By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice
Rape as a very specific physical form of violence against women and girls is rooted in a complex set of patriarchal beliefs, power, and control that continue to create a social environment in which sexual violence is pervasive and normalized. Such “culture” is perpetuated with the use of misogynistic language, objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence.
Exact numbers or rapes or sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to determine due to many victims’ fears of reporting sexual abuse, frequent latitude and impunity for perpetrators and stigma towards survivors in communities and their subsequent silence. The UN says approximately 15 million adolescent girls worldwide ages 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other sexual actions. And one of every three women worldwide is estimated to have suffered either physical or sexual violence, or both, from an intimate partner, or sexual violence by a non-partner.
Behaviours commonly associated with rape include victim-blaming such as mode of dress, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of sexual harassment or assault. While the names, times and contexts may differ across geographic locations, women and girls universally experience rape, sexual violence, and abuse.
In recent years, the voices of survivors and activists, through campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore, #BalanceTonPorc, and others, have put the spotlight on this but the crescendo is yet to reach most of the world including Caribbean nations.
Who are the perpetrators?
As many as 32,559 rapes were reported in India in 2017 and the accused were known to the victims in 93.1 percent of the cases, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Of the 30,299 such cases, the accused were members of the victim’s family in 3,155. As many as 16,591 rape cases were against “family friends”, employers, neighbours or other known persons. In 10,553 cases, the accused were friends, online friends, live-in partners or separated husbands of the victims.
About 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women in the US are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date. The most common locations are the man’s or woman’s home in the context of a party or a date. The perpetrators may range from classmates to neighbors.
The numbers are part of disturbing statistics on rapes and sexual offences committed by people known to victims. In 2018, researchers at Glasgow University studied the cases of 991 women in Scotland who had faced sexual assault and rape. The study found that 90 percent of the offenders were known to the victim in various capacities such as boyfriend/lover/husband, family, employer, neighbour or associate.
A recent UN-supported research on the Caribbean found that in Guyana, most women reporting sexual intimate partner violence reported being forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to and nearly as many women reported having sexual intercourse with their partner because they were afraid to refuse. On the other hand, one in every five women in Guyana reported non-partner sexual abuse in their lifetime; with a significant number experiencing this abuse before the age of 18.
One-fifth of Jamaican women reported being sexually abused before reaching 18 years of age. Further one in seven women reported that their first sexual experience was before the age of 15 years. Under Jamaican law, the age of consent is 16 years old; any sexual intercourse under that age is statutory rape.
The Suriname gender-based violence prevalence survey revealed that the prevalence of non-partner sexual violence among all women is almost double that of sexual intimate partner violence. In Trinidad and Tobago, the prevalence of non-partner sexual abuse is almost four times higher than that of sexual intimate partner violence.
While similar information is not available for the rest of the Caribbean, a content analysis of media shows a growing trend towards rape and sexual abuse of children with the vast majority of the perpetrators being family members or family friends. Another trend also indicated by media content analysis is marital rape and more as more and more women are raped by their spouse or partner.
Why people don’t report Sexual assault?
The Jamaica Gleaner not too long ago reported that ‘Incest is Alive’ in Jamaica. That headline can well apply to all Caribbean nations, especially so because it is deeply hidden, victims will generally not report it because the perpetrator will be a father, brother, uncle, grandfather or cousin and the stigma/family honor plus threats to victims, appeals to their emotions and dependency on perpetrators
Non-reporting is the norm when it comes to sexual assault. According to the US-based Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network statistics, only one in three sexual assaults is ever reported to the police. College students report a mere 20 percent of their sexual assaults — elderly victims, 28 percent. In the Caribbean, both figures may be much higher.
A survivor’s relationship to the offender plays a key role in the likelihood of reporting. Research by the US Bureau of Justice statistics indicates that if the perpetrator is or once was the survivor’s intimate partner, the victim will report the crime 25 percent of the time. When the offender is a friend or an acquaintance, 18 to 40 percent of the assaults are reported. If the offender is a stranger, victims report assaults roughly half of the time. Empirical gathered by The Caribbean Voice indicates that the figures may be higher for the Caribbean.
Why don’t victims bring charges against their accusers?
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, sexual assault survivors don’t come forward because of :
- Fear retaliation on self and family;
- Believe the police won’t believe them or wouldn’t do anything to help them;
- Feel the assault was a personal matter;
- Believe it was not important enough to report;
- Don’t want the offender to get in trouble;
- Don’t want their families or anyone to know;
- Don’t have enough proof;
- Are unsure of the perpetrator’s intent.
Besides, victims may feel responsible for what happened to them and/or are embarrassed about their lack of knowledge or judgment. They might feel guilty that they had too much to drink or were engaging in risky, inappropriate behavior. And young victims living at home might worry that their parents will be angry and unsupportive. In the Caribbean shame and the desire to protect family honor are also reasons that may hinder victims from coming forward
Unfortunately, keeping sexual assault a secret interferes with the survivors’ healing and empowers the predator who might well continue with that behavior. By sharing the trauma with supportive professionals, friends or family members, they can begin to reclaim their lives and bodies, eventually move past the pain and ensure that sexual predators are brought to justice and others are protected from them.
What to say to someone who was sexually assaulted?
The US Rape, Assault & Incest National Network suggests using these specific phrases when talking with someone who discloses she or he was sexually assaulted. “I believe you. It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
Victims may feel ashamed and worried they’ll be discounted. The best thing you can do is listen and believe them. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind them that they are not to blame. “You are not alone. I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
Provide a safe space for the telling of their stories. Assess if there are others in their life who can also be supportive. “I’m sorry this happened. This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
Acknowledge that the experience has been traumatic and has negatively impacted their lives. Statements such as “This must be really tough for you” and “I’m so glad you’re sharing it with me” encourage further communication and let them know you care.
And if the victim is a child, parents and caregivers must always believe what children say. Immediately establish a plan with other adults so that unsupervised contact with the person who has been abused is eliminated. Help the child understand that the person who abused him/her did something wrong and that this person needs help to stop hurting others. Pay close attention to the child’s cues about what he or she may need to feel safe. You can also help the child feel safe by demonstrating your willingness to protect their privacy. And get help immediately.
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