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.

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Even the Minister’s statements as reported by the Observer seemed to suggest that the boys were criminal and to blame for the fact that the residential programme was being closed. Terms such as criminal acts, sexual predation, non-responsive and financial burden painted the boys as the problem, as incorrigible, and the overall story was very unsympathetic toward them:

Among the reasons were rising cases of sexual predation by older boys against younger male wards, criminal acts being perpetrated by the wards, severely traumatised youngsters and the astronomical financial burden straddling the convent.

“The Sisters of Mercy cited the grave antisocial behaviour of children in the care system, the sexual predatory nature of the boys on one another, children who are witnesses of serious crimes or are victims of heinous acts, and who are non-responsive to traditional interventions for which their institutions have been equipped to provide,” Hanna said.

“The Sisters of Mercy have also indicated the incapability of human capital to respond to the many changing faces of the issues being manifested. The challenge is further compounded by the high cost of care for each child, as a result of the more extensive interventions required which is beyond the capacity of their resources, thus limiting the ability to meet basic operating demand,” she added.

The Minister who was quoted in the Observer story is also reported as defending herself against criticisms that “the boys had been damaged by unfortunate statements made.”  There was no report which I came across in which the government committed themselves to improving the lives of children in state care or to eliminating sexual assault in these settings. At the root of why the Observer found the rape of boys funny are notions of men’s sexuality as active, never passive or receptive and understandings of heterosexuality as normal and natural, hence the harmful misconception that (real) men and boys cannot be raped.

Read this young Belizean man’s story about surviving rape and incest by both male and female rapists.

Putting Professional Women in their place

Feminist Aliens is a brilliant project run by some amazing women from the Caribbean and Africa.  They recently posted the first person testimony of one of the founders who was sexually assaulted while on an internship:

I was 22, training to become a member of one of the oldest and most patriarchal professions. I had already completed four years and my career horizon loomed large after all I had only a few more months and requirements to complete. From Day One I was warned about the ‘professional climate’, maybe it was a code for ‘this is a man’s domain’, but it was during my required internship that I really fully understood the extent of this climate. My first encounter with “wuk fuh wuk” happened that summer.What basically was communicated as “don’t worry I will look out for her”, a subtle, gesture of “I understand” or “I was there too as a struggling student trying to make my mark”, turned into “you put out for me and I will take care of you”.

 

She then goes on to detail the heinous sexual assault and abuse of power by a very powerful man and subsequent sexual harassment at other places of employment. Not only was such behaviour criminal, it was common knowledge that these men were predators. Widespread acceptance of such behaviour meant that it was difficult for young women to be accepted as colleagues by their male peers:

I left that job and tried to branch out on my own but was constantly subjected to unwanted comments from senior male members of the profession. “I like red women so be careful.” or “You know them bow legs sexy in them heels.” and “Next time I see you girl… (shaking head in desire at least so it appeared)”. Instead of feeling like a colleague, I felt like a sideshow.

Much is made about the fact that of the minority of Caribbean people who are privileged enough to attend university women outnumber men.  As Tracy Robinson noted years ago very little mention is made of what women’s numerical dominance means in terms of the sexual assault and harassment they face just because they are women. As more women enter the professions we need to break the silence on the sexual assault and harassment that seem to come with the territory. Outing rapists, especially powerful rapists is not easy but it must be done.

Go read the entire article here.

Sexism, heterosexism and homophobia are scourges across the entire Caribbean.  The Dominica Bureau of Gender Affairs recently took to the streets to protest, noting that  “60.3% of 614 cases of domestic violence were sexual abuse. 72.3% of these domestic violence cases involved victims below the age of consent (0-15 years). Of that figure, 3.79 were males and 68.5 were females.”

In Trinidad and Tobago men and women have come forward to report sexual and physical assault by government Ministers.

Check out part one and part two of Healing Through Words, a series on surviving sexual assault.

Rape is no laughing matter.

#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.

Healing Through Words: Entry #2

The decision to disclose one’s status as a victim or survivor of sexual assault is to make oneself extremely vulnerable. When a friend asked, “Are you sure you didn’t just do something you regret?” I did not react to her emotionally. Instead I heard myself validating my feelings by offering an explanation of why I felt something terrible had happened. Later, after our phone call ended, it slowly started to hit me. Her words gave voice to my fears and the hesitation that ultimately lead to the decision not to report the incident to the police. I feared sitting in a police station across from a police officer who would force me to repeat the details of that horrible night. He or she would write my statement down, put it in a file and start asking questions like my ob/gyn and (former?) friend. Having someone judge me and asking me questions that would indicate some level of blame kept me afraid to talk to anyone with the exception of trusted family and friends.

In the days, weeks and months following my assault, I constantly thought of the many ways I could have avoided the incident. As a former rape crisis counselor, I was aware that I was guilty and continue to be guilty of victim blaming. While I would never blame someone else that is sexually assaulted, it became different when I was the victim. I rarely recall the perpetrator, thinking of him in this context is to try and remember a shadowy figure that I don’t really know. Instead, I think of my own actions leading up to the point where a dark curtain is pulled across my memory. I consider the moment a friend offered me a ride home from the networking event we attended, the decision to grab dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, and going to my friend’s holiday party. I remember sitting at the restaurant and thinking I should just go home as it started to drizzle outside.

