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 kills 4-year-old witness of alleged rape, cue victim-blaming

Tianna Thomas posted this to our facebook wall and gave us permission to share it here. It revolves around the way in which a man who allegedly killed a four-year-old boy is absolved from blame by some members of the public who choose to focus instead, on accusing the boy’s 17-year-old aunt of making a false accusation of rape. (The young woman has since reported that she too feared for her life and was raped by the assailant). As if an assumed false rape claim should either overshadow or justify the murder of a 4-year-old. Why is the young woman, who had nothing to do with murdering an infant, on trial here? What does it mean when some of us are able to completely bypass the murder of a child and focus instead on calling the young woman a liar as if to suggest that not only is she culpable in the boy’s death but that she is MORE culpable than the man that killed him and raped her!

I was just reading a story on the Demarara Waves Facebook site about a man who stabbed a 4 year old boy to death after allegedly raping the child’s 17 year old aunt. In the comments, there was this remark left by a female commenter:
“This is so damn sad and that’s a wicked aunt, she is now claiming “rape” because that child walked in on them, he was 4 years omg by next week he would have forgot that already, I’m sure he didn’t even understand what was going on, they could have make up so damn lie and tell him, now she being a wicked aunt ran away and look what she has to live with now, the man she was just sexing Murdered her nephew, she wouldn’t want to see a next Penis for the rest of her wicked life. How could he look at that child and stab him for being cause in his wicked dead, sexing his sis in law omg, she should kill her damn self”.
Needless to say, I was horrified by the commenter’s words. It brings to light a bigger problem within the myriad of other issues with society’s response to victims of sexual assault. It’s something I have noticed while living in Guyana. There always seems to be someone placing some degree of blame on the victim. Mind you, the article said NOTHING about the aunt bearing false witness against the person accused of the murder. Whether the allegations of rape are true or not is not clear at the moment (the girl has been taken to the hospital for a medical screening), but it is sickening to see that even though she herself may be a victim in the case, instead of being met with the appropriate care that victims of sexual assault need, she is met with blame. This woman goes as far to ask the alleged victim to “kill herself”. THIS is the reason why so many sexual assaults go unreported. THIS is the reason why many assault victims would rather take monetary compensation than go through the often degrading process of trial. THIS is why may victims commit suicide. Blame is placed only on the victim and not with the attacker, where it belongs. I don’t know if the alleged victim is being truthful, but who am I or who is anyone else to say that she is lying? Especially since the investigation has just commenced? Ugh. I apologize again for the lengthy post. This has been on my heart since I read the story and I just needed someplace to rant.

Guyanese activist Sherlina Nageer also pointed out, “in addition to the individual condemnation of this young woman, there’s also the institutional disregard that makes this even worse. when she ran to the police station seeking help, they told her that she was ‘hostile’, “and that I shouldn’t be making noise in the station.”

Sexual Violence is a Men’s Issue


Caribbean journalist Ricky Singh indicts regional and national women’s groups, women lawyers and women politicians for being silent in the face of sexual violence against women.

Roberta Clarke, on her Roots and Rights blog, pointed out that for the last 20 years women’s organisations have in fact been speaking out, advocating for legislation, running shelters and crisis centres  etc. Caribbean women have been anything but silent in the face of relentless and ongoing violence. In the 1980s schoolgirls in St. Vincent and the Grenadines marched to protest sexual violence and in 2013 women’s groups across the region continue to do unrecognised, invisibilised work.

When it comes to sexual violence the overwhelming majority of persons who are raped or sexually assaulted are women and girls and the overwhelming majority of rapists are men.  Men and boys too are victims of rape (though not at the same rates as women and girls) and in these cases too, men are the overwhelming majority of rapists.  It should therefore be self-evident that sexual violence is a men’s issue.  And the more appropriate question to ask is why men as the majority of elected leaders in the region, as individuals and members of various men’s organisations are not doing everything in their power to end sexual violence. Rape is a men’s issue.  Ending rape, speaking out against violence against women and girls is the collective responsibility of men.

Yet, men collectively, as major power brokers in the region, are silent.

Why are Caribbean men silent on rape? Why did it not occur to Rickey Singh to ask this question? Why is men’s silence not shocking?

Everybody should be outraged when schoolgirls are sexually harassed in the street and on public transportation, when women are killed by their intimate partners, when police officers turn away rape survivors for being naked, when payments are accepted in lieu of prosecution in cases of child sexual abuse, when our legal system supports this form of injustice, when deputy commissioners of police suggest that teen girls are the ones responsible for the sexual crimes against them. Everybody should be outraged.  Not just women.  Not just the handful of women parliamentarians.  Not just overworked and underfunded women’s organisations. EVERYBODY.  And that includes men who for too long have been shamefully silent.  (Big up attorney Lennox Sankersingh and the other lawyers who have offered to support rape survivors throughout the legal process in Trinidad and Tobago).

Why are men silent on sexual violence against women and girls?

What does their silence communicate?

Does it communicate an acceptance of rape culture, of gender inequality? An understanding that violence against women and girls and the threat of it is part of what helps to maintain male privilege? A desire to see that privilege maintained at all costs?

It’s time we heard from Caribbean men what they intend to do to end gender-based violence.

I’m all ears…

Rum & Rape Culture

Earlier this month we highlighted the use of sexist, racialised images of women (or rather parts of their bodies) in Caribbean advertising.

Via Caribbean feminist blogger & creative writer, Creative Commess, I came across this advertisement for rum which basically endorses date rape.

“Avoid the friend zone.  Offer her a real drink,” says Angostura, a Trinidad & Tobago rum distillery.

