We have to be doing something wrong. There can be no other explanation for the dangerous lives our women and girls continue to live each day despite the attempts being made at empowerment and education. The case of Omwattie Gill, who was struck down and then stabbed and chopped to death by her estranged husband at Corentyne, Berbice weeks ago in front of witnesses is an example of just how hazardous their lives are.
Mrs Gill was only 21 years old, the mother of a 7-month-old daughter and had been a victim of domestic violence, which had led to her leaving her marital home and obtaining a restraining order. However, she was not savvy enough to know that she also needed to either disappear or learn to somehow dodge oncoming vehicles being driven straight at her. These actions must of necessity now be added to the list of things women and girls have to do to guarantee their survival.
Not surprisingly, comments are already being made by some to seemingly absolve the man who perpetrated this crime: that he had used drugs or alcohol before committing it. According to some pundits, ‘no man in his right mind’ would do such a thing, especially in broad daylight. At the risk of upsetting the anti-drugs/anti-alcohol lobby, neither is to blame for Mrs Gill’s death. Drugs and alcohol may or may not have been used and if they were then it was to build ‘Dutch courage’ to commit the act. The facts are that Mrs Gill had dared to walk away, had dared to decide for herself, had dared to choose to leave a life of violence and in doing so, she had become a marked woman.
Mrs Gill was murdered on March 30 and between then and now, there has been a spate of bad news surrounding women and girls. On March 31, a West Coast Berbice pensioner, Bhagwandai Deonarine, also known as ‘Deeda’, died after she was turned into a human torch in her own backyard. The woman lived alone. Two years ago, a man had broken into her home and viciously assaulted her, leaving her with a blood clot in the head and four broken teeth. There were no witnesses to her torching, but the police have arrested a man who was seen at her place on the day she died.
About a week later, a Bartica businesswoman, Ava Abrams, was allegedly shot and injured by her reputed husband, a licensed firearm holder who has since been arrested. It was reported that the two had been involved in an argument outside the woman’s place of business when she was shot.
Since then, a West Coast Berbice woman, 69-year-old Jocelyn Jameer of Tempe Village was found dead with her throat slit. Further, an Essequibo businesswoman, Nazarene Haniff of Onderneeming was discovered dead in her home; the place had been ransacked. Meanwhile, Roopnarine Persaud, who battered the mother of his two children in the head with a soft drinks carton as he threatened to end her life was sentenced to just 18 months in jail.
Over the same period, three men were charged separately with raping three minor girls. None of the incidents occurred this year; they were all from 2018. One was in March, one in August and the third between September and October. Two of the girls were 15 years old and one was 9 years old. Clearly, these charges took months to investigate and the trials are likely to take even longer. It was only earlier this month that a sentence of 26 years in prison ended the case of a child rape that took place in March 2014.
What has not ended and perhaps never will, is the horror and hurt the then 7-year-old would have endured as her innocence was brutally taken, more so by someone who was apparently a member of her community. While from all appearances this particular child would have received counselling and it may have helped somewhat with the hurt, research has shown that the trauma has long-lasting effects.
In fact, childhood sexual abuse has been linked to post-traumatic stress disorders, including depression, anxiety, dissociative patterns and sexual and relationship problems among others that in some instances continue throughout the life of the survivor. There are also physical effects that include but are not limited to the child contracting a sexually transmitted disease, exhibiting self-destructive behaviour, and in some instances having an impaired immune system as a result of deep depression, which puts them at risk for many infections.
It would seem that these things should have a bearing on child rape cases, but unfortunately, sentencing takes no cognisance of any scientific evidence that might be seen as extraneous to the case at hand. Whether such evidence might be a consideration appears to be a moot point as no prosecutor has ever been diligent enough to attempt to introduce same. This is not an indictment on their passion for prosecuting, but an observation that they seem to be content just to get a conviction. This is also seen in domestic violence murder cases, where after a number of years, the accused is allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, which carries a lower sentence.
This negates the law acting as a deterrent to such crimes and increases the danger that women and girl children face on a daily basis.
A series of position papers by ChildLink, the final of which was presented earlier this month at the University of Guyana, argues for better mental health care for abused children, but this is after the fact. Given the prevalence of all forms of abuse, Guyana has a substantial number of physically, emotionally and mentally wounded adults who are expected to function normally. We can only hope that those in authority see the danger in this and that necessary actions are taken.