Editor: In St. Vincent and the Grenadines (“SVG”) we have a culture of sexual violence.
The World Health Organization (“WHO”) in its 2002 “World Report on Violence and Health”, defines sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work”.
From this definition, we can see that the term sexual violence covers a wide range of acts and can take place in different circumstances and settings. It includes but is not limited to acts such as rape within marriage or dating relationships; rape by strangers; systematic rape during armed conflict; unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment, including demanding sex in return for favours; sexual abuse of mentally or physically disabled people; sexual abuse of children; forced marriage or cohabitation, including the marriage of children; denial of the right to use contraception or to adopt other measures to protect against sexually transmitted diseases; forced abortion; violent acts against the sexual integrity of women, including female genital mutilation and obligatory inspections for virginity; forced prostitution and trafficking of people for the purpose of sexual exploitation; and various acts directed against a person’s sexuality.
Many of the aforementioned acts are prevalent in SVG. We have seen the headlines, some of us have witnessed the court cases, and others have had their share of experiences with sexual violence in SVG.
By now I hope that we would all be able to appreciate that anyone can be a victim of sexual violence. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman, young or old, rich or poor.
Especially vulnerable are women and girls, who are usually most affected by sexual violence.
In some countries, nearly one in four women may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner, and up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced.
Women and girls in SVG make up the majority of persons who report being directly affected by sexual violence. However, we must not forget our men and boys, who are oftentimes victims of sexual violence as well but may be hesitant to be as transparent as women and girls for several reasons.
Just like victims, perpetrators of sexual violence don’t have a face. It could be anyone. It could be a government minister, a religious leader, a family member, and even the persons who are supposed to protect us and investigate crimes, police officers.
At its core, sexual violence is a violation of human rights. These are the rights that we are all born with. We don’t need any government, minister, employer, family, or friends to give us them. The very fact that we are human and exist, means that we have human rights.
Many of these rights are enshrined domestically in SVG’s Constitution. Moreover, apart from our domestic laws, SVG has signed, ratified, and/or acceded to multiple international treaties that guarantee the protection of human rights under the United Nations Human Rights System and the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights. These treaties give rise to a number of obligations upon states, including SVG, to respect, promote, protect and prevent human rights violations.
Unfortunately, in SVG we are in trouble! Serious trouble! Many of our laws fall short of internationally recognized best practices and therefore do not properly protect our people from sexual violence! Many of our human rights are therefore in constant danger of being violated!
Some of these shortcomings are that we have a Domestic Violence Act where domestic violence isn’t even a crime and a protection order that can only be granted for a maximum period of three (3) years. Is the violence supposed to magically end after three (3) years?
Moreover, the Domestic Violence Act does not explicitly protect persons in same-sex relations. Is it that same-sex relationships do not exist in SVG, or if they exist, these persons do not experience domestic violence?
We also have a state of affairs in SVG, where there is no comprehensive law addressing the issue of sexual harassment. A very common and frequent evil occurring in this supposedly multi-island state some call paradise. A paradise for who? Women and girls oftentimes walk the streets of SVG in fear and are harassed day in and day out. To make matters worse, some persons cannot even get peace at work, where they may then be further harassed by an employer or be asked to perform sexual favours in order to gain some form of upward mobility at work. And let us not forget the constant harassment that LGBTQIA+ persons or those who are perceived to be such, receive in SVG! Harassing persons due to their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation is also a form of sexual harassment. Some forms of sexual harassment in SVG are so common that some people may think it is normal and/or a part of our culture! All such thoughts must be strenuously rejected!
Furthermore, we can never truly address the issue of sexual violence without mentioning the outdated and inadequate Criminal Code which Vincentians have to, unfortunately, rely on in order to seek justice against various acts of sexual violence. This Code is a headache for human rights activists, advocates, and experts. Rape under this code is defined narrowly as only penile-vaginal intercourse. There is an overemphasis on the protection of women and girls to the exclusion of men and boys, which results in much of the language not being gender-neutral. Moreover, some of the penalties are not uniform for male and female offenders. For example, under the offence of incest, a male offender’s acts are somehow deemed worse than a female offender, and he is therefore liable to a higher maximum sentence. Oh, and let’s not forget the discriminatory buggery and gross indecency laws against LGBTQIA+ community which some Vincentians seem to want to hold onto for dear life! My advice is to mind what goes on in your bedroom/s and stay out of what consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own homes!
Our elected officials should hang their heads in shame, especially a government that has been in power for over twenty (20) years! But yet appears to have not done much when it comes to effectively tackling the issue of sexual violence and reforming our laws in order to better protect Vincentians from these wicked acts!
For several years now SVG has been working on a draft sexual offences bill. I plea for the delay to end and I make a renewed call for it to be quickly passed and enforced so that we may better protect our most vulnerable against sexual violence! What are the powers that be waiting for? All is certainly not well in this country!
SVG is in a sad state of affairs when it comes to the issue of sexual violence, but I have hope that as we continue to work together, we can make the change one person and one law at a time.