In some of my weekly therapy sessions where I recounted the series of events, and analyzed the many things I could have done differently that night, my therapist would ask, “What is the point of doing that? What are you hoping to accomplish?” In those moments, I would pause. I am aware that this line of thinking does not contribute to my overall healing. Every time that I blame myself for what happened, I am forcing myself into a prison. In that prison, I cannot exist and live my life as I once did. Sure, I have changed since the incident. But I do not want to be in that prison that teaches women that we ask for it based on what we wear, because we go out, or any other nonsensical reason that holds the victim/survivor accountable for someone else’s wrongdoing.

The writer (“Kaya”) works in international affairs and is originally from an island in the West Indies.  She enjoys the outdoors, spending time with friends and reading and writing in coffee shops around town.

 

Best of the 2013 Caribbean Feminist Blogosphere

Travel across the islands and territories of the Caribbean and its diaspora and sample some of the best feminist blogging out there. 

What have Caribbean feminist women and men written about in 2013? Love, fashion, motherhood, being mixed-race, surviving child sexual abuse, healing from sexual assault, racist anti-Haitian citizenship policies in the Dominican Republic and so much more… Have a look!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Elmer, 22 year old Belizean youth that comes from a humble yet hard working family. Today it is important for me to share my story with you.

Young Caribbean man breaks the silence on sexual abuse of boys in the region. (Belize)

So, when a man sets his girlfriend on fire, rapes his niece, or gouges out his ex-wife genitals, it is not simply because he cannot control his emotions or resolve conflict well. There are deeply embedded ideas about who owns and who is to be owned, who is in control and who is to be controlled, what makes a ‘real man’, and a woman’s rightful role to shape these encounters. To ignore this is to miss the mark.

Patrice Daniel is back again with more fyah! This time she writes about why the Caribbean is getting it wrong on violence against women. (Barbados)

“Can you live with knowing that you will never have answers about what happened? Is that something you can manage?”

Healing through words: Part one in a series on surviving sexual assault. (Diaspora)

So like my feminism, my politics of adornment are a critical part of how my race, class, gender and sexuality intersect. My feminism is about having the personal freedom to choose how I represent myself. My ability to express myself on my own terms is my attempt to return ‘the gaze,’ to push back, to style myself for myself. As I seek to own and affirmatively claim my identity, my body, my creativity… and ultimately my ‘self’, I feel incredibly powerful and beautiful and free.

Feminism, Fashion and the Politics of Adornment by Amina Doherty. (Nigeria/Antigua & Barbuda)

It’s possible to let your energy, love and time be wasted by those who are not clear what they want for you or those who are trapped in their own games. Such lost investment will only distract you from giving all to what you can most achieve in your path, your heart and your life’s work. Focus on those who most matter and know well why they do.

Forget new year’s resolutions.  What’s on your heart list, life list, fantasy list & balance list? (Trinidad & Tobago)

But it is also true that Caribbean women are not at equal risk of being made to strip, squat, bend over, finger-raped and humiliated at regional border points. We have seen little critical examination of the class and gender dimensions of this case. We might well ask whether there is an unspoken investment in gendered respectability in our rush to celebrate Shanique Myrie as a Caribbean Rosa Parks. As a not insignificant aside, consider the difference between the dominant idea of Rosa Parks we are familiar with, as the diminutive mother of the Civil Rights movement, and the Rosa Parks who was a highly active member of the NAACP and attended meetings of the Communist Party. And fewer of us have heard of Claudette Colvin, told to give up her seat on a bus nine months before Rosa Parks. We should pause to consider whether the fact that Colvin was an unmarried pregnant teenager has anything to do with her story not being widely told.

Alissa Trotz’s Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement delivered at the 20th anniversary conference of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. (Guyana)

In her pain, she was not allowed to belong anywhere. How could she belong when the halves of her were at war? When she was attacked by both sides? It is one thing to be condemned to a particular side because of your skin colour, but it is an entirely different thing to be a refugee in your own country because you do not truly belong to any side.

Sarah Bharrat of Guyana writes about what she calls “The Dougla Defect“, being mixed race in a racially polarised society. (Guyana)

“You said I remind you of the best parts of home. Like a lot of guys, you want to be nurtured but can’t nurture anyone because you barely know how.”

Writing about love from Creative Commess (Trinidad & Tobago)

“Growing up in Barbados, getting pregnant was the worst thing you could do. Not just as a teenager, but anytime before you had secured your place as a DoctorLawyerBankmanager. I’m serious. The Worst Thing.”

Mar the Mongoose blogs about the politics of motherhood. (Barbados)

Similar to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas also deports Haitian migrants regularly and grants very few work permits and rarely (if ever) asylum status, while depending upon the everyday labour of Haitian undocumented migrants. The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance.

Angelique Nixon, writing for Groundation Grenada, looks at human rights, migration and the future of Dominican@s of Haitian descent. (The Bahamas)

Happy New Year!

Leave us a comment with your fav feminist blogs! Let’s grow this list!

See also “Top 10 Must-read Caribbean Feminist Blog posts“, “Caribbean Digital Feminist Activism in a Post-Feminist Age“, “Social Media Strategies for Caribbean Activists“,  and “We’re excited about Online Caribbean Feminist Media.”

The Double Injustice of Buggery Laws

In Barbados, a scout leader is charged with rape of a 12-year-old boy.  Legally speaking, he is charged with buggery* under laws which criminalise anal sex regardless of consent or lack thereof or age of the victim.

Following reports of the case the Chief Scout Commissioner has publicly spoken out against…wait  for it…not child sexual abuse…not all forms of abuse against children…but against homosexuality.

Most of the comments posted  to the Nation’s facebook page clearly recognise what the Chief Scout Commissioner does not, that this case is about the sexual abuse of a child not yet another opportunity for public expression of homophobia. Using the buggery laws to prosecute cases of child sexual abuse contributes to a lack of access to justice for children who are victims of sexual abuse.

One commenter wrote:

so had been it a girl would that have been okay!!! rather than look at it as being homosexual in nature..Look at it as a sexual assault on a minor and deal with accordingly..Rape is not a homosexual dis-eases!!

Another wrote:

This should not be about homosexuality. What consenting adults choose to do in their private lives, is their business, no on else’s. The Boys’ Scout issue is a criminal matter, it is sexual abuse of a minor. There is no such thing as “leader to boy” sexual contact and Dr Taylor should be ashamed to make such asinine comments. The accused should feel the full weight of the law and punished accordingly. Barbadians need to stop conveniently confusing homosexuality with child sexuality abuse.

This case, however, is but one example that points to a much larger problem. Most Caribbean countries prosecute instances of rape of boys by adult men using the laws against buggery. What this does is conflate rape with consensual relations and conflate the sexual abuse of a child with sex between adults. Ultimately it sends the message that it is the homosexual nature of the act that is offensive/egregious/illegal rather than the rape of a child.

The way in which Caribbean children (especially girls) suffer sexual harassment on the street and public transportation, the fact that girls who are victims of sexual abuse often end up themselves being criminalised by being removed from their homes and placed in dangerous state facilities (let us not forget Armadale) or are charged with wandering, demonstrate an overall inadequate and unjust response to child sexual abuse.

When the Scout Commissioner chooses to condemn homosexuality but not child sexual abuse it speaks volumes of the extent to which the severity of child sexual abuse as an infringement on the human rights of children and a denial of their bodily integrity is often diminished. To give but one of countless examples from the Caribbean, in Belize recently an adult man was charged with having sex with a child (girl). He was allowed to walk free when the girls’ father claimed he could not remember his daughter’s age. If as a region we took the sexual abuse of children seriously such a conclusion would be unthinkable.

In Caribbean feminist online community WOMANTRA I raised the following questions:

has any legal analysis been done on why the buggery laws are used in cases of male rape of boys and not child sexual abuse laws? Do these laws [against child sexual abuse] not cover abuse of boys? Do they carry lighter sentences? Are the statutory rape laws gendered and exclude boys?

Young lawyer, Richie Maitland, responded:

Suffice it to say that the buggery law is used because its the easiest to prosecute. They don’t have to prove anything beyond the fact of anal sex; they don’t have to prove non consent. There are other laws they could be prosecuted pursuant to, but it requires the prosecution to prove other elements.

Lawyer-in-traning and Children’s Rights Advocate, Rashad Brathwaite had this to contribute as we sought to write the post collectively:

The Sexual Offences Act in Barbados, unlike much of the Caribbean, sufficiently provides legal recourse for Child Sexual Abuse meted out against boys under 14 to be dealt with under the statutory rape provision without the additional hurdles of proof of non-consent. That is to say, there is no ostensible need to prosecute the abuse  of a 12 year-old boy under the buggery laws in Barbados.

The current state of the law throughout much of the region and the practice in Barbados require urgent reform to treat the abuse of ALL children, as a class of criminality that deserves its own treatment as an act against our collective humanity and deserving the highest levels of opprobium.

In so doing however, the law ought to treat to the sexual abuse of children, in the instant case the abuse of boys as conceptually distinct from the consensual sexual relations between adults.

Ultimately the buggery laws perform a double injustice. They criminalise sexual relations between adults and support a culture of homophobia and stigma.  They also reflect and support an inadequate response to child sexual abuse, leaving many children who are victimised without access to justice and normalising many forms of child sexual abuse.

Edited to add: conflating and confusing rape of boys with homosexuality also serves to silence boys who are raped or sexually abused. Because they fear being stigmatized and labeled, they suffer in silence, do not report the abuse and may even blame themselves for having been abused.

*based on the reports in the Nation News we assume that he has indeed been charged with buggery.

Check out this post entitled Everyday Rape for an earlier discussion on rape and sexual abuse in the region.

 Thanks to Rashad Brathwaite of CODE RED for gender justice! and Grenadian attorney-at-law Richie Maitland, for their contributions to this article.