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The approach of Carnival and the consequent ramping-up of action on the party circuit are excellent reasons for me to join the ongoing discussion about rape in the Caribbean.
A storm of criticism followed journalist Rickey Singh’s recent opinion piece in which he asked why women’s organisations and women politicians weren’t more vocal against two particular incidents of rape, one of which was the globally reported gang rape of a young woman in India.
Singh’s critics included regional feminist icon Roberta Clarke, who used the platform of her Roots and Rights blog to point out that for decades women’s organisations have been speaking and acting against rape culture in the region.
Clarke wrote that “in the face of a Caribbean popular culture that promotes a model of aggressive masculinity, the challenge to reboot socialisation towards equitable and respect-based norms is enormously complicated.
“Would it not be something for trade unions, sports clubs, chambers of commerce, religious organisations to join in, making the condemnatory statements, formulating campaigns, demanding of communities and states enhanced protection, justice and prevention of violence against women by men? “Ending violence against women requires that men as individuals and in their collectives, accept the responsibility for making change.”
It brought to mind a poster I saw on the Internet, headlined Stop Rape. The poster listed ten ways to end rape, beginning with, “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks,” and ending with, “Don’t rape.” The poster, obviously aimed at would-be rapists, was a cheeky reminder that most anti-rape propaganda is geared towards teaching women how to avoid being raped, rather than teaching would-be rapists that they shouldn’t rape.
It’s especially relevant at this time in T&T when drunken excess is the rule rather than the exception. Despite the perception that date-rape drugs like Rohypnol are the scary monsters in the closet, it’s actually plain old alcohol that is linked to more rapes than any other drug. In other words, drunk people are more likely to rape and be raped.
Another dangerous perception is that one is more at risk of rape if one is alone in a strange place. Statistics are confounded by the low reporting of rape, but what statistics there are seem to suggest that one is at least equally at risk of being raped by a friend, acquaintance or family member as by a perfect stranger.
Neither are women the only victims of rape. How many men and boys are raped remains anybody’s guess, as the under-reporting of these crimes is even more pronounced than the under-reporting by female victims. But whether the victim of rape is male or female, the underlying issue remains: would-be rapists need to made aware that they can choose not to rape.
What makes that difficult in the Caribbean is the prevalence of the idea of “aggressive masculinity” Clarke references; without wishing to paint every man as a potential rapist, I’d like to suggest that we begin to examine the ways in which males are subtly and overtly trained to take what they want, to be bold and not take no for an answer.
There is a difference between audacity and the bloody-minded conviction that everything is yours for the taking, especially when it comes to sex.
We also need to emphasise to our young people in particular that no means no—and that it works both ways. The coy games that seem hardwired into our sexuality make it difficult to re-train people to say no and mean no, and to hear no and back off.
How do you trump an almost instinctive impulse to appear hard-to-get to attract a mate, and the countervailing impulse to pursue the unattainable, under the perception that someone who is frankly interested in sex is cheap and therefore undesirable?
None of this will be straightforward or easy. There is no button to push to stop rape. It’s not going to be a cakewalk to get people to change the very way they interact in sexual situations, short of instituting the sex contracts that some US universities adopted a few years ago in an effort to stop date rape on campuses.
But honest and forthright conversation about sex and expectations has to become part of our culture if we are to stop rape. It’s Carnival. A wine might be just a wine, or it could be the start of something more. Either way, we need to start to make it clear to one another what we mean, and what we want—and what we don’t want when the party is over.
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