The state, police and society need to put an end to the rape culture

Dear Editor,

The recent demonstration of ignorance and sexist attitudes and beliefs among the senior echelons of the police force and the publicised solicitations of sexual favours on behalf of a relative by the Attorney General, are strong indications that women, children and youth in Guyana continue to be at grave risk of being denied justice and fair, informed and impartial investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.

There is something rotten in the state of Guyana when senior law enforcement and government officials can behave as they have without immediate sanction and corrective action. If those in the highest positions of power and influence harbour such uninformed, dangerous and inaccurate attitudes and beliefs, then we have a serious crisis on our hands in the investigative and justice systems in Guyana as they relate to sexual offences.

Let us be clear: such retrograde attitudes and beliefs coupled with inadequate training result in the poor prosecution of and dismal conviction rates for sexual offences. Since the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act in 2010 there were no convictions in any of the sexual offence cases reaching the courts up to the end of 2013. Yet we are informed that there has been a 31.5% increase in reported cases of rape between January 1 and November 10, 2014 compared with the same period last year!

In light of the above, we demand that the state, national elected parliamentary representatives and the police force immediately take all possible measures to effectively sanction all behaviour such as that exhibited by Division Commander Clifton Hicken and Attorney General Anil Nandlall, and immediately take steps to educate and re-educate all government ministers, cabinet officials, parliamentarians, public sector workers and all ranks of the security forces from the top down on the Sexual Offences Act, rape myths and rape culture.

There is a common belief that rape is about sex. This is a myth. Rape is an act of violence and is about anger, power, control, domination, humiliation and degradation.

The state, the police and we as a society need to put an end to a rape culture that is fuelled by victim blaming, trivializing sexual offences, tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace, assuming falsely that only ‘promiscuous,’ ‘easy’ and ‘fast’ girls and women get sexually assaulted, and minimizing the physical and psychological trauma of rape and other sexual assaults. By not speaking out against such beliefs and attitudes, we create the environment in which sexual assault and rape is accepted and in which sexual violence against women, children and youth is normalized and excused in communities, workplaces, state institutions, faith-based organisations, the security forces, and throughout all sectors of society.

We applaud the excellent statement speedily issued by APNU on this matter. We need more such statements from those in positions of power and influence.

Yours faithfully,

Danuta Radzik

Denise Dias

Gaitrie Shivsankar

Niveta Shivjattan

Margaret Kertzious

Josephine Whitehead

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