Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang’s decision to throw out the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) advice to charge Police Commissioner Henry Greene with rape understandably came as a shock to the society. According to media reports this charge was thrown out because the circumstantial evidence did not present a realistic prospect of a conviction. The merit and demerit of the Chief Justice’s ruling will continue to be debated and it should be said that the ruling in itself does not prevent a charge being instituted or an appeal made.
Clearly, the case has taught us some lessons, one of which is the need to acknowledge that the abuse of women has reached epidemic proportions and has to be urgently addressed. Evidently it took grit and coverage for the lady to tell her story of being violated by the most powerful officer on the Force. Listening to her on Mark Benschop’s, guyanaobservernews.org online radio, you hear someone who is aggrieved and feels justice has been denied.
Initially the commissioner denied, then later said, “Let God be the judge,” finally admitting consensual sex to the Jamaican investigating team. What the Commissioner fails to understand is that the trust placed in him by citizens who are paying him to serve and protect them does not include violating that trust. While he thinks the act was consensual and the lady said it was rape, he fails to understand given his power and influence and the lady’s admission of fear, this environment does not lend itself to anything consensual. For this is a clear case of unequal power and influence and different objectives.
The lady was reaching out for help in retrieving her property as this case revealed, while the Commissioner‘s alleged imposition on the aggrieved can never be countenanced. This is an abuse of the privilege afforded by the office and the service that ought to flow therefrom.
The court of public opinion has come to its own conclusions independent of any court ruling. And having held such an esteemed office Mr Greene’s return to this position will be a grave blow to the society and undermine the community’s trust and relationship with the police, which remain a crucial component in crime-fighting. While legally the current state is that the Commissioner is not poised to be charged for rape, his conduct reflects an abuse of trust and a desecration of his office. What has happened sends a signal to abusers and predators in our midst that they are invincible and can escape having to account for their behaviour. Too many men in society with leading roles and holding public office are culpable of misusing the power derived from their office to prey on the vulnerable, setting bad examples for the society. The reported allegations of abuse by former President Jagdeo, now Commissioner of Police Henry Greene, only serve to embolden others.
Ever so often the media report stories of battery, suicide, murder and abuse in various forms and these too must be brought to an end. To achieve this requires a concerted effort from each and everyone, and must be made meaningful through our institutions of state giving leadership. It also includes public officials engaging in exemplary conduct and upholding the tenets of the constitution which guarantees women’s rights and freedoms. Male leaders must set the tone for relations in the community and in the homes and if such does not come voluntarily then it behoves persons to demand accountability. A dangerous precedent is set when violators are ignored because of a familial relationship or a perceived need to be protective of their feelings. For such attitudes do an injustice to ourselves, those we care about and the society as a whole.
To this end Greene’s case offers a teachable moment for all. As he is rightly called on to account for his conduct, so too must it be for others. We must move away from the culture where “Every now and then knock them down/ They’ll love you long and they’ll love you strong/Black up dey eye, bruise up de knee/ And Then they will love you eternally…/You must be robust, you must be tough/ I mean, don’t pull no punches but treat em rough.” We must also eschew the objectification of women as proof of being macho; snuffing out their lives as a show of who is boss; unequal pay for equal work; denying employment because of gender; seeing benevolence in targeting women for employment to underpay and overwork as is done in the retail and security sectors; regarding housework and childcare as women’s duties; harassment and exploitation in the workplace; or miniaturizing women’s voice in the public sphere. These acts demonstrate bigotry and cowardice coming from those who should actually provide protection and lead by example.
At the national level there is need to amplify and intensify education on what constitutes abuse and where support and recourse can be had, starting at nursery level up to university; as well as in the workforce, mass media, religious organizations, civic groups, political parties, trade unions, and every public space.
The laws should be more stringent; the DPP and police should be effectively trained to handle matters of such nature, including preparing and representing the complainant; justice should be swift with magistrates and judges advocating from the bench; the laws mandating women representation must be enforced, including allowing sanctions to be brought by any public spirited citizen if such is not upheld; the Women and Gender Equality Commission needs to play a more visible and active role; and support institutions should be given the requisite assistance. This list is by no mean exhaustive but it ensures action. An epidemic can only be eliminated when all are involved and held accountable and the time to start is now.
Lincoln B Lewis