for harsher punishments for crimes committed against tourists had opened a can of worms – and nobody knows where the lid is.

In Curacao, eleven help organizations collected more than 12,000 signatures of citizens who support harsher punishments for perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

About a month ago, Nihaila Jeandor was killed by her abusive husband while she was in the process of divorcing him. That tragic incident was the trigger that inspired the organizations to take action. Unfortunately that action has a high déjà-vu character.

Amigoe reported yesterday that in 2011 detective Frits Burgzorg shot his ex Connie West, who also worked as a police officer, to death. After that killing the Netherlands Antilles issued an ordinance designed to act stricter in cases of domestic violence.

In 2005 the attorney general issued an instruction to the police to investigate all complaints about domestic violence seriously.

Since the death of Connie West, ten years have passed – and nothing much has changed for the better. Recently, three teenaged girls were raped in Curacao by a group of boys. The police did nothing with the complaint, attorney Miluerta van Eps told the Parliament in Willemstad this week. The argument was that the girls had asked for it because they were dressed provocatively.

This is of course ridiculous. It probably goes too far to say that such is the mentality of the police force, but it certainly is the perception that lives in the mind of several police officers.

Recently there was a protest in Indonesia when the government put restrictions on the way women dress. Indonesian women took to the streets, dressed in miniskirts and carrying banners that read something like, “Don’t tell us how to dress, tell them not to rape.”

Those women in Indonesia nailed it, and they will find support for their opinion across the globe. Caribbean societies are, up to a point, extremely macho, but the balance of power is shifting. No longer are women exclusively destined to cook, to look after the children and to please their men between the sheets.

They are educated, smart and powerful. They have climbed the social ladder at breakneck speed, and they are no longer taking everything men tell them.

In St. Maarten we have many women in powerful positions, from the Prime Minister and the President of Parliament down to the Ombudsman and the Chief financial Officer at the TelEm Group of Companies. These are just a few well-known examples, but there are many more.

And still, at home behind closed doors, the rage of incompetent men against their powerful women often results in horrendous abuse, and far too often in death.

The call for harsher punishment falls flat knowing that the instruction to take complaints about rape and domestic violence seriously is, in fact, not taken all that serious at all. And the ordinance to act stricter against perpetrators of domestic violence has proven to be just another paper tiger.

So we are back to square one. Politicians talk a lot but they hardly ever achieve anything. The proof is in the pudding. To be fair to the people’s representatives, they are not the ones who have to take action in the field. They legislate. But MPs should also call those to account who fail to enforce the rules that they put in place.

That is the weakest point of our current system: enforcement. We do not lack the legislation to act against criminals. Armed robbery carries 24 years imprisonment, to name one example. But the fight against domestic violence requires more than a book of rules – it requires a community effort, combined with the swift administering of justice.

Realistically, we have to accept that there will always be abusive men (there are of course also abusive women, but they are, according to all statistics, a minority). That does not mean that we have to approve their behavior, on the contrary. The way we deal with domestic violence defines to a high degree the kind of society we are, or want to be.

Results don’t lie, but figures often do.

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