The facts of life: Rape has been decriminalized in the Caribbean

Men in high places across the region have advice for schoolgirls.

Trinidad & Tobago’s Attorney General is reported as stating that date rape is a fact of life and girls should therefore be responsible especially at Christmas time.

Barbados men’s rights group MESA were reported as stating that schoolgirls “tear off their own clothes” and then accuse men.

Girls are either raping themselves, lying about rape, dressing immorally or failing to parang responsibly.

The AG conveniently did not mention what, if anything, the government planned to do to address rape, since by his own analysis it is a fact of life.

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 the Caribbean we know that rates of investigation, trial and conviction in cases of rape and sexual assault are extremely low.  In other words, rapists can expect to get away with rape:

As of September, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) had revealed that there were a total of 140 reported cases of rape – about one case every two days. This is a reduction when compared with the 2013 figure of 179 between January to July.

[…] The Attorney General had also pointed out the blaring fact that in the years 2012 and 2013, only 22 cases had enough evidence to go to court and none resulted in a conviction, even with the Sexual Offences Act being completed in 2012. The Guyana Human Rights Authority had done a study in 2005 titled “Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in The Guyana Justice Process”, which revealed that Guyana only reached an average conviction rate of 1.4 per cent in rape cases, indicating that not much has changed since then.

This year it was reported that Guyana did not have enough rape kits. In other cases rape did not even get investigated until women took to the streets in protest.

MESA is currently arguing that while they support sexual harassment legislation such legislation should include stiff penalties for women and girls who allege sexual harassment but eventually discontinue or fail to give evidence in the case.

In the Caribbean, a girl who is raped at age 12 can expect to see her case come to court when she is 20, that is, if the social stigma, family and community pressure have not already forced her and her family to discontinue the case.  (Should the state not be able to bring these cases forward regardless of whether or not witnesses or families co-operate?)

To argue that legislation should deter women and girls from reporting crimes against them is not in men’s interest. It is in the interest of rapists.

Rape is a fact of life.

And so is getting away with rape.

We are left with empty advice. Rapists’ interests confused as men’s interests. A relentless culture of misogyny that is literally costing us our lives.

We join in solidarity with women activists in Guyana in demanding that governments be accountable to women:

We are not going to take this! We are tired of paper rights. We are tired of being abused, violated and not being able to get justice. We are tired of lack of services, means to access services and poor services because money and resources are not given to improve such services. We are tired of being treated as third class citizens. We are tired of being ignored as our lives and the lives of our families grow more and more dangerous from all forms of violence including sexual violence. We are most of all tired of the hypocrisy, deception, lies, corruption, ignorance and ‘eye pass’. We are sick and tired of the wasteful and empty consultations and empty promises. We know the truth, and the truth is: in this dear land of Guyana, women and children pass for grass.

Well no more! We are not prepared to accept that there is no money for comprehensively addressing the scourge of sexual violence.

We have had enough and are prepared to fight for the world we want.

Man caah run a rape joke again?

Earlier this year an AlJazeera news story cited the World Bank’s report on gender and business which revealed that “husbands still hold the power to prevent their wives from working in at least 15 countries, and laws in 79 nations still restrict the kind of work women can do.”

In Jamaica, the 1942 act governing the employment of women states that no woman shall be employed in night work except in limited circumstances which include, inter alia, care of the sick, pharmacy and employment in the hospitality sector. At least since last year, discussions have began about amending the act to align with the reality that many woman already work at night, already work flexible hours, often in precarious employment.

Jamaican culture critic, Carolyn Cooper, pointed out that though the 1942 act is sexist, discriminatory, classist and patronizing toward women, the motivations for amending it have less to do with gender justice and more to do with making women’s labour hyper-exploitable.

During parliamentary debate on the Flexible Work Arrangements Bill Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte drew attention to the fact that considerations for women’s safety at work ought to be factored in, noting, “you know we also have high incidence of rape at nights; we have abduction of children and women.” One of her colleagues, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Senator AJ Nicholson, interjected with, “What you want flexi-rape?” His comments were met with laughter from the majority-male parliament. When asked to withdraw his sexist, inappropriate rape joke, Senator Nicholson, invoked his patriarchal privilege to make a joke of whatever he felt like, “Man caah run a joke again?

No, Senator.  Man can’t make rape jokes and expect them to go unchallenged.  Most of your colleagues may have laughed with you but not everyone is laughing.  Rape is no joke.  Neither is the exploitation of women’s labour in poorly paid, precarious and potentially dangerous employment.  While women don’t need patronizing laws that restrict the kinds of work they can do, they do need decent working conditions and wages that permit them to take care of their families.  They need governments that take rape and sexual assault seriously. Women (and men) in other Caribbean countries have taken to the streets to hold states accountable for their response to rape.

When elected and selected leaders debate these issues on behalf of women who are 51% of the citizenry they ought to do so in a manner that recognizes women’s humanity and citizenship. Women’s lives are not punch lines.

Petchary’s Blog offers a great overview, analysis and responses.

Check out the Top 10 (hetero)sexist moments in Caribbean politics to see other regional leaders behaving badly.

EDITED TO ADD: It has been reported that AJ Nicholson subsequently sent threatening emails to Malahoo Forte, warning that “the big pay back is coming!

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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

No Laughing Matter: Stories of rape and sexual assault in Caribbean media this week

Laughing at boys who are raped

The Jamaica Observer recently subjected readers to the most crass and reprehensible of cartoons which pokes fun at the rape of boys in institutionalized care. Yes, they invited readers to laugh at the fact that boys were being raped.  A UN study of nine Caribbean countries found that 32% of boys described their first sexual experience as forced or somewhat forced.  Men and boys in institutionalized settings such as prisons face high rates of sexual assault.  These violations are often met with laughter or are seen as adequate punishment for the transgressions that land men in prison.  Never mind that prisons are filled with young, poor men with little formal education. Continue reading

#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.