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.

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

Can One Billion Rising End Violence Against Women?

Many Caribbean countries participated in the global One Billion Rising campaign. You can view photos from the events across the region and even add yours to the pool.

Barbados held two events:  One at the Cave Hill campus on the University of the West Indies which focused on sexual violence since three Caribbean countries are in the top 10 globally for rates of reported rape.  The other took place in the capital and featured collaboration among many women’s organisations, artists and UN WOMEN. The Bridgetown gained significant publicity in the mainstream media, particularly radio and press.  The following letter to the editor details the UWI event which was hosted by the Institute for Gender & Development Studies: Nita Barrow Unit.

Barbados might be interested to know that the UWI Cave Hill Campus also held a significant One Billion Rising event that mainly targeted students, but also involved staff in the audience and as performers.

I write this letter and hope it is published because of what emerged. Female students at the campus routinely face harassment, sometimes physical, on ZR vehicles. Some also continue to face the problem of voyeurism (peeping toms) in some private residences around campus. Obviously this is unacceptable.

The Cave Hill campus administration does what it can from what I can see, including establishing protocols and addressing safety issues. In fact, the event was hosted by the university’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies – Nita Barrow Unit as a means of gathering just such data.

Students testified, a Guild of students spokesman informed that the Guild’s position was zero tolerance on campus and off, one male students spoke touchingly of the solidarity he feels his colleagues should express to prevent not only physical but also emotional abuse of young women.

Staff members and students performed poetry and sang songs relevant to the theme of rejection of violence in all its forms, and the need for the embrace of more loving, respectful and self-respecting behaviours by men and women singly and collectively. One staff member spoke of the fact young men are themselves victims of sexual violence by other men, and this underscores the evident necessity for men to strongly support the eradication of this scourge.

Violence against women is a feature of vulnerability, especially when men congregate in even temporary gangs.

It is good to see the solidarity your paper offers in highlighting these issues. I certainly ask our community of ZR drivers, conductors, owners and the owners of private residences around the campus to join you in that solidarity and put measures in place to secure the young women using their services. It is just the right thing to do.

– Margaret D. Gill

Source: This article originally appeared in the Barbados  as a letter to the editor.

Guyana also hosted a significant One Billion Rising event in which many women’s organisations participated. There were events in St. Lucia, Grenada and Antigua as well.

A recent comment on the CODE RED blog called into question the political strategies of the One Billion Rising Campaign:

I wish every Feminist initiative, everywhere around the globe, wholehearted success.

But… I have a seeeerious problem with the “Let’s All Dance!” focus for the “One Billion Rising” event. Could someone tell me WHY – and in a way that makes pellucid sense to me, WHY Women, in their seemingly chronic male-designation as Abuse Fodder, would choose the carefree, spontaneous, *celebratory* act of …dance: to (somehow?!?) symbolize the One Billion Rising initiative?

The whole things seems miscued, somehow; it appears – at least to me, like some desperate psychological “buffer” being enacted by Women globally, to try to distance themselves emotionally from what I have NO FEAR in stating as The Harsh REALITY: i.e., WOMEN’S RIGHTS IS ON A STEADILY DOWNWARD CURVE!

Consequently, to “Dance While Women’s Lives are BURNING TO HELL…smacks oddly of a SIMILAR Roman initiative. Only I think the Ancient used FIDDLES to distract themselves whilst their Home-Space INCINERATED!!!

So – as they say in Showbiz: “Break a Leg!”


This Huffing Post article took One Billion Rising to task for a lack of feminist consciousness, a refusal to name the causes of violence against women in favour of feel-good dancing in which everyone could participate and a false notion of sisterhood which perpetuates racist hierarchies.

What do you think? Is One Billion Rising a celebrity-driven, white-feminist-saving-the-Third-World-woman danceathon/mediafest that lacks political edge? Or were local organisers able to “creolise” the One Billion Rising to make it meaningful for their communities as part of wider and ongoing efforts to address violence against women?

Pssst…my sexy friend…

This BBC article about street harassment was posted to the CODE RED facebook page.  The poster noted that “there certainly is a great deal of ‘seepsin’ in the Caribbean.”  By seepsing she is refering to what Trini’s call “sooting” or the way men use a hissing sound to get women’s attention when they are walking in the street.  Someone else responded that

I like this article, but how would you get a message like this across in the Caribbean where culturally male-female relations are often viewed as “the hunter and the pursued” and how will you define boundaries? E.g. what would be an acceptable method of indicating attraction / asking someone out to dinner without be labeled a stalker.

The central idea here is that men have the right to initiate sexual contact or indicate sexual/romantic interest and that there must be a way of retaining that right that does not count as harassment.  (And certainly, many women have countered that they quite appreciate unsolicited compliments.)

I responded to the post by seeking to connect street harassment to other the forms of harassment women face which, as Caribbean legal feminist scholar, Tracy Robinson, points out, do not even have a name in law.  I offered a personal experience of 18 years of harassment in my home and the chronic harassment of women students of the University of the West Indies just because they are women:

Aside from street harassment of women by men there is also the harassment of women in their homes. Just recently a man broke the windows of two women UWI students within 30 minutes of each other and threatened them with sexual obsenities of what he would like to do with them. The police were called. Just last week I woke up to a man standing outside my bedroom window with a flashlight trying to look inside. This was around 4:30 am. Having endured this kind of harassment since I was 11 years old I did not bother to call the police.

Then this week a Nation News columnist proudly relates the uninvited comments he said to a young woman because in his opinion she was inappropriately dressed.  Clearly,  he does not view his behaviour as harassment:

Walking in front of me were two women, one of whom wore an extremely short skirt, which was made of a light material. With every step, she was trying to hold the skirt  to prevent it from blowing up but the wind was winning the battle.

As she climbed the steps, she struggled to keep the skirt down, and I asked: “Why yuh trying to keep it down for? You dun know you put on that skirt to show off de stuff, stop pretending! If yuh uncomfortable wearing it, why yuh put it on in the first place?”

He then goes on to state how he selects his wife’s clothing to ensure that she is appropriately dressed:

Last December, I spent four days trying to find a dress for my wife to wear to a wedding. I was so disappointed and frustrated that almost every single store I visited only had dresses with a low neck, which was designedto reveal cleavage.

Whether it is the husband as benign patriarch lovingly selecting his wife’s clothing or publicly disciplining another woman about her choice of clothing,  I am disturbed by the ways in which women’s bodies become property and are then policed and disciplined.

Students at the prestigious Yale University filed a title IX complaint against the university for failure to properly address incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault which has resulted in a “hostile environment.” In the words of complainant Hannah Zeavin, this campus climate “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts.”

These disciplining and policing behaviours circumscribe women’s access to the public sphere, preserve unequal gender relations and contribute to a sense of fear among women.  Women then police themselves, for example, by curtailing their own movements.  The irony is, however, that the same kind of treatment you receive in the street may be brought to your very doorstep.  Not even the home then is safe for women.

I want to draw a connection between the supposedly innocuous behaviours such as “tiefing a wine” or uninvited flirting and those which seem obviously reprehensible like rape.  They all stem from the unacknowledged and unquestioned male privilege and men’s assertion of their right to control women’s bodies. And as the Yale law suit highlights, women will not allow these harms to go unchallenged.

This post is but a small intervention in the hopes that it would inspire those who wear their privilege so proudly to rethink that privilege.  To begin to see the harmful in the seemingly innocuous.  As feminists, we are often accused of preaching to the converted but I know for a fact that CODE RED’s facebook page and blog are read by those who are decidedly not feminist and who as it stands have a mainstream media platform which allows them to reach a wide audience.  I have opened the dicussion.

Original note posted on the SEEING RED blog here

Read the note on the blog for the links to all the articles referred to (am too lazy to re-insert all the links here).