Living in a culture of violence has long-term effects on the ways in which we come to see ourselves, and by extension, the world around us. Globally, we are surrounded by images of violence: in forums such as the news media, folklore and in popular culture, violence has become a mainstay of our daily existence. The evidence of this came sharply into focus for me recently, while listening to a radio talk show, in which the host made a tasteless joke about a woman "demanding her rights" from her husband, and being beaten violently in response.
Amidst evidence of rising rates of domestic violence in Jamaica, there is absolutely no place for "humor" of this sort. It is, however, very useful in highlighting the ways in which we speak of, and don't speak of, domestic violence as a society. It speaks to a cultural environment of complicit acceptance of gender-based violence (GBV); with women accounting for the vast majority of reported cases.
According to recent reports, there has been an upward turn in the rates of domestic violence in Jamaica, with domestic-related murders jumping 20 per cent between 2005 and 2006. The statistics, released by the Jamaica Constabulary Statistics Department, point to steadily increasing reports of domestic wounding and assault, with 49 of the 1,674 murders in 2005 being domestic-related. According to police reports, 17 per cent of all murders in the island between 2001 and 2006 were committed within the home, and the victims of these crimes were predominantly female. It goes without saying that, while these figures highlight increases in acute cases of GBV – resulting in death – they do not paint a thorough picture of the issue, as most cases will still undeniably go unreported.
Domestic violence is typically enforced by a cultural code of silence, which masks the true nature of inter-personal relationships between and amongst women and men. These statistics paint a troublesome picture of violent crimes against women, pointing to the violation of women's human rights generally, and their sexual and reproductive health in particular. The presence of violence – be it emotional, physical or sexual – diminishes the ability of healthy individuals to demand and enforce healthy sexual relationships, and by extension a healthy sense of self.
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