Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. There were legal protections against spousal rape for women holding a court-issued divorce decree, separation order, or non-molestation order. Rape was underreported due to fear of further violence, retribution, and societal stigma. Survivors expressed some concerns about the method of evaluation by the designated police doctor. Survivors were not always comfortable with male physicians (there were two male and two female police doctors). There were no forensic nursing services offered to assist rape investigations. The government announced some efforts to hire forensic-trained nurses. There were reports perpetrators paid off survivors of rape or sexual assault in exchange for not pressing charges, especially in cases involving minors. In addition, sources reported survivors were at times reluctant to report crimes to police because of their perceived ineffectiveness. There were also reports of sexual assault against the elderly.
Violence and abuse against women continued to be significant social problems. The law prohibits domestic violence and provides protection to all members of the family, including men and children. While it applies equally to marriages and to common-law relationships, the law does not protect those in informal relationships. Penalties depend on the severity of the charges and range from a fine for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) up to the death penalty for cases resulting in death of a victim. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issued. The courts can sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. The police have a Victim Support Unit, consisting of civilian volunteers, that offers assistance primarily to female victims of violent crimes, but reports indicated services provided were inadequate. Victims reporting a sexual assault were subject to lengthy waiting procedures at the police station and for examinations at the hospital staffed primarily by male doctors. There were also several reports police did not respond promptly or adequately to complaints of sexual assault and domestic violence.
There were public and private counseling services for victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse. There were programs to sensitize clergy who counsel abuse victims; to encourage salon professionals, masseuses, and masseurs to identify domestic violence and direct women to seek expert assistance; to offer domestic violence awareness training for high school students; and to prevent elder abuse by workers in geriatric hospitals.
The Ministry of Family, in coordination with UN Women, implemented a Partnership for Peace program to target perpetrators of domestic abuse. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados (BPW Barbados) operated a crisis center staffed by trained counselors and provided advocacy, crisis and police intervention, and referral services to community resources including legal, medical, addiction, and substance abuse. In April the BPW opened a walk-in crisis center designed to provide psychological, social, and legal services, and to serve as a conduit for other responders to gender-based violence. The government provided funding for a shelter for battered women, also operated by the BPW Barbados. The shelter offered the services of trained psychological counselors to survivors of domestic violence and other crisis intervention services. The shelter also served victims of human trafficking and others forms of gender-based violence.
The Bureau of Gender Affairs cited a lack of specific information and inadequate mechanisms for collecting and evaluating data on incidents of domestic violence as major impediments to tackling gender-based violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): While there is no law that prohibits FGM/C, the practice is virtually non-existent in the country.
Sexual Harassment: No law contains penalties specifically for sexual harassment. Common law, however, can be used to provide remedies to persons who are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace by reliance on the relevant law of torts. Media reports often indicated women avoided reporting sexual harassment because they feared retribution in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and had the information and means to do so, as well as the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Skilled health attendance during pregnancy, at delivery, and during postpartum care was widely available, as was access to information on modern contraception. Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortions.
Discrimination: The Bureau of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports, and Youth worked to protect the rights of women. Women have equal property rights, including in a divorce settlement. Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors, although some discrimination persisted. Reports indicated that women earned significantly less than men for comparable work. The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work (see section 7.d.).