We, the undersigned, note with concern the circulation of videos on the social networking site, Facebook, which shows a social media personality recording himself walking up to strangers in public places and holding their hands.
Street harassment is the most common form of violence against women in Guyana and the Caribbean. Almost every woman has experienced some form of street harassment in their lifetime from catcalling, staring, stalking, physical assault or sexual assault.
Usage of social media must be done responsibly to not recreate the elements of rape culture which has made it difficult for women to stand or walk in public spaces and feel safe.
Social media must never be used to glorify or reduce street harassment and reproduce it in a whimsical way for public consumption and laughter. Too many horror stories have emerged of similar things happening to women on the bus park and in other public spaces which makes the streets unsafe for women.
Street harassment does not exist in a vacuum. Street harassment is only part of the broader spectrum of violence against women which includes whistling, staring, stalking, catcalling, rape jokes, sexual gestures, verbal abuse, inappropriate touching, physical assault, coercion, rape and murder.
Violence against women in whatever form must never be tolerated. Men must be held accountable for violence against women. Sexist and misogynist mumblings must not be allowed to stifle women’s experiences.
Based on its prevalence, the elements of street harassment have been criminalised under Section 4(1) of the Sexual Offenses Act of Guyana. Section 4(1) of the Sexual Offenses Act is not gender-specific. Men, too, can be victims of sexual violence including street harassment.
Consent, under Guyana’s law, refers to “words or overt actions by a person who is competent to give informed consent indicating a freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or other sexual contact… ”
“Sexual” under the Sexual Offenses Act of Guyana also means touching or any other activities deemed to be of a sexual nature and can include touching “with any part of the body.” Consent must be given before any sexual activity including any form of touching viewed as sexual.
For public knowledge, Section 4(3) of the Sexual Offenses Act states that “A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for five years and on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for ten years.”
Men’s role in eradicating the scourge of violence against women means listening to their stories and making conscious, sustained commitments to see where mistakes were made and to correct those mistakes for a future where men and women can peacefully coexist.
Ronelle King for Life in Leggings: Caribbean
Alliance Against Gender-based Violence
Karen Abrams for K12youthcode.com