Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. There are legal protections against spousal rape for women holding a court-issued divorce decree, separation order, or nonmolestation order. Rape was underreported due to fear of further violence, retribution, and societal stigma. In addition, sources reported survivors were at times reluctant to report crimes to police because of perceived ineffectiveness of the police and delays in investigating complaints.
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. The law applies equally to marriages and to common-law relationships. Amendments to the law provide for easier issuance of protective orders and mandatory investigation into any claims. The new amendments empower police to make an arrest after receiving a complaint, visiting the premises, and having some assurance that a crime was committed.
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 may 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 the services provided were inadequate. There is also a Family Conflict Unit. Victims reporting a sexual assault were subject to lengthy waits at the police station and for examinations at the hospital, staffed primarily by male doctors.
There were public and private counseling services for victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse. The Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment, and Community Development maintained a Partnership for Peace program, a psychosocial rehabilitation program for perpetrators of domestic abuse. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados (BPW) 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. The BPW also operated a walk-in crisis center 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, also operated by the BPW, for women who had faced violence. 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 dealing with gender-based violence. Human rights activists noted a decrease in the number of reported cases of rape in those cases where the victim did not know the perpetrator. They also praised the bureau’s programs, including the victim shelter and the public awareness campaign, and noted a marked improvement in societal attitudes and efforts to improve reporting.
Sexual Harassment: No law contains penalties specifically for sexual harassment. Common law, however, may be used to provide remedies to persons who are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace by reliance on the relevant law of torts. Human rights activists reported that sexual harassment continued to be of serious concern.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. 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. The law does not mandate equal pay for equal work, and reports indicated that women earned significantly less than men for comparable work. Under nationality laws Barbadian women not born in Barbados do not transfer citizenship to their children.