Edited to add: After posting this image on our tumblr (yes, we’re on tumblr too!) some people responded that we had misinterpreted the ad, that it is in fact NOT a nod to rape culture.  The other interpretation is that if a young man offers a woman a good quality drink she will be impressed with his “good taste” and want to have a sexual relationship with him rather than just be friends.  (Apparently friendship is not what men are supposed to be after.) There is still a lot to be unpacked in even that interpretation of the ad. The message remains problematic and draws on gendered ideologies about men and women and sexual-economic exchange.


Ending Rape Culture in the Caribbean

Zero Tolerance Will Yield Zero Impact until We Get Hard On Rape Culture

We have crazy ideas about men. We talk about their primal desires as uncontrollable, insatiable hormone driven NEEDS for sex as if they were fully embuddyed, rendered mindless and essentially emotionally stunted. The overwhelming power of testosterone is their divine curse, comparable to “that time of the month” for a woman. Testosterone as the principal male sex hormone means that we accept that it’s OK for men to always be a “little crazy” when it comes to “that thing”. We generally accept as natural, the idea that sexual choice and decision making almost exclusively comes from what’s between a man’s legs, rather than his eyes or beneath his rib cage. So in 2006 when Dr. McGill was quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner as saying “if there are problems with who [a man] thinks he is, if his social skills are marred but his sexual developments normal, his sex drive pushes him to satisfaction (by any means necessary)” We swallow this kind of reasoning up. I guess a spoonful of sugar really makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way.

In the field of crazy of ideas, here are a few of my own.

  1. Men aren’t marginalized, they ARE imprisoned.  Overwhelmed by social demands that force them to constantly act out and prove their manhood by performing a kind of masculinity that demands dominance over everything and everybody, particularly women, to gain legitimacy as worthy men. Life as a man in patriarchal prison means you’re on house arrest and you have to wear an annoying ankle bracelet. Sure an ankle bracelet is challenging, but not impossible to live with. So our average man pretends that he’s impervious to pain, and life’s stressors are just tests for which he “mans up”. Our average guy feels the prison of his own house is still better than being locked away in a high security prison, heck anybody can used to an ankle bracelet. Men are reasonably comfortable in their patriarchal prison and are often the chief beneficiaries of its privileges.  Privilege can sure make prison life feel like it’s worth it. So what if a guy can’t cry freely or be true to the underlying range of his human emotional responses. Come on, everyone “knows” that the most legitimate masculine emotion is anger anyway. So, many men continue to suppress their capacity for empathy and deny their capacity for substantive human connection. This denial means the majority of imprisoned men which make up a good chunk of the 49% of the population remain committed to reaffirming their manliness while claiming their rights to lead and getting the “best” of all things (and women) the society has to offer.

2. The world doesn’t need one more “nice guy” who DOES NOT take a stance on sexual objectification of women and violence, especially violence against women. Like the word suggests when you objectify a woman you “thingify” her. She becomes primarily her ass, tits, pussy, a Teacha’s Pet, a thing with a rack, wid tings weh jus’ “bubble”, a breathing entity yes, but yuh cyan help but “clap dat” or in Antigua kick een she back door. Wi need fi use our heads, have a conscience and understand that the thingyfication happens when everything we see including printing services on a giant Half Way Tree billboard which has a “girl frog” with legs spread and a caption “You know you want me” or chicken wings advertisements where three attractive women ask “what’s your flavour”, makes women’s humanity more and more invisible. The marketing decisions that produce music and advertising I described included the input of nice guys, and “well reasoned” women. But wait, nice guys, and even well reasoned women, have testosterone too right? Right the stuff that makes you a little sexually crazy.

As I write this Jamaica has been shaken again by another horrific story of how a few men couldn’t control “their crazy”. The men got so crazy on the diet of thingyfication and being constantly told that compassion, caring, and respectful interdependence ah “gyal ting” that they could exploit, defile and damage 5 women, including an 8 year old, all because the only thing worse dan being a “gyal” is being a “batty man”.

Men need to acknowledge that it’s not the damn testosterone, but rather this matrix-like life under house arrest that has left you messed up in your heads and hearts. It appears to me that it’s no coincidence that men make up most of our mentally disturbed and homeless on Kingston’s streets, Jamaica’s homicides are still primarily perpetrated BY men AGAINST other men, and rape and sexual assaults worldwide and in Jamaica are still primarily committed by men. We’ve had spoonfuls and generations of the mind dulling sugary medicine about needing IT so bad men can’t control themselves, that the craziness starts to feel “normal”. Men and women start to believe that men’s unfettered anger, lack of self control and emotional shallowness isn’t great for most societies but hell we accept it, we never really demand more, and currently we just ask that theydon’t let it get out of hand.

So let’s not be disingenuous by saying that this time it was a “deliberate act of violence to show power”. RAPE ALWAYS IS! And we simply don’t take it far enough when we describe the incident “as one of the most shocking, horrific and despicable crimes committed against Jamaican women”. It, like every rape, should be felt by each of us as if it is a crime committed against every Jamaican. The equally important question is what continues to push men so far to the edges of their own humanity? What is happening in the emotional and psychological life of the man who rapes AND the man who silently just hopes that it won’t happen to a woman he loves? What causes the disconnection so deep that men can comfortably thingify women and reduce the complexity of sexual desire to a demand made by a penis? When we naturalize male violence, accept thingyfication and fail to help men fulfill the fullest expressions of themselves, we create cultures that propagate rape and widespread complicity. Until we are willing to take responsibility for those things, the work towards zero tolerance for sexual violence will continue to be undermined almost to the extent that it has zero impact.

Article by Jamaican feminist activist and social entrepreneur, Georgia Love.

Image source: Lime Jamaica