Submitted by Tricia Teekah
On the occasion of International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, I am hoping the discussion on rape does not end. I have noted the apology from the Commander, but the issue remains worrisome.
Guyana National Youth Council Press Release (12/21)
‘A’ Division Commander’s recent statement on Rape Incidents
The Guyana National Youth Council has noted with great concern the statements made by ‘A’ Division Commander, Clifton Hicken, concerning what he sees as a correlation between women’s attire and their likelihood of being raped.
In a press release published on 2014.11.19, Guyana Police Force Public Relations and Press Officer Ivelaw Whittaker followed this statement by affirming that the press and the general public had taken Commander Hicken’s statement out of context. According to the Stabroek News (2014.11.18), Commander Hicken stated that our society creates an atmosphere for committing the crime of rape and that women should “embrace an attire that would be morally acceptable” as a deterrent to rape. While only Commander Hicken can truly say what the intent of his words were, the effect of those words is clear: to express the sentiment that women bear a significant proportion of the blame for sexual assaults committed against them. Even if we are to give Commander Hicken and Mr. Whittaker the benefit of the doubt that no moral judgment was being passed on women and how they choose to dress, and that the Division Commander was making practical recommendations for how women might protect themselves, the recommendation by Commander Hicken is not grounded in research concerning how and why rape is committed.
According to Mr. Whittaker, Commander Hicken bases his argument on “discussions among elements of criminal groups regarding sexual assaults they would have committed”. Regrettably, it would seem as though Commander Hicken’s gives a great deal of weight to the testimony of rapists, men possibly seeking to explain away, lessen and/or justify their own crimes. One wonders if provocative attire was a contributing factor to the rape and murder of 90-year old Cove & John resident Millicent Adriana Cummings, as reported by the Guyana Times on April 13, 2013, or the numerous young children and teenagers who are raped. Were they dressed in a provocative or “morally unacceptable” manner? Both women and men of all ages can be victims of rape and sexual abuse. Though most reports in the media highlight the fact that women are victims of such violence, we must remind ourselves this is a problem facing both sexes. If it is suggested that the way women dress has anything to do with the likelihood they will be met with such violence, is it being suggested the same is true for the men and boys who are victims of rape?
There have been several accusations and charges levelled at members of the Guyana Police Force including a former Commissioner with the most recent case reported on November 8, 2014 by Kaieteur News. This report shared that Police Corporal Hufford David was