Challenging Sexual Violence: Some considerations

By The Caribbean Voice  

 

The Caribbean Voice is a New York-based

NGO that has been involved in social

activism since its launch in 1998.

 

While the statistics are neither comprehensive nor chronological, they do indicate that sexual violence in Guyana has been escalating: a rise of one-third in rape reports (117 to 154) occurred between 2000-2004 and a 16-fold rise in statutory rapes (two to 34). According to an April 2008 report co-authored by Everychild, an international children’s rights organization, and Help and Shelter, an estimated 8-10% of girls and 25% of boys in Guyana were sexually abused. The rape rate in 2010 was 15.5 per 100,000, which translated into 124 rapes for that year – an almost four-fold increase over 2004 figures. Also, for 2014, there were more than 150 cases of rape reported, while from January to July 2013, there were 179 reported cases. More than 300 sexual abuse cases were reported to the Ministry of Social Protection by September for the year 2015. And the Guyana Police Force recorded a 68 percent increase in rape (243 cases) from January 1 to July 31, 2015 (statistics show that law enforcement officials receive reports of sexual violence almost on a daily basis). As well, of the more than 60 percent of women involved in a relationship or union, 12.7 percent experienced sexual violence (media reports, year not given).

A 2007 report by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) analyzed sexual crimes between 2000 and 2004 and found that 92 per cent of all rape victims were females, 43 per cent were in the 12 to 15 age group, and 26 per cent were in the one to 12 age group. It also found that Amerindian girls between 12 to 16 years were the most vulnerable group nationally. And, over the last four years or so there have been at least eight reported cases of elderly women found murdered, all of them after being raped. Also it should be noted that while these figures are alarming, most rape cases go unreported because of the stigma and  discrimination attached to it in Guyana’s society; in Guyana rape is still considered taboo, too shameful to be made publicly known, especially since a significant percentage of rapes is incestuous.

Additionally, according to the Guyana Chronicle Editorial of Sept 27, 2016, “…the media is often inundated with stories or allegations of child sexual abuse; but for every one story that gets reported, there are often several which do not make it into the sphere of public knowledge, or even the confidence of those closest to the victim.” The editorial adds, “There are, however, instances when victims break through the cloak of secrecy concerning child sexual abuse and divulge to family members or those close to them details about the abuse they would have suffered; but those cases are often allowed to go unreported for reasons such as refusal to believe, or because the abuser is someone whom the confidant/confidante respects or is dependent upon.”

Actually, the 2007 GHRA report found that more than two-thirds of sexual assault crimes occurred in the homes of the victims while three out of four perpetrators were known to victims and one in every five perpetrators were related to their victims. And, fathers, stepfathers and father-figures are responsible for over 67% of family-related sexual violence.

Against this background of increasing sexual violence and crimes, there has been an average conviction rate of 1.4 per cent in rape cases compared to rape reports originally made to the police. Additionally, from 2011 to 2015 there were no convictions for sexual offences.  A March 30th editorial in a local newspaper referred to one such case, “Monday’s acquittal of Wesley Carlos Payne, called “Piggy,” who had been on trial for the rape of a nurse in a ward at the Wismar Hospital in 2008, points to a seeming, continuous and alarming lack of quality investigation and prosecution. This is compounded by the fact that because of a backlog in the judicial system, cases take years to be heard in the High Court…”

Added the editorial, “The man who forced himself into the hospital’s casualty ward on the night of September 10, 2008, where two nurses were on duty overlooking two patients, wore no shirt, had his face covered, but his eyes exposed. He raped and robbed one of the nurses and robbed the other, and though they were unable to see his face, they both heard his voice as he had given them several commands. They testified that they heard the same voice when the accused spoke. No credence seemed to have been given to this, even though it is a fact that the trauma of the experience would have made the man’s voice unforgettable.”

In effect, factors impacting the low conviction rate, include lack of rape kits at hospitals; sloppy investigations; flimsy evidence; a biased jury system; shoddy prosecution; reluctance of victims to give witness because of fear or other factors; discontinuance of cases owing to unwillingness of victims to pursue the matter and the length of time that it takes for a case to be tried, which often causes complainants to walk away rather than give evidence and be cross-examined as these can open old wounds. The fact is that no person, who has experienced the horror of being raped should have to wait years and years for justice. While it will not help with healing, knowing their attackers are locked away can bring some modicum of comfort to rape survivors.

