Twenty-year-old university student Juan Pablo Pernalete was killed during anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela after he was shot in the chest with a tear gas canister.
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RAPE THE SILENT CRY
There is no doubt about it—rape is one of the dirtiest deeds in the world. Rape, as we know it, is as old as civilisation itself. While the common definitions offered for rape is that it is sexual intercourse/taking by force/penetration, initiated by one or more people against another person without that person’s consent, this is a cut-and–dried definition that fails to really relay the physical and mental scarring that accompanies it. While we do know that in all the reported incidents of rape, sexual intercourse is carried out by physical force, coercion, and abuse of authority that by itself fails to also address the mental agony and the stigma that is associated with the victim.
What is evident, though, is that in nearly all countries of the world, reported incidents of rape have been increasing rapidly. Internet statistics reveal, for instance, that internationally the incidence of rapes recorded by the police during the year 2010 varied between 0.2 in Azerbaijan per 100,000 people, and 92.9 per 100,000 people in Botswana, with 6.3 per 100,000 people in Lithuania as the median. What is surprising, though, is that the country that ranks first for the highest reported incidence of rape is the United States of America. In 2011, for instance, 83,425 cases of rape were reported. Indeed, it is alleged that in that country every 6.2 minutes a woman is raped. In the Caribbean, too, we are not free from the scourge of rape. Indeed, 48 per cent of Caribbean girls who have had sex reported that their first encounter was “forced,” in other words, they were more or less raped. Sources have also cited a United Nations/World Bank report showing that the Caribbean has three of the top ten recorded rape rates in the world.
According to this report, the country that tops the list is the Bahamas, where the number of reported rapes is almost 15 times higher than most countries. Two other countries that have ranked in the top ten are St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica. In Jamaica, in 1989, there were 1,032 reported cases of rape and carnal abuse. This figure rose to 1,297 in 1993. Thirty-eight per cent of these victims in Jamaica in 1993 were between the ages of 18 and 25, and 44 per cent of the cases were in relation to carnal abuse of girls under 16 (taken from Violence against women in the Caribbean State and Non-State Response, Unifem, 1998). Police statistics for T&T for 1991 show that a woman is raped every 1.75 days. (As of January 2014, there have been a total of 39 reported cases of rape in this country.) While there were 142 reports of rape in 1985, only 48 per cent resulted in the laying of criminal charges. No convictions of rape were reported in that year. This disparity is also observed for 1989 when there were 239 cases of rape reported, 146 (61 per cent) of which resulted in charges of rape being laid. In that year, only ten convictions were recorded. Similar trends are observable for Barbados and Guyana. Statistics for Barbados show that in 1989, 64 reports of rape were recorded, 28 charges (43 per cent) were laid and there were no convictions. In Guyana for the year 1988, 73 reports of rape were made and 39 charges (53 per cent) of rape were laid.
Date rapes silent voices
However, it should be noted that these are the cases that were actually reported. Many cases go unreported for a number of reasons. For instance, in many universities or organisations which have halls of residence there have been incidents of what is commonly known as “date rapes.” In all the cited cases, the young women knew their attacker and were often on friendly terms with him. In most of the cases, the rape occurred either in the female’s apartment or in the male’s apartment. In many cases, it was a sleepover or a study-group session. In a number of cases, it commenced as fondling and then escalated. In all the cases, the young women felt it was their fault. In many of the cases, the young women did not go to the police or a counsellor. Nor did parents or friends know of the issue. The victims felt that people would judge them as provoking the attack rather than as the victim. They believed they would be ridiculed and scorned by their peers if they knew what had happened. They were horrified at what they thought the reaction of their parents and neighbours would be.
In addition, these young females were afraid of the attitude of the police towards women. Moreover, many felt the justice system would be either lengthy or biased or would expose them to public scrutiny and ridicule. But it is not only these date rapes that go unreported. Sometimes the public gets one small peek at rapes occurring in the household and the speculation is that where there is one case exposed perhaps ten more go unreported or does not meet the eye of the public. No doubt these cases join the silent voices of many others. The issue of unreported rape cases, though, is one that should be given more attention. No doubt the justice system and the attitude of the police deter many people from reporting the incidents, but another factor should also be given serious attention, namely the society. Does society, for instance, have something to do with the way men view women? Or is it that the society places a stigma on women who are raped? Are there different yardsticks for men as opposed to women? Is it that the laxity of the laws with respect to pornography one of the many causal factors? Does the society and its impact on family life have any relationship with rape? It is evident, though, that the issue of rape, unreported as well as reported, must once more be aired thoroughly. If we fail to do so, the silent cries will continue to be unheard.
Ann Marie Bissessar
(Professor, Public Management)