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



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

Regionalism in need of radical love

Guest post by Rashad Brathwaite

 2013 has been an intense year in the development of the legal framework of Caricom. The Shanique Myrie case engendered a host of political, legal and social commentary; necessary dialogues; dialogues worth having. Progress is seemingly followed immediately by failings. Following the legal formulations by the Caribbean Court of Justice vindicating and fleshing out the nature of the freedom of movement, a cohort of Jamaicans were rejected from Trinidad and Tobago. Following the signing of a Trade agreement between Jamaica and Trinidad, The Minister of National Security metaphorically sent many more home claiming the Trinidadian State is not a Mall.

In the face of failings by National Leaders and Institutions, from across the Caribbean whether in the direct denial of rights, the inflammatory language, our failings to join the Caribbean Court of Justice, our responses as Caribbean citizens impassioned in the moment, have often been violent and vitriolic. This piece focuses less on the legal development of CARICOM, which is no doubt critical, but instead focuses on our responses to these acts of violations; to our speech-performances of violence in response to violence.

It asks questions of our claim to moral authority when our responses in moments of oppression is to become equally oppressive. It problematizes our discourse when Caribbean citizens transform Facebook text-boxes into stereotypes, a devaluing of cultural differences and a claim to superiority. It rejects these notions of superiority. Cultural capital does not make you superior. Human-Resource capital does not make you superior. Natural-Resource capital does not make you superior. We are not superior.

Our liberation into a Region that holds each fibre of the Caribbean fabric as important, must start with us as members of the Community, of a Caribbean Civilization. The work of CARICOM, the spirit and ethos of Caribean-ness, not merely the Legal Mechanisms and Functionings, is in the everyday interactions of us as a Caribbean people.

When a Barbadian Minister reduces a country to “a rot”, when the Trinidadian Minister of National Security says the country is not a mall, When a Leader claims we should abandon, or refuse to join our Regional Court in favor of the National or in favor of the Colonial Power, our resort must be a radical Love; A Love that rejects these damaging notions, but does not replicate them.

These moments of Institutional failures must be our greatest call to actions as individuals. In a world dominated by realpolitik, rational self-interest, protection of the Sovereignty of the State, the national interest, is there a room for Love and Loving? Is this love and loving the space through which Caricom may flow? Is it not in these precise moments that those who form the established intellegensia and those outside of its boundaries; those whose wisdom does not ordinarily fit within the intellectual formalism or expression that defines the academy; those who possess the everyday wisdom of age, of experience, of youth, must respond in love?

In no way does this radical love preclude justice; it precludes vengeance. It does not preclude legal recourse to mechanisms designed to protect these rights, nor does it preclude denouncing sites of oppression. It precludes bigotry in response to oppression. It precludes claims of superiority. It precludes debasing our humanity in response. Paulo Freire contends in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that “the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed:[is[ to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.”

When our leaders fail to set a spirit of Regional integration on fire, and instead seemingly set fire to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, do we not have an obligation to water it with love? Undoubtedly, this is an unusual position, what place does a discourse of love have in the face of these seemingly ever growing moments of Regional War. But, Is it not precisely in the face of this war, that this discourse of love must take root? What will our liberation look like? How may we liberate ourselves from our existential realities of oppression? How may we liberate our Caribbeanness; our CARICOM? Tessanne Chin sang Bob Marley and the Wailer’s Redemption song on the Voice this week. The Caribbean sang along. We did not sing divided. We ALL sang along. What will the notes, the harmonies, the melodies, the chords and the lyrics of our Regional song of freedom be?

Rashad Brathwaite is a 22-year-old graduate of the Faculty of Law of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement

Before you say anything more about what the Shanique Myrie ruling means for CARICOM, why Jamaica should boycott Trinidad & Tobago products or the slaughter of Haitians in the Dominican Republic you should read this article.

It’s the text of the keynote address which Alissa Trotz delivered at the 20th anniversary symposium of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies. The title is Inescapable Entanglements: Notes on Caribbean Feminist Engagement.


Caribbean Community Shamefully Silent on Linden Violence

On July 18, 2012 “three men were shot dead by the police during a day of community protest” in Linden Guyana.

Guyanese activists used the Stabroek News In The Diaspora column, edited by Guyanese feminist scholar-activist, Alissa Trotz, to ask of the Caribbean community to “all stand with Linden.” They had this to say about the violence:

It is now five days since the deadly events in Linden, in which three men were shot dead by the police during a day of community protest. The last time protestors were shot at and killed by police was sixty-four years ago, when sugar workers were cut down by colonial officers acting on behalf of the sugar planters who ruled Guyana in those days.

Stabroek News also reported that:

46-year old Allan Lewis; 18 year old Ron Somerset; and 18 year old Shemroy Bouyea [were killed]. Another 20 women and men were sent to hospital nursing blunt trauma wounds and shooting injuries to the back, face, legs and chest: 34 year old Alice Shaw Barker; 47 year old Michael Roberts; 23 year old Hector Solomon; 33 year old Ulric Michael ; 56 year old Reuben Bowen; 38 year old Dexter Scotland; 52 year old Janice Burgan; 35 year old Yolanda Hinds; 45 year old Brian Charles; 26 year old Collis Duke; 35 year old Cleveland Barker; 25 year old Dwight Yaw; 39 year old Marlon Hartman; 24 year old Troy Nestor; 35 year old Jermaine Allicock; 39 year old Malim Spencer; 29 year old Shandra Lyte; 34 year old Andy Bobb Semple ; 24 year old Collin Adams; 21 year old Trelon Piggot. Two people are in critical condition. One woman was shot as she tried to rush young children to safety.

Across the Guyanese (and Caribbean) diaspora in Toronto, New York and the UK there has been a strong showing of international solidarity. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also condemned the violence.* In the region itself, the Caribbean community has been shamefully silent.

Barbadian social activist, David Comissiong, wrote to local newspapers to appeal for regional solidarity and action. He has called on Caribbean civil society and governments to intervene in order to prevent an escalation of the violence and “racial strife,” arguing that, ” it was not surprising that the police killings were immediately interpreted in terms of race!”:

historically, Linden was the scene of the two most infamous incidents of racial violence in Guyana — the 1964 Indian bombing of the African populated “Sun Chapman” launch on the Demerara river, and the ugly and brutal retaliatory violence that members of the “African” population of Linden inflicted on their “Indian” fellow residents.

Today, media reports indicate that unrest in Linden has escalated. Five buildings have been destroyed by fire.  Reports state that “security forces have cleared Linden roads”. Residents reported that police fired teargas to disperse large numbers of persons who turned out to resist the police. Guyana Defence Force air-dropped by helicopter more than 1,000 leaflets urging residents to support the Joint Services.

For three weeks “Lindeners have used huge logs, bricks, broken bottles, burning tyres and other objects to block access to key bridges and roads. At first they had been protesting the increase in electricity tariffs from July 1 following government’s decision to cut the subsidy by GUY$1 billion.” The protests continued after three men were killed by police.

* The Guyana Government has rejected the statement made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling it “biased, misconceived and premature.” Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon insisted that, “The government of Guyana respects the rights of its citizens, including the right to march and demonstrate peacefully.”

Edited to add: reports that Joint Services denies it launched morning operation at Linden (source: Gordon Moseley on facebook).

Sherlina Nageer of Red Thread contextualises the protests in terms of Linden’s 70% unemployment rate and explains why Linden (the protests & police violence) is definitely a women’s issue.  

We will be updating and editing this post as more information comes in.

The Caribbean Community must not turn its back on Linden. Time to take notice and speak out!

Please share with us any information or updates you may have in the comments.