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02 March, 2011 - Published 14:00 GMT

Domestic violence a big Caribbean problem

Human rights group Amnesty International has called violence against women "a cancer that is eating away at the core of every society".

The group has just launched a worldwide campaign to fight violence against women.

Amnesty said that all over the world, countries are failing to protect women in their homes and quoted a study carried out in 50 countries which concluded that at least one in three women has been beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused during her life.

BBC Caribbean Service spoke to activists in three Caribbean countries about Amnesty's statement who all agreed that more can be done to deal with the issue of violence against women.

Joan Underwood from the Professional Organisation for Women in Antigua and Barbuda (POWA) said that violence against women is not spoken about enough in her country.

"It is hidden under the veneer of polite society," she said. "We don't address it."

Underwood said that the organisations set up to assist women are under funded and access for women is limited.

"There is one shelter where you can only stay for a limited time," Underwood said. "In Antigua there are many immigrants, and if the women don't have a family support structure on the island, it's difficult for them to get back on their feet."

She said that in many cases, women are reluctant to make complaints to the police, as they find the police are unwilling to get involved in what is perceived as a 'domestic issue'.

Underwood pointed out however, that the police are sometimes frustrated as many women don’t want to take action against their abusers.

"If a woman comes in and lodges a complaint, in many instances by the time the police are ready to prosecute, the woman indicates she is not willing to go through with it, so they consider it a waste of time and would rather not get involved."

In Trinidad and Tobago, the police used to have a similar attitude, however in recent years, the introduction of the Domestic Violence Act has given the police more power to deal with complaints of domestic violence.

Clinical psychologist Dr Jillian Ballantyne told BBC Caribbean Service that the police now take the reports much more seriously and investigate claims much more thoroughly.

"More women are reporting violence, and initially men were fearful that women would take advantage of the law and report violence where it hadn't occurred," she said. "While there were rare incidents of this happening, the majority were legitimate and women are now more likely to report violence".

Ballantyne pointed out that in Trinidad, the women who were accessing the shelters were women from the working classes, however, the more educated women from the higher echelons of society were reluctant to report abuse.

"At the more educated and higher levels, women are less likely to report violence because of feeling embarrassed, this of course is inappropriate because that is a clear example of the victim blaming herself".

In Barbados, the focus on domestic violence has been increased, with more education and training for police officers on how to deal with both victims and perpetrators.

A number of organisations are also dedicated to assisting women, among them the National Forum Against Domestic Violence.

Sharon-Rose Gittens from the National Forum told BBC Caribbean Service that her organisation has been holding seminars and conferences, and there has been a high level of participation from a wide range of people including victims of domestic violence.

"With the Police being trained, it was clear that this has assisted in building up the public's attitude towards it," she said.

"People are becoming more aware of domestic violence and the need to recognise it and learn more about it," Gittens said. "A lot is definitely taking place at this time but there's still a lot more work to be done".