On July 24th, Voices Against Violence (the collection of organizations and entities that spearhead the Annual National Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, to be held on September 9th this year) sent an email to media across Guyana, with a link to a Facebook post alleging rape by a Route #42 mini bus driver. It was our hope that all media would have, at least, carried an article on the allegation, if not do their own investigative reporting, since the person making the allegation was identifiable via her FB page.
As far as we are aware, only one newspaper carried a report, but it was not investigative. Now we hope the police would contact the newspaper to get the FB link and carry out an investigation, so that any possible recurrence of an incident like that alleged would not happen.
A few weeks ago we had sent another email to selected media with three FB links and supporting photos alleging gender based violence. Unfortunately none of the newspapers published any reports on any of the allegations. But aren’t these the kinds of issues that media needs to highlight, if not investigate, as part of their social responsibility? When alleged victims are too scared to go to the police shouldn’t the media be their recourse, if others choose to inform the media of the allegations?
The fact is that social media on the whole and FB in particular are dotted with allegations of rape and abuse, but often, when we are able to contact the alleged victims they refuse to talk and/or to take action. Voices Against Violence has also learned of several cases including one of a young lady allegedly raped and murdered by a businessman who then allegedly bribed the police to drop the case. We learnt about this long after the fact, but because no details were provided we could not go to the media or the police.
The Caribbean Voice has also encountered many cases with the same kind of responses. In fact we particularly recall a case whereby a woman was badly beaten by her husband because she set up an appointment with a counselor for both of them, so they could work towards resolving issues that had arisen in their relationship. The husband brutalized her because he felt she should not have done that and that he did not need counseling because there was nothing wrong with him. In fact, The Caribbean Voice has found that Guyanese on the whole are very skeptical of counseling, with some thinking that’s only for ‘mad people’ and some alleging that counselors do not hold to confidentiality. Oftentimes, when we deal with cases, they make it clear that they only want The Caribbean Voice to provide counseling, and they absolutely refuse to contact the Suicide Helpline.
This particular woman approached The Caribbean Voice for help but she refused to go to the police whom she did not trust. So, in collaboration with another NGO we persuaded her to seek medical help at the Georgetown Public Hospital where she was kept for treatment. It was our hope that once she was treated and discharged we would still be able to persuade her to go to the police. Sadly she took self-discharge from the hospital without our knowledge and took her life.
There can be no doubt that lack of trust in the police is a huge issue in Guyana and something that the police top brass and the Minister of Public Security need to urgently address, not in a piecemeal ad hoc manner but via an ongoing, concerted campaign.
However, the media can play a significant role in helping victims to get justice and counseling as well as encourage the general public to become reporters by responding to all reports sent to them. Social responsibility aside, there are the issues of humanity and conscience, of helping to drive social change, of the watchdog role encompassing social issues and of reportage that concretely serves the population.
So both Voices Against Violence and The Caribbean Voice will continue to report allegations of rape and abuse to the media with the hope that media will investigate, publicize, and liaise with police to bring perpetrators to trial. Of course we are aware that there may always be allegations that may be fake but the media and the police should be able to ferret out those.
Voices Against Violence
The Caribbean Voice