Abuse victims advised: Have a plan
Women in abusive relationships should try to set aside funds to help them navigate the legal process if they decide to leave their partner, a lawyer said.
Simone Smith-Bean also explained that access to legal assistance could be difficult for non-Bermudians.
She told an online forum about domestic abuse: “Have a plan. There are some situations where you may not be in harm or you may not be in danger but you are afraid to get a divorce.
“If that's the case, save your money, make sure that you have a fund that is on the side ready to go ... don't leave it to the court to decide when you're going to be able to get coverage because a lot of times women don't have the luxury of getting court orders for their husbands to pay for their divorce, it barely happens.”
The managing partner at Smith Bean and Co added: “You have to be ready, you have to be prepared and you must save your monies because you need to make sure that you have the right representation available to you so that you can make the necessary applications that need to be made.
“There are some special applications that have to be made, especially if you want to make an application to leave the jurisdiction with a Bermudian child.”
Ms Smith-Bean was part of a Facebook panel talk on Saturday hosted by Shervonne Hollis, who founded the Foreign Women Club of Bermuda, and Tina Laws, of support agency Under Konstruction.
She told viewers: “Legal aid is an option for Bermudians who are going though particular situations — they can make an application.
“But in some instances that does not occur for foreign women and so I think that one of the biggest challenges is being able to reach the legal system with funding and having that sufficient funding to allow them to pursue any particular legal actions that they may need to.”
Jenea Smith, a detective constable and domestic violence liaison officer with the Bermuda Police Service, said that there was no limit to the number of times that a victim can record abuse with law enforcers without seeking prosecution.
She explained: “I find that a lot of complainants are reporting it for information purposes, they're not necessarily going through the prosecution process because they don't want their loved ones arrested, and I get that.
“It's my job to just get whatever support it is that they need because it's a lot to go in front of a judge and tell them what's been going on.”
Ms Smith added: “The support is what's going to help them to, one day, have that courage to then prosecute.”
The detective explained that police officers record incidents from domestic violence victims as well as any witnesses.
She said: “It's our responsibility to then find out whether you, as the victim or the complainant, wish to make a formal report, which consists of prosecution.”
Ms Smith explained that in those cases officers will put questions to the alleged attacker and prepare a file for their supervisor.
She added: “It's then sent up for the Department of Public Prosecutions who has the final say on what exactly the charge is going to be and if they accept the evidence that's being given.
“Sometimes you may find yourself in a predicament where they may feel it's not enough evidence at this time to prosecute but that doesn't mean that it can't happen another time around.”
Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the Women's Resource Centre, was asked about how to make non-Bermudians feel that they can trust helping agencies in a small-knit community.
She said that anyone in an unhealthy relationship will have “trust issues” and recognised that it can be difficult for people living in a foreign country to know who to confide in.
Ms Butterfield explained: “Some people call up for support and they kind of tiptoe around what they really want and what they really need; and we all know how people use the analogy of ‘their friend' needs help.
“So understanding, being empathetic and non-judgemental to women who are going through a situation, I think it's key and being patient, giving them the information that they need and allowing them the time when they are ready to approach you or anyone else that they feel comfortable being with.”
She added that the charity, which offers services like counselling to support women and help them to boost their skills, deliberately created a comfortable, safe and empowering environment for its clients.