Activist Sherna Alexander-Benjamin. (Image courtesy Facebook)
BOBIE-LEE DIXON

While it remains puzzling to most why so much violence continues to be meted out to women in Trinidad and Tobago by men and why gender-based violence has become a pandemic itself—attracting global fights by advocacy groups—one local activist believes these continued acts of violence has a lot to do with “damaged people.”

President of the Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals (OABI), Sherna Alexander-Benjamin, said there were various factors, enabling a person to harm another.

“We go back to the saying “hurting people hurt people” and this hurt is expressed in various ways and degrees,” said Alexander-Benjamin.

Her statement came in the wake of the latest gender-based killing of 23-year-old Andrea Bharatt, whose body was found dumped over a precipice at the Heights of Aripo.

The discovery was made six days after Bharatt, a clerk at the Arima Magistrates’ Court, was kidnapped on January 29.

Her killing sparked outrage and ongoing nationwide vigils and demonstrations. Alexander-Benjamin, a domestic violence survivor and certified trauma specialist, explained where dysfunctional family systems existed—a child who was severely abused and there was no timely intervention to provide psychological, emotional, social, and physical support to create space for healing.

She said this could develop deviant behaviours.

She said in such cases, untimely intervention could lead to undiagnosed mental health issues, an obsession with power and control, and warped mindsets in which it is believed one has the right to another person’s body even without their consent.

Alexander-Benjamin also pointed out the normalisation of violence, insidiously ingrained in society’s systems, was another culprit in encouraging gender-based violence.

She listed other casual factors, which included the sexualisation of women and girls, eroticisation—associated with the thrill of forced and violent sexual encounters, and what is known as “harm of opportunity” —where an individual or group may use an unplanned situation to hurt someone without the intent to kill that person, however, in some cases during the struggle unplanned harm contributes to death.

“Someone may hurt another person as an act of retribution. Groupthink may be another factor and the excitement that comes with it through collective violence,” Alexander-Benjamin revealed.

She said the national community had underplayed the effects of trauma on the country’s society. And the country lacked adequate support for both victims and perpetrators.

Alexander-Benjamin explained if perpetrators continued to be left behind they would continue to cause harm to unsuspecting victims and the cycle would continue.

She said addressing mental health seriously, was also critical for preventing and curbing interpersonal violence in T&T.

“We have a problem with interpersonal violence in our country. We must work together to not only raise awareness and alarms whenever someone goes missing or is killed. We need to move beyond talking, printing brochures to transformative actions that will develop a healing-engaged culture that is trauma-informed,” Alexander-Benjamin advised.