Questioning Caribbean media’s response to Ebola

Dear Editors:

Should we not be at the point where editorial and journalistic responses to ebola focus on the provision of useful information so that we the public can make decisions and take actions to safeguard each other and visitors to our shores? I fear a call for political parties not to see this as an occasion for social division, and headlining a caution in respect of Barbados regarding its tourist industry may do more harm than good. Given how human greed and fear operate, both of these approaches are likely to get the opposite of the effect desired.

I suspect that we in Barbados get much of the information we need to live as aware citizens from our local print, electronic and on-line news sources. However, these sources are failing us if the media is caught up in promoting favoured political positions rather than bringing information. And I feel the call for political parties not to take entrenched positions is itself just such a descent into narrow politics

If most Americans and Barbadians are asking for West Africa to be isolated from the rest of the apparently healthy world was that not the guaranteed effect of the way ebola entered our consciousness through the USA media in particular? And if Barbadians are asking that any care facilities for treatment should any visitor from anywhere bring ebola here be isolated to some far corner of our island, is it not because this is the position our media has been feeding? I ask your research departments to make that assessment. Do not take it from me.

In the reporting of the actions taken by St. Vincent, for example, did the journalist ask any question or seek out any information on the efficacy of partitioning a virus? How will those Barbadians who are insistent on the partitioning protect themselves from the Barbadian care givers who may unwittingly and unknowingly expose themselves and re-integrate into our supermarkets and homes with their school-age children? Or do we have a plan for partitioning them too?

Knowledge from world health agencies as far back as the 1950s when our Dame Nita was a young public health nurse leader tells us that people are the best public health defense. Informed intelligent people are even better. Arming people with prejudice, even if the enemy is the rightly feared ebola virus will get many healthy people killed from the same virus.

Is the enemy Africans, West Africans or even visitors? Is the enemy not a viral attack on human beings which we all have to fight to eradicate as it potentially threatens all human beings? Neither ministers of government nor even medical personnel are the best protectors in this situation, if they ever are in any situation.

That disease can get under any radar we erect out of prejudice as the outcome of prejudice is always to drive potential victims underground. It seems to me that is the perfect condition for dispersal of the disease.

If two major risk factors for ebola spread is poverty and inadequate health care structures, we should recall our health system is already disabled by the IMF-type strictures we have imposed on ourselves. If there is possibility of pharmaceutical response that needs to be fast tracked, then Barbados can be part of a UN response to ensure that is safely and effectively undertaken.

Newspapers have to do far more than just take convenient traditional positions that feel fairly cynical anyway. Else, why stop at the need for partisan political solidarity? Why not say the un-sayable and include the need for wealthy people to come into solidarity with poor people, and owners of all newspapers to reject their intrinsic competition and join forces on this? Why not treat us all as though we are all leaders and capable of making decisions to help each other? When one dies, how are we not all diminished?

Guidance,
Margaret D. Gill

image source: Huffington Post

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Getting It Wrong On Rape Or No Sperm, No Rape, Or Why a Two-Year-Old Girl Does Not Need to be Taught Modesty

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After an Indigenous Guyanese woman reported that she was drugged and gang-raped at the hotel where she worked and police had no intention of investigating the rape, women took to the streets in protest and solidarity.

One local newspaper alleges that police are not investigating the rape because the woman admitted to “drinking Red Bull and Hennessey”. It also quoted a police offical as saying, “The woman never said she was raped; she said she had sex with some boyfriend or something like that, and that when he left the room another man come in and he like assault her, bite she up on her body.”

In another case, the family of a partially paralysed woman who was raped in her home have indicated that even though she was taken to the hospital she was neither examined nor treated for sexual assault:

The relatives added that when they checked with the police again yesterday, they were told that “they can’t say she was raped because they have no medical but they can put that she was assaulted.”

And in yet another rape case, a Police Commander is quoted as saying that medical evidence refutes the rape claim of a 30-year-old woman raped and knife point and found naked in a clump of bushes because there was no “sperm” found in her vagina:

G Division Commander Kevin Adonis has reported that medical examinations by doctors have failed to support the claim by a Devonshire Castle woman that she was raped during a brutal attack.
According to the Commander, “no sperm” was found in the victim, but he said that the woman has received treatment for bruises she sustained at the hands of her attacker.

Feminist activist, Sherlina Nageer, responded by clarifying what should be obvious but clearly was not:

Sperm does not need to be found on a victim for a rape claim to be valid. Rapists can use condoms to contain their bodily fluids; rape can be inflicted using objects which would not leave sperm, etc. These basic facts about rape should be common knowledge; the fact that Commander Adonis, a senior officer in the Guyana Police Force exhibits such ignorance is extremely disturbing.

These three recent cases not only suggest a high prevalence of sexual violence against women but demonstrate the lack of state investment in an appropriate response to rape. Health care and justice systems are not just failing women but neither operate nor exist as systems. Women who are raped end up turning to women’s organisations, noted women’s advocates or to the media in search of some sort of justice. Media are often exploitative and traffic in gendered stereotypes and norms which support and legitimize rape.

Gross misunderstandings about just what rape is and how rapists select their victims, sexist expectations that responsibility to prevent rape lies with women who should discipline their bodies and movements as prevention measures detract attention from the fact that in effect “rape of the most vulnerable has been decriminalised“.

Research from the UK has demonstrated that rape of the most vulnerable women has been effectively decriminalised where 2 of every 3 rape allegations are not pursued beyond the investigation stage. In other words two thirds of rape allegations do not make it to trial. Researcher Betsy Stanko identifies the following attributes which result in the likelihood that a reported rape will not make it to trial:

1) The victim has a history of mental illness
2) The victim is or was in a relationship with her attacker
3) The victim has a learning disability
4) The victim consumed drugs or alcohol prior to the attack

She notes that “80 per cent of people reporting rape to the Metropolitan Police are considered vulnerable to sexual attack for one of a range of reasons – including being under 18, having mental health issues or learning disabilities, having drunk alcohol or taken drugs prior to the attack and being in an intimate relationship with the suspect.”

She concludes that rather that seeing these women and girls as unreliable witnesses, police investigators need to take a person’s vulnerability as evidence that they are more likely to be raped and investigate whether that vulnerability was exploited by the suspect.

In parts of the Caribbean where there is a lack of access to healthcare and forensic facilities due to state racism, ineffective and sexist justice systems and where women may be expected to consume alcohol as part of their jobs, these too must be viewed as factors which make women more vulnerable to rape and as vulnerabilities that rapists exploit.

Rapists also exploit the sexist ideologies which persist in the region. Such sexist ideologies are frequently presented in our newspapers. For example, A young Barbadian columnist wrote about teaching his two-year-old daughter about “modesty and decency”, noting that “My heart burned and my eyes filled with tears as I saw the pictures and videos on Facebook of girls and women exposing their bodies and sexually gyrating on strangers in the name of fun, revelry and freedom. I am still lost for words and can’t find one single person to convince me that this is acceptable behaviour.” He then compared the thousands of women who participate in this year’s Crop Over festival to “prostitutes”. Ironically, believing that a two-year-old needs to be taught “modesty” suggests a sexualization of infant girls’ bodies. It suggests that it were possible for a two-year-old to even be “immodest”. We need to push back against the sexualization of girls’ bodies and recognise that this supports sexual violence against them.

A two-year-old girl does not need to be taught to discipline and police her own body. Women don’t need an anti-rape nail polish. (Let the rapists wear the anti-rape nail polish so we can recognise them!) Our bodily integrity needs to be respected, whether we are two years old or ninety-two years old. Whether we work work in a bar or the boardroom. Whether or not we fight back with our fists or are too scared or intoxicated to do so. Whether or not we’ve had sex with you in the past. Or were wearing a short skirt. Or out alone at night.

And when our bodily integrity is violated the healthcare systems, legal systems and victim support systems need to be working at optimum. For women everywhere. On the coast and in the interior. For those who turn up naked at police stations and those who arrive months after the attack.

What’s the excuse really?

Why are police officers sharing sensitive information with the media and in such callous and ignorant ways? Why are they not investigating rape when it is reported? Why are rape survivors unable to access the required healthcare? Why is sexism given space in our national newspapers?

Do we really care so little for women?

image source: Red Thread Guyana: Crossroads Women’s Resource Centre

Caribbean Leaders are No Angels, They are Politicians with Problems

Vile and Oblivious Politicians Support State Violence Against Children

At least three recent stories in Caribbean media have highlighted the systemic rape of boys and girls in state care and the horror houses known as children’s homes.  Getting raped while literally under the care and protection of the state is a reprehensible violation and denial of bodily autonomy.  Fleeing sexual abuse is what gets many girls in juvenile correctional facilities locked up in the first place. The abuse survivors are criminalized and re-victimized. Far from seeking to prevent sexual assault, reports from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana suggest that such violations are widespread.  Support services for sexual assault survivors are non-existent. Continue reading

Take Back the Tech, Don’t Take it Away

Here’s a video clip in which a Trini mom explains that after observing changes in her nine year-old son’s behaviour she became worried that something was wrong.  On attending a PTA meeting she heard teacher express concern about boys performing oral sex on each other at school.  She then states (quite matter-of-factly, in my opinion) that only after she beat her son, to get him to talk, she explains, did he admit to having been raped and bullied at school. She suspected that he was being victimised and her last resort to get him to open up to her about that victimisation was to beat him, to use violence against him. Continue reading

Top 10 sexist and heterosexist moments in Caribbean Politics

Contribute to the final list of top 10 sexist & heterosexist moments in Caribbean politics by leaving your suggestions in the comments below.  Here are what i’ve been able to come up with in no particular order. Thanks to all who sent suggestions via facebook and twitter.

1. Trinidad & Tobago: Minister of People and Social Development claims “severe fatigue” after a flight attendant alleges that he touched her breasts when he grabbed her name-tag and threatened to have her fired because she asked him to stow his luggage correctly.  The Prime Minister then fired him.  Before the dust could settle on this one, police were investigating reports that the Minister of tourism had physically assaulted his former partner, causing her to lose consciousness. Continue reading