Old people say ‘If fish come out of the sea and tell you shark have teeth, believe it!’
On the matter of the incidence of rape in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), our police and our medical professionals are the fish in the sea. They constitute an unimpeachable source equipped to testify to the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in our community.
They are on the front line and deal with victims of such crimes far too frequently. Indeed, the statistics collected by our health professionals present an even more damning picture than the police reports because unfortunately, many victims of rape who seek medical attention do not go to the police because of the deep embarrassment and trauma that rape inflicts on its victims. For here in SVG and elsewhere, victims often find themselves being blamed for their rapes and are often embarrassed to reveal in court under aggressive questioning by defence lawyers the specificities of their sexual assault. So they seek medical attention and return home to deal with their trauma without any legal protections.
We certainly agree with those who have said that the ‘Rape Culture’ headline of our front page story in last Friday’s edition was sensational, but it had the desired effect – it got the attention of the nation. The facts are disturbing, alarming and yes embarrassing, but we must deal with the reality. For too long, we have swept these types of crimes under the rug. In so doing, we have shielded the criminals, and silenced their victims. Bringing light to this darkest corner of Vincentian life is the first step towards reducing the incidence of rape in SVG. And if one fewer woman is raped while out with friends, or one fewer child is violated by an adult male in their very homes, we are glad for that.
Some have rejected the idea that there is rape culture in SVG, declaring that the term is a feminist American one that does not fit the situation here. That assertion is without merit. Some countries have a very high incidence of rape and SVG is one of these. That is a fact. In our tiny country, when someone is raped, it is not uncommon for the victim to be blamed; for the harm done to be trivialized; and yes, for there to be denial about how widespread are crimes of this nature – all characteristics of rape culture. So when our professionals speak out about the high incidence of sexual assault here, and those professionals then become the subject of vile attacks by political propagandists for so doing, we send a message to others to shut up, and the culture is allowed to flourish.
In no way are we saying that this situation is unique to our country — far from it. But the facts point to a high per capita incidence of rape and sexual assault in SVG – among the highest in the region. We are entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts. And when those facts are undeniable, we have an urgent responsibility to take action to fix the situation in OUR country.
For generations, there have been whispers of payments made to the parents and caregivers of children who have been ‘interfered with’ — our euphemism for rape. And some men defend the incestuous abuse of their children by boasting that they will not ‘fatten cow for butcher.’ Such behaviour is criminal. We also have to do a mental reset about what we consider rape. The concept that a rapist is only the stranger who lurks in the dark and grabs a victim as he / she walks by is false; most rapes are committed by people the victims know.
If our headline gave offence to some for simply expressing the truth, we surely hope that it also motivates all of us to join the fight to reduce the incidence of rape and sexual assault in our beautiful country. The threat of sexual assault is very real for too many women and children in SVG. Let’s do something about that.