The Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) rescued six females from 14 Miles in Region Seven over the weekend and two policemen are now under close arrest after they were accused of raping two of them at the Sherima Police Station some months ago as a means of giving their alleged traffickers a free pass to the backdam.
President of the GWMO Simona Broomes yesterday told Stabroek News that a confrontation was held with one of the females and one of the officers as soon as they were brought to the Bartica Police Station from the backdam. One of the alleged traffickers was also brought out of the backdam and is now in police custody.
Five of the females, ages 26, 20, 18, 16, and 14, are now in state custody and the sixth, who was only taken into the Backdam on Friday by her father and was staying with the manager of her mother’s shop, was returned to her mother who promised that she would not be taken back to the interior.
Broomes and some members of the organisation’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) unit travelled into the area on Saturday and found the girls after hours of work. The girls indicated that they wanted to leave as they were being held against their will and forced to work as sex workers by the female shop owners, who kept the money paid by the customers. The five girls along with the two officers and one of the alleged traffickers were brought to the city yesterday.
According to Broomes, 14 Miles is an area that she wanted to return to since her first visit in April during which she had observed suspicious activities.
Just back from the US, where she was honoured as a 2013 anti-TIP hero, Broomes said a mother appealed to her to help find her young teenaged daughter, who ran away from home and was rumoured to be at 14 Miles. Unfortunately, the child was not found, although Broomes said she received information that she was indeed in the backdam but had left for another area. However, the trip into the area led Broomes and other GWMO members to find the six females they rescued over Saturday and Sunday.
Broomes noted that she contacted Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud, who readily agreed to provide a vehicle to take them into the area. They began their journey early Saturday morning but before they arrived at the location the vehicle provided by the minister, which was transporting two GWMO members and a female mines officer broke down and was unable to complete the journey
However, Broomes along with a three-man security detail, comprising Reginald Brown, Hector Broomes and Desmond Haymer, continued on the journey and later met some other GWMO members Ava Abrams and Irene Sears. Together they arrived at 14 Miles around midday on Saturday and Broomes said they immediately realised that something was not right as the place was very quiet, unlike what she had seen in April. They later learnt that the residents knew they were expected.
“We were told that someone got a message and persons were going from shop to shop and telling the girls to go and hide because the women miners coming,” Broomes said, while adding that a number of the adults indicated that they were happy to see them as there were girls who needed assistance.
The group later found two of the girls hiding behind a building and they indicated that the shop owner told them to run and hide. However, the girls said they were happy that the group came as the shop owner was forcing them to work as prostitutes and withholding the payments on the pretext that they owed her.
“They said that some sometimes they don’t get food and even though they have to pay $2,000 to rent the rooms they are staying in, [during] the day the woman locks the doors and they can’t access them,” Broomes said.
The females also said that they were sometimes forced and go out and find men.
Broomes said she took the females to the shop owner, who indicated that they owed her and she brought out a book to prove this. However, Broomes told the woman that she was breaking the law by keeping them against their will and she insisted the girls be allowed to pack their clothes and leave the area. They were, however, forced to pay $6,000 to a hairdresser, who claimed one of the females owed her for a hairdo.
Policemen demanded sex
The two other girls, including a 16-year-old, spoke about meeting a woman in Georgetown who promised to take them to the interior to work as bartenders. While they were on their way in, they alleged, they were raped by policemen. Before reaching the police station, they said, they were asked to hide under some zinc in a truck but at the station one of them made noise and the police officers searched the vehicle and found them. When they could not provide their identification cards, the policemen said they would have to remain at the station. However, after speaking to the woman they were with, the officers indicated that they wanted to have sex and they picked out the two girls. Even though they refused, they were taken into two separate rooms at the station and raped by the lawmen.
Sometime after, the policemen visited 14 Miles and again demanded sex but the girls refused and the 16-year-old was even locked in a room by a concerned adult to ensure that the officer did not find her.
Broomes said as her group was about to leave with the teenager, the shop owner approached and started to assault the young woman who had told them what had transpired. Broomes said she immediately intervened and told the mines officer in the area was happening and suggested that the shop owner be brought out with them to the Bartica Police Station for an investigation to be launched. The mines officer instructed the woman to leave the area and she was brought out on Sunday along with the females. Broomes said as soon as they reached the station, she observed a police officer taking the woman to the back of the station. She listened in on their conversation and overheard the woman telling the officer, “dem girls talk everything”. She contacted the commander of the area and shortly after the officer-in-charge of the station arrived along with other officers. It was then that the rescued teenager identified the very policeman who had been talking with the shop owner as the one who had forced sex with her.
A confrontation was held in the presence of Broomes and the child insisted that the officer had sex with her. The second officer who had forced sex with the older female was also taken to the station and he is also under close arrest.
The group also found a 14-year-old who was there with her mother. The woman said the child was not there to work as a prostitute but it was pointed out that the area was no place for a child. The mother told the women miners that she owned a dredge and a shop but business was bad and she had more children in the city who are hungry and she could not afford to support them. She begged them to visit her address “and provide even if it is a gallon of rice for her children.” The child was removed and is also now in state care.
Meanwhile, Broomes said she was happy that unlike their past experience the girls did not have to spend the night at the police station as Regional Chairman Gordon Bradford’s official residence, which he does not occupy, was made available and they slept there along with one of the women miners.
This arrangement was made possible following the intervention of Opposition Leader David Granger, following the previous episode where girls rescued by the GWMO from Puruni were made to sleep at the Bartica Police Station. Broomes said she plans to meet with Bradford and once the arrangement is made permanent then they would make the home more habitable for any future recued females.