As well, in many cases the victims are bought off, with police often fostering the ‘deal’ for commissions. Sometimes families are also bought off after being intimidated, especially if the rapist is politically connected or comes from a family with wealth, status and influence. The Chronicle editorial referenced above, also stated, “Reluctance to break this silence not only stems from fear on part of the victim, but also due to conditioned impulses and thoughts. There is also the fact that not many adults point out the dangers which perpetually exist around children, and this often results in children blaming themselves for what has happened, believing that they had some part to play in being abused.”

Also, issues such as poverty (children who are more deprived, poorer, and from dysfunctional homes are much more susceptible to rape and sexual abuse) and complicity involving law enforcement officers impact both the under reporting of rape and the conviction of rapists. Furthermore, the Sexual Offences Act is still to be given teeth and too many police still do not enforce its provisions; in fact, sensitivity training with respect to the Sexual Offences Act, is still to be widely implemented. In effect, there are really very little safeguard and protection against rapists across Guyana.

The Chronicle editorial cited above, added, “There, however, exists a collective way people tend to think about rape. With hundreds of cases being reported every year, many trivialize and normalize child sexual abuse as they believe that the culture of abuse is not as thriving as it appears. This belief exists not only at a community level, but also at the level of institutions, as has been seen (in 2016) in (former) Social Protection Minister, Volda Lawrence’s unwavering support for alleged child molester, Winston Harding, and in a release sent out from her ministry — tasked with child safety, protection and helping victims of rape — labelling child sexual abuse as an act of “deflowering.””

Amidst all of this, emerge very disturbing trends. The rape/murder of the elderly is one such trend. Another is the rape of, resulting in serious injuries, to small children less than 10 years old and as young as a few months old. A third trend is the rape of teenagers, many of who end up pregnant (Guyana has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Caribbean), forever changing their lives and often times putting an end to dreams and aspirations. In some cases, sex may have been consensual but the reality is that sex with anyone under 16 is statutory rape. Yet a fourth trend is that more and more priests (of various religious persuasions) are becoming rapists. The latest example, mentioned in the media on March 31, is that of a pastor convicted for raping a six-year-old girl, in June 2007. Unsurprisingly, the child’s mother did not believe her, but fortunately another relative did.

The Caribbean Voice emphasizes that parents should never dismiss any allegations of sexual abuse made by their children, that families and communities should be committed to report and expose rapists, regardless of who they may be, that there should never be desensitization of rape, especially at government level, and that every effort should be made to introduce viable mechanisms to address this scourge.

With respect to child sexual abuse, it must be noted that in 2012 and 2013, approximately 10,000 children directly benefitted from the Tell Scheme, a sensitization programme, which was developed by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, to tackle the issue of sexually abused children. The Tell Scheme, which targeted primary school children, as a method of empowering children to disclose any form of sexual abuse perpetrated against them, did result in children opening up about being sexually abused.

The Caribbean Voice strongly urges bringing back the Tell Scheme or something similar and implementing it in schools across Guyana. We also urge the placement of Child Protection Officers across the nation. A 2014 media report indicated that such officers were only placed in Regions Three, Four and Six. Media reports also reveal that the Child Protection Agency had indicated a need to start empowerment programmes targeting adolescent girls who represent the highest figure in sexual abuse cases. Hopefully that programme will soon be rolled out.

As well, specific legislation pertaining to sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution and pornography, does not exist in Guyana. Such legislation is urgently required as is the need for a registry of sexual offenders. In fact, The Caribbean Voice currently has an online petition calling for such a registry and we plead with all readers to please log on and sign the petition (which can be accessed at https://www.change.org/p/president-of-the-republic-of-guyana-establish-a-registry-for-all-sex-offenders) and to share as widely as possible. We also have printed forms that can be used to gather signatures. Please email us at caribvoice@aol.com or call 644 1152, 646 4669.

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