A lack of respect

Last Thursday night, a bloodied 14-year-old and her parents go to the Turkeyen Police Station to report a crime; the child has been brutally raped. The expectation would have been that this would set in motion a certain chain of events that the public has been led to believe the Guyana Police Force has been trained in. But no, they are sent home and asked to return the next day so that a female police officer can accompany them to the hospital where the child has to be issued with a medical certificate, which is a vital part of any rape investigation.

A medical examination following a rape needs to be done as soon as possible after the rape so that all vital evidence is recorded. Waiting overnight means that the person who was assaulted might have a bath or do other things that unwittingly erase that evidence. The police ought to be aware of this and therefore, even if the police station at Turkeyen where the report was made did not have a female officer on duty one should have been sent for from another station to ensure that this process was completed expeditiously.

As if that were not enough, when the child and her mother returned to the police station the next day, they were made to wait for eight hours for a female officer. Then at the hospital, the policewoman reportedly found something else to do rather than approach the medical personnel with the child and her parent, causing yet another delay.

The cavalier way in which this rape report was treated suggests that despite what the police hierarchy and the Ministry of Home Affairs say to the contrary, training is an issue. No properly trained, professional policeman or woman approaches his/her job in that manner. And there are several scenarios from which this premise could be arrived at, each worse than the other. The first is that the police officer(s) on duty at the Turkeyen Police Station last week Thursday night when the report was made simply did not know the procedures to be followed when a rape is reported. The second is that he/they just did not care. The third is, he/they were too lazy to be bothered. The fourth is, he/they judged and discriminated against the persons making the report because they appeared to be poor and uninformed.

That any of these hypotheses could be correct ought to scare and anger every one of us. There must be a standard operating procedure that has to be followed when a report of rape is made. And it definitely should not include sending the virtual complainant home to return the next day for a medical examination to be done. That is simply ludicrous and preposterous, not to mention ignorant and just plain stupid.

But there is a more fundamental issue here that must be addressed. The alleged behaviour of the policewoman at the hospital points to an entrenched lack of respect for citizens on the part of those in authority; it matters not how slim that authority is. When the average Guyanese (those who have no friends in high places) is abused and put down by those in government who should be working for and with them, the disrespect filters down.

As an aside, the attempts by the police last week to pin murder charges on two men, who are apparently known to them, but who they did not have sufficient evidence against is a symptom of this same lack of respect. The disrespect is not only manifest against the persons they accused and arrested, but the society as a whole including themselves and the institution they represent. Tellingly, the crime chief subsequently issued a call for witnesses to the shooting to death of the police officer to come forward. This only served to illustrate the fact that not enough investigative work had been done up to the point of the first charge being laid. Is it any wonder then that many cases are not successfully prosecuted?

Meanwhile, with regard to the substantive issue above, is it any wonder that the rate of convictions in rape cases is despairingly low? A 14-year-old who was assaulted then has her rights violated by those who have sworn to serve and protect. Does this not make the police just as liable for any lasting mental and emotional scarring of this child? One hopes that a heartfelt apology to the child and her parents is the first thing the police will do and that someone will ultimately be held responsible.

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