We have noted, with equal measures of interest and dismay, an ongoing debate in the letter columns and have come to the conclusion that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to human beings and rape. We join the discussion now in an attempt to lessen the confusion:
1. Rape is an act of violence. Sex is the weapon used against the victim; a medium through which the attacker can exercise power and unleash anger. The primary motivation for rape is not sexual desire but an urge to control.
2. All that is necessary for rape to have occurred is a lack of consent from one participating party. Persons raped may have been fully dressed or not. They may have been sexually active or celibate. They may live in a liberal society or a conservative one. A total stranger or a friend or even their spouse may have raped them. They may have been threatened with physical force or the authority their attackers held over them may have coerced them. They may have said “No!” loudly or they may not have been able to say anything at all or they may have even said yes initially and then changed their minds and said no afterwards.
3. All human beings have inalienable rights by mere virtue of being human. These rights must be respected at all times – not just when others conform to our personal moral codes or when it is easy or not ‘tempting’ to do otherwise. Every human being has the right to live a life free of violence and fear, a life free of rape. Conversely, under no circumstances does any human being ever have the right to rape another. Not even if one spies a woman fully naked prancing through the streets, in a country where women prominently display ‘lewd’ or suggestive behaviour, where every other woman is known to say ‘yes,’ as attested to by an objective census taken, is there justification for rape. You may think what you like of the woman in question, but you may not violate her body.
4. Women are neither sex objects nor symbols to hang society’s reputation and values on. Women are human beings with desires and choices of their own. They have lives to live on their own terms, as they see fit. If they want to backball on TV, this is their choice. If they want to wear short skirts, that is their call to make. They do not owe anyone sex and they are definitely not responsible for other people’s sexuality. Everyone has their desires and their breaking points. Everyone also has the responsibility of self-regulation and of not harming others. If some men find it difficult to not want to rape women then those men need to be watched carefully and possibly seek counselling.
5. Global statistics show that most women who have been raped do not report it for fear of being stigmatized, disbelieved or because they know that it will not lead to justice. A new study by the GHRA shows an average conviction rate of 1.4% in rape cases compared to reports of rape made between 2000-2004. That is 9 convictions out of 647 reports. Only 3% of complaints made it to trial. So, to say that “The current Sexual Offences law in Guyana is so badly drafted that it apparently suffices that the ‘victim’ rises in the morning, and claims to have felt threatened at the time the act was jointly committed for the perpetrator to face a heavy sentence” not only irresponsibly makes light of the courageous women who manage to report the crimes carried out against them, but is also false as it is unlikely that any sentence will occur. Furthermore, it is a gross misrepresentation of the Sexual Offences Act. Guyana’s Sexual Offences Act is a robust piece of legislation, stating in unequivocal terms that it is unlawful to sexually assault another human being. It is also the most progressive of all laws of its type in the English speaking Caribbean. In fact, while we encourage all persons to familiarize themselves with its text, we would also like to remind them that the legislation has thus far not been sufficiently enforced to afford greater protection to complainants, and much more could be done to take a tougher stance on rape.
6. Rape culture is one in which rape is downplayed or viewed as normal, acceptable or inevitable. Victim blaming is a manifestation of rape culture.
7. A violent culture is one in which violence is viewed as a justifiable response to provocation or as a valid teaching tool. Rape is a manifestation of a violent culture.
8. People deserve to be treated with respect regardless of how they dress, what their beliefs are or how they choose to live their lives.
It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to establish a new culture of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence instead of rape and violence.
On behalf of the Sisters of the S4
Foundation, Krysta Bisnauth
Oluatoyin Samantha Alleyne-Williams