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

Calling for Justice – In Solidarity with Trinidad’s Highway Re-Route Movement

Guest post by Angelique V. Nixon

solidarity gathering

On Thursday 2 October, people from across Trinidad came together in solidarity to support the women of the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM), outside the Office of the Prime Minister. We joined with representatives from women’s organisations and other civil society organisations to make our voices heard about social justice, environmental degradation, and government accountability.

At high noon, armed with banners, signs, and our voices, we gathered on the street facing the PM’s office and offered up our presence in solidarity with the goals and principles of the HRM. We called out for justice and sang together in support of the HRM and in particular the women of the movement, who bear the brunt of so much of the issues at hand.

We were blessed with the powerful performance of Cecilia Salazar evoking the spirit of Trinidad’s own rebel, public servant, and whistle blower Gene Miles, who fought against corruption in the 1960s. This served as a much needed reminder that all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have a right to expect and demand government accountability, transparency, and responsibility. The warrior woman Gene Miles brought alive through Salazar encouraged us to be as fierce and defiant as she was, and I believe helped us to stand taller, be braver, and shout even louder.

Social Justice. The Power of Principle. Highway Re-Route. We chanted. We sang. We shouted.

The tone was a mixture of reflection, somber defiance, and passionate response. Some of us prayed. Some of us shared in quiet moments. Some of us spoke. Some of us were just learning about the movement. Some of us had been involved for a long time. Elders. Youth. And all the ages in between. Students. Activists. Artists. Teachers. Leaders. Concerned People. We were all there to show our solidarity with the movement, to support all those who have been working on this for years.

As the press release for the gathering explains:

“For eight years, the women of the HRM have petitioned and protested peacefully against the proposed destruction of an entire community, which has been living in harmony with the land going back three generations. Despite the tremendous odds stacked against them, these women continue to ask that the recommendations of the Armstrong Report, commissioned and paid for by the Government, be considered. The report concluded that work should be halted on the disputed Debe-Mon Desir section of the San Fernando-Point Fortin highway until the proper social, economic and environmental assessments are done, and the correct procedures followed, including the cost-benefit analysis of alternative routes.”

Environmental activist and leader of the HRM, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh is on his second hunger strike calling for the PM to do what she promised two years ago – to abide by the Armstrong Report – and to stop the construction of the proposed highway immediately. Thursday was Day 16 of his hunger strike, and he was surrounded by supporters and members of the movement. His determination is incredible, and the power of his principle feels boundless.

Activist and main organiser of the gathering Gabrielle Hosein offered these important reflections in her column on Thursday: “Does it really take this much time and sacrifice to successfully secure accountable government? People are critical of Kublalsingh’s choice of strategy, but the alternative is lifelong commitment to disallowing corruption or lack of transparency in whatever form. None of us may choose to die, but how many of us make this other choice instead?”

Coinciding with the gathering, the HRM delivered a letter with 29 civil society organisations’ signatures to the Office of the Prime Minister. This letter supports the HRM and calls on the PM to seriously address the concerns laid out in the Armstrong Report and consider the HRM’s new proposal – the optimum connectivity proposal.

This new proposal will be way more cost effective, will utilise existing roads, and prevent the destruction of the environment and communities along the proposed route. This new proposal reflects the concerns of the people, the environment, and needed development. As Gabrielle Hosein argues: “We want development, but development that is more than concretization. Development includes a right to information, truth and the best plan possible for future generations, not just the partial truths and wasteful plans that governments choose. After all, who bears the costs? We do.”

Since the demonstration, good media coverage of the event and some international press has raised even more awareness about the seriousness and urgency of the issue. The latest press release from HRM indicates that there has been a response from the governement, and the new initiatives are being organised by leaders and civil society organisations who have signed on to the petition calling for support of the new proposal. The situation is dire and the stakes remain high. The calls for social and environment justice, accountability, and respect continue. Let us all maintain the vigil and be even more defiant in our demands.

Performing Good-West-Indian-Discipline Online

Today I shared a viral video of a Caribbean mom beating her 12-year-old daughter with a belt for talking to and sending photos of herself to a man online posting photos of herself in a vest and underwear online. In the comments which followed on the CODE RED facebook page two persons wrote that they were unable to watch the video as they felt sick to their stomachs. Continue reading

Ultimate Soca Love Songs Playlist

i crowdsourced the list below in response to Georgia Popplewell’s assertion that  soca artists would

have to dig deep into their repertoires to find a song extolling the kind of values Valentine’s Day represents.

 

While she may have been speaking specifically of this year’s carnival tunes, there’s still a perception that soca artists don’t sing about love.  Caribbean music man, Stefan Walcott, had this to say:

Well there are not many due to a space and function of the music. How many Bajan folk songs speak about snow?

 

Janine Mendes-Franco produced her own list of carnival love songs but it was too short a list.  

Below is what my amazing facebook friends were able to come up with (thanks to Patrice & Kerryann who has an encyclopedic knowledge of soca).

Passion by Militant

 

All Is Yours by Onika Bostic

 

Dance With You by Machel and Mr. Vegas

 

Always Be by Patrice Roberts featuring Zan

 

Only You by Krosfyah featuring Tony Bailey

 

All Night Long by Donella Weekes

 

My Girl by Lil Rick

Kerryann also pointed me to other songs not available on youtube: Sweetest Thing by Coppa Dan, Sugary by Keann, Only You by Omar McQuilkin of Electrik.

The ways in which love and romance are scripted can often appear contrary to feminist ideals.  I had to exclude one of the suggestions due to its homophobic lyrics.  So after you’ve grooved to this playlist you may also want to check out Creative Commess’ feminist soca playlist which got a well-deserved shout out on Global Voices.

Caribbean music is all-occasions music.  Enjoy!

A Risky Location: What it means to be an Indian feminist in our region

Born on November 14, 1913, my father’s mother, Taimoon Hosein, daughter of Kapooran and Shah Mohammed Hosein of Balmain, Couva may have been the first one in the world with this name. It was a misrepresentation of Tayammum, the kind of linguistic and historical mangling that clung to many who crossed water and entered the world in new locations across the British empire.

In the year 1946, my grandfather, himself born in 1901 and the son of Sapheeran and Nazar Hosein, went to register the birth of a third daughter. My grandmother wanted to call her Zairee, but my grandfather named her Taimoon, after my grandmother. Disregarding both my grandfather’s ultimate decision and the official certificate, my grandmother called her Zairee anyway and, eventually, so did everyone else in the family.

Such small acts of defiance are the legacy left for young Indian women like me. There were also large acts of insubordination and self-definition in the histories of indentured Indian women who bravely came to Trinidad as independently waged workers, who unapologetically left men who did not satisfy them, who participated in workers’ public resistance, and whose confrontations with inequality led them to be seen as the wrong kind of woman, deserving of shame, punishment and even death.

Indian great-grandmothers had to be pushed hard by the combined forces of Indian men, religious leaders, local planters and British colonial authorities into forgetting decades of increased autonomy so that now we think that they were naturally and always dependent, docile housewives.

I know that narrative is false. So, every time a contemporary mouthpiece of Indian authority, justified by religion, race, a belief in natural gender inequality or some invented history of female obedience, gets upset by Indian women’s choices that they haven’t approved, I’m without fear. We’ve been making decisions about our bodies, our beliefs, our money and our labour for almost 170 years.

Drawing on the history we know and knowing there are stories like my grandmother’s still to be told, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Indian feminist in our region. It’s a risky location. On the one hand, we are without authorization by religion, the state or men, whether here, India, the diasporas or even Mecca. On the other, we are aware of how Afrocentrism has dominated woman-issues consciousness, mobilizing and writing in the Caribbean. It isn’t that we don’t draw on all of these connections, it’s that daily-Quran-reading, name-I-chose-insisting grandmothers cannot be entirely understood within or determined by them. Neither can I.

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

There have been Muslim, Hindu and Christian Indian great-grandmothers and grandmothers, aunts, mothers and sisters who at one or another time agreed. I hear you all nodding quietly as you read. Being an young Indian feminist in the Caribbean is about continuing such resolute negotiations and deciding what to name our own emerging stories.

This post was submitted as part of our #dearCaribbean Blog Carnival.  It was originally published on Diary of a Mothering Worker and is posted here with the author’s permission.

To read all the Blog Carnival entries or learn how you can participate click here.