NGO head: The system is failing our men
Head of the Single Father’s Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Rhondall Feeles, said the country is failing in providing adequate mental support for men.
Speaking to LoopTT, Feeles said that the present support system for men suffering from stress and emotional issues is just not present.
Feeles’ statements came after the tragic killing of Sangre Grande schoolteacher Margaret Ragoobar-Guevarra, which is thought to have stemmed from a domestic incident.
A relative, who is a main suspect in her murder, reportedly shot himself in the face. Doctors struggled to repair the man’s face but up to Tuesday February 27, the man reportedly had a 50 percent chance of surviving.
Feeles said that men often face difficult mental struggles due to economic and domestic issues but often have no assistance in dealing with them, leading to violent and sometimes tragic consequences.
“Culturally we have neglected men, we have not been treating with their mental and social needs. The system is failing men.”
Feeles said persons involved in situations of domestic violence, both victim and abuser, are in dire need of social support.
“Sometimes abusive men were themselves victims of abuse, sometimes that’s all they saw when they were younger, sometimes that’s the cultural impression left in their minds based on what they were exposed to. It’s the same thing with women as well, sometimes they grew up thinking ‘this is how it’s supposed to be’; sometimes they think ‘this is my son’s father, I have to say with him despite (domestic abuse)’.”
“We are living in a society where we ask men to get help but there is no place for them to get help. There are single fathers having difficulty in getting social assistance or counsel, sometimes when men are evicted from their homes they cannot even find a shelter.”
Feeles commended government which recently opened a male shelter for troubled men in San Fernando but said there are simply not enough resources for troubled men.
“We must commend women greatly for supporting each other but men have not been given that support, not only by other men but even from a policy standpoint, for example we still have Ministries that believe because men are the head of the home that they are not allowed to receive public assistance for their children even when they are the main caretakers,” he said.
Feeles added that the social norms and stereotyped prevalent within society also project unhealthy views of manhood.
“We’ve pumped a lot of negativity about manhood in society generally and if we honestly take a look at that then we will understand where a lot of our problems are coming from.”
“Men put stress on themselves, they believe ‘I am a man I can take care of myself’ and that is the biggest error that we have, it’s something that’s portrayed on television and advertisements about how a man is supposed to be, and if you fall under that bar you feel like you’re worthless or no good.”
“When we look at scenarios (of domestic violence), people think it had to be some level of abuse and that the victim was suffering over a long time, but there’s other perspectives or other stressors, maybe it was infidelity, maybe there was loss of jobs, there are other things that happen in the home that affects the family.”
Feeles said that the root cause of domestic violence must be properly examined in order to effectively deal with the problem.
“Instead of thinking that someone was just insanely violent, there is the other perspective of a mental health issue. Was this person suffering from depression? Was this person suicidal? Statistics are showing that men are committing suicide in greater numbers around the world but no one has put a methodology in Trinidad and Tobago or a system in treating with men who kill themselves,” he said.
“In turning a blind eye to this, we may have contributed and allowed a monster to be created. We need to look at the root causes of where this comes from, it’s not about pointing fingers.”
“There are things in relationships that lead men and women to do things that they never thought they would ever do in their entire lives."
Government support needed for community groups
Feeles said although he has been telling men to get help, he says there is nowhere for men to get that help.
“I’ve been telling men for years to ‘get the help that you need’. Where do they go to get it? I am in this system for the past few years and men would call for help. Our group (at the moment) is limited only to an outreach group via telephone, we are not authorized to go beyond that. The organisations that are given the resources to do these things, they would say they have a men’s seminar here or session there, but how effective is it? How well attended is it? Are you making sure you get the communities involved?”
“We are asking community groups to partner with us so we can go into the communities and reach out to men. When a man is angry, where do they go? They go to the nearest bar. That’s why they refer to a bar locally as the battered shelter for men.”
“They further intoxicate themselves and make worse decisions after or they go to the pusher man who might give him a five-piece or ten-piece to ‘cool your mind’ from the stress, but we have no communal areas for men to get real help, where they could say ‘let me go to the community centre on this day or that day and talk to somebody,” he said.
“All I could tell men is to be long-suffering, be patient, be emotionally aware, try to go online and get advice because we have no places for men who are experiencing these issues.
“People losing their jobs left right and centre, they might be experiencing trouble in their homes, these added stresses are piling up and these domestic issues are only going to get worse,” he said.
Feeles said government should support local NGOs working within the community who can help to bring awareness and alleviate stresses within families.
“It’s about awareness, you have to empower people so they can eradicate their problems. These councilors need to understand that we need to go into these communities and help these people. Once we empower them they will go on to empower their communities.
“There are so many community-based organisations, once you equip and empower these groups who work within these communities, you would find that the problem is easier to solve.”
“Men have to learn to deal with difficult situations in an intelligent manner. It’s something we ask people to have, but it’s not always something that’s easy for people to achieve.”
Feeles said that his organisation is working with community groups to arrange for local sessions dealing with domestic issues and said more information on this would be forthcoming soon.
T&T: A history of domestic violence
Data from the Crime And Problem Analysis (CAPA) Branch of the Trinidad & Tobago Police Service (TTPS) revealed that there were approximately 11,441 reports relating to domestic violence incidents between 2010 and 2015.
Approximately 75% of these reports were related to female individuals. During the same period there were 131 domestic violence-related deaths of which 56% were female.
In the first week of 2018, three women were killed in incidents which were thought to have stemmed from domestic violence.
In a separate incident, nursery school teacher K’la Marie Solomon-Cain was brutally murdered in February after she was attacked by a man known to her with a hammer. The suspect remained at large for several days until he was found; he later died of poisoning.
In a separate incident, a 21-year-old woman went missing in February after telling relatives she was going to see her estranged husband. Her car was found burnt in a field in Central Trinidad. She has not yet been found.
In a separate incident in 2016, the country was shocked after Rosemary Blackburn was shot and killed by her husband Edrick Blackburn, who later killed himself.
Citizens experiencing domestic issues can also call the national hotline 800-SAVE (7283).
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