“[…] In all the instances that we have dealt with as an organisation, they go back home to the situation. It is a cycle. It goes round and round…”
In the following guest column, Groots T&T founder Delores Robinson speaks to journalist Robert Clarke:
Delores Robinson took a late-night call. A woman in her early-50s who had been beaten by her partner was at the police station with her three children, waiting for a protection order to be processed and served on the perpetrator.
Robinson, the founder of Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Groots T&T, intervened. “I went to the station, spoke to the officer in charge and said, ‘Do not serve that paper’.”
It was her own experience as a survivor of gender-based violence herself that led to her recommendation. She believes that the orders provoke perpetrators without actually providing protection.
“Eighty percent of women killed, there was a protection order in place.”
Some in the sector might dispute Robinson’s advice: The Gender Based Violence Unit (GBVU) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service being first among them. But Robinson says she has been speaking to the GBVU head, airing her concerns and keeping the lines of communication open.
Groots T&T has two transition homes for people seeking shelter from Gender-Based Violence on the East-West corridor. They take in both women and men, providing them a safe space to stay and perhaps a hot meal, though Robinson has been paying for food for the socially displaced out-of-pocket for some time now and knows it isn’t sustainable.
As the scale and seriousness of family violence continues to occupy front pages, new United Nations-supported interventions are on the way. The Spotlight Initiative—a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030—is implementing a host of measures to improve survivor prospects.
Groots T&T, for example, will benefit from a Spotlight Initiative investment with 12 days’ training to improve counselling skills and help clients understand the domestic violence laws.
Covid-19 restrictions have only made family life harder. Financial stressors and partial lockdowns are adding fuel to fraught relationships, already primed to ignite.
“As early as April or May, a report came out that the reported incidence of GBV had increased 500%,” says Robinson, who based her claim on TTPS information.
Added to this, she says, some shelters are scared of taking in survivors. Robinson ensures that everyone sanitises and no shoes are allowed indoors, but her concerns have not risen to the point of shutting Groots T&T’s doors.
She rues the cycle of violence. There are few good-news stories like her own, of picking up and leaving an abusive relationship and finding a new life.
“In all the instances that we have dealt with as an organisation, they go back home to the situation. It is a cycle. It goes round and round.”
Robinson hears the ‘valid reasons’ why the women, and occasionally men, want to go back home. One survivor, who had stayed at a Groots transition home after being treated for injuries inflicted by her partner, said she was losing her eyesight and didn’t feel she could make it on her own. So Robinson tries to explain the pros and cons of returning to an abusive situation.
The Spotlight Initiative may help with her messaging, through seven days of training in counselling for survivors and dependents.
Survivors are told that they can return to Groots whenever they need to. And Spotlight is offering another two days of training, on safety in and around a safe house. The woman with the failing vision went back home, recalls Robinson, ‘and a couple months later, we heard a knock and she was there again’. She stayed for a few days and still calls from time to time.
Groots T&T is one of 52 Groots International chapters. In fact, it is ‘the baby of the lot’, founded in 2014. Like many CSOs, often run on shoestring budgets with little or no state support, it needs all the help it can get. Facing eviction from its Tunapuna transition home, Groots recently set up a GoFundMe campaign to secure a new one.
The Spotlight Initiative’s goal of ending violence against women and girls may seem ambitious, considering the systemic shortcomings. But the upsurge in citizens accessing helplines due to stay-at-home restrictions has been dealt with, in part, through the UN and Spotlight’s provision of technology to local CSOs that are continuing services through telemedicine and remote counselling.
Another Spotlight activity involves setting up a network of volunteers to accompany people in crisis to police stations to make their reports.
“This is something that Groots has been doing for quite a while,” affirms Robinson. “When you are at the stage where you are subject to Gender-Based Violence, it is good to know that there is someone there who cares. Someone you can offload on and talk to.”
The very first step out of the abusive situation can be the shakiest, for the UWI student who found herself sleeping on a park bench before ending up at Groots, and the abused man who was thrown onto the streets before finding temporary refuge.
For them, the home has been a place to reflect in safety while planning what comes next.
Learn more about the Spotlight Initiative at spotlightinitiative.org. Delores Robinson at Groots T&T can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.