Even as gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most earnest threats facing women in T&T, two of this country’s leading psychiatrists say there were still too many women not admitting they are being abused, which can be counter-productive in the fight to eliminate violence against women.
Head of the Psychiatric Unit at the Mt Hope Hospital, Professor Dr Gerard Hutchinson tells Guardian Media, in many cases, the victims do not admit that their injuries or illnesses were occurring in the context of GBV, which presents a first hurdle.
He says while medical practitioners were trained to spot victims of GBV, no report could be made without the victim’s consent.
His sentiments were backed by Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago (APTT), Dr Varma Deyalsingh, who says if a doctor suspects domestic violence and the patient does not want to admit it, then a dilemma existed, as it would now present a case of confidentiality versus public duty.
“Sometimes an unwilling or suspected victim is provided all the community resources available for assisting or counselling. Once it is not grievous bodily harm, the concept of reporting any patient who is a competent adult to the police or other authorities without his or her consent remains a controversial topic,” Deyalsingh says.
He stresses, reporting against the wish of an adult competent patient may be interpreted as stripping power from an already weakened person.
He says hesitation by a victim to seek medical care or report the abuse stemmed from several reasons—fear of further angering the perpetrator usually topping the list.
Where children are involved or present during acts of violence, Deyalsingh says, it might be easier to make a report without the victim’s permission, as the child would now be placed in an at-risk position.
Both psychiatric specialists say while no structured clinical interventions currently existed to assist GBV victims, if they did—for them to work—practitioners would need victims’ permission to make reports and for them to speak up.