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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

Pride Mubarak

Guest post by Lina Free

So does Ramadan mean no sex for the whole month? Hello- I’m not that kind of Muslim! Ha ha, I just troubling u girl; I kno the thing- my father was Muslim. Eh heh? Yes, Salahuddin was his name. But is only me outta my brothers and sisters get that name. How come? He was always drunk, never had time for us. But I was the last chile; my mother said he felt sorry by then. Salahuddin sounded just like my grandfather Shaheed. Another ‘fullaman’ yes, but that didn’t stop him from drinking and womanizing. When my grandmother ‘ran off’ her head after he got another woman pregnant the same time as she and had to be committed to the Berbice mad house after giving birth to my father- the last child of eight- Shaheed amended his ways. But by then it was too late, the damage already done. Decades afterwards, when I sat behind him in the masjid, watching him prostrate himself in prayer, all I could think about was why I had to sit behind and not beside him. Stop asking all those questions I was scolded. Just keep quiet and do as you are told. Continue reading

Mama’s Day Poetry Playlist

If mothering is the kind of work that makes all other kinds of work possible why are mothers and grandmothers turning to the media as a last resort to plead for jobs and housing for themselves and their families? Why have we not figured out a way to nourish and support mothers in the work that they do? Why is motherhood often impoverishing? Why do women as group earn less than men as a group (around 18% less in Barbados) and why is motherhood part of the answer? Why have we not figured out work-life balance? And learnt a way to honour the multiple journeys to motherhood? That post-24, pre-35 (heterosexually) married, middle-class, with medical insurance, making more than the national average, able-bodied, sound-of-mind, mythic ideal of appropriate motherhood is a minority experience in the Caribbean.  Can’t we honour and support all moms to be the best moms that they can be?

Here’s a poetry playlist that addresses motherhood in all it’s complexity.  Happy Mothers’ Day!   Continue reading

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

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

love note to the Caribbean

Guest post by Sherlina Nageer aka Lina Free

“When are you coming?” my family asks. “When are you coming?” my old friends ask. “Just now. Soon, soon! I’ll let you know.” I reply. I have yet to buy my ticket. I know that I’m a mere ghost to my nephews and niece, that my parents are getting older, that see you next time is not guaranteed, that there is still love and possibility there, that I’m abandoning career success and my cats, but I just can’t help it. You have a hold on me, Caribbean, a grip on my innards, a winch on my soul that keeps me anchored no matter how often or far I might stray. Don’t ask me to explain it; I can’t really. It’s not just the sunshine, the mangoes, the ocean. I have sat on the beach eating mangoes in other places, oui. It’s much more than that. There are days when I’m out and about, whizzing to or from someplace, and I feel myself just smiling, for no particular reason. I’ve looked at the moon more in these past four years than I did in the 20 I lived up North. It’s not just that my navel string and grandparents are buried on one particular spit of land; after all, just one generation back abandoned such trifles and crossed the Kali Pani. Indeed, emigration remains the primary story of my family, like so many in the Caribbean. They all think I’m mad for ‘coming back home’. I am more than slightly ‘touched’, oui, but I think they’re madder for remaining there. No, it’s not perfect here, not by a long shot. Not for my fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or questioning peeps, not for those slaving daily to put food on the table, and fighting the powers that be trying to downpress them. Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

The post was submitted as part of our Dear Caribbean Blog Carnival. Please check out all the amazing submissions.

#ICYMI This week’s RED Reads

Five things you MUST read this week:

We heed the lesson of Esu and forgive what we thought we saw the first time round.  All around me are black men so full of love and tenderness for their children that I’m often on the edge of weeping for joy when I see us on the street, give dap to us when we get together.  We can let statistics that want to tell one story ‘prove’ one thing to us, but we must watch what is actually happening and seek out stories on the ground; walk to the other side of the mountain to find out the real truth.

1. Trinidadian writer and father, Roger Bonair-Agard, pens the must-read piece on black fatherhood.

There is a difference though, between mere survival and a good life. It’s the difference between having bread in your belly but fear in your head. There are a lot of frightened people in Guyana. They can seem to be in the majority, drowning out all signs of hope. But as long as there are people standing on the street corner, in the rain, holding soggy placards, I know we have still some humanity left. And as long as we have that, we have a chance. Join us. Be the change you want to see.

2. Feminist organisation, Red Thread, along with other progressive movements and people in Guyana, took to the streets in the pouring rain to seek justice for 23-year-old Colwyn Harding. Colwyn alleges that he was raped by police officers and treatment of his extensive injuries was delayed. In this letter, Red Thread outlines what keeps them going amidst the apathy and fear.

I remember the gentle sing-song sound of her Hausa float off the tip of her tongue (a tongue I knew too well and for more than just its words).

3. The passage of Nigeria’s anti-gay marriage bill signals deepening homophobia across the continent as well as criminalisation, not just of same-sex relationships, but of LGBT organisations and persons working with and for these organisations.  This tenderly written, playfully erotic story of love and friendship between two Nigerian girls is a timely reminder that queer relationships are part of human desires for connection and community. Enjoy ;)

4. Reports out of St. Lucia are that cases of sexual violence made up more than 30 of the 80 cases on the docket on January 16.  These cases included a man charged with the rape of three nine-year-old boys, multiple cases of rape and sex with a minor committed against girls and a man charged with two counts of incest against his daughter. 

Activists from St. Lucia are part of CatchAFyah’s Eye2Eye project which seeks to raise awareness about violence against women and girls.  Please stay with us for updates about this project and information on how you can get involved.

5. A diverse group of Jouvayists from Haiti, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and the diaspora have responded to the #dearCaribbean Blog Carnival call with words, images and lots of love.  Check out their stories and don’t forget that you too can share your own with us!

6.  A Belizean 19-year-old trans girl was murdered this month.  While her family reports that she was killed because of her gender identity expression other reports suggest that the killer’s intentions were to rape her and they murdered her after discovering that she was a trans woman.  This most recent murder recalls the murders of trans women in Guyana and Jamaica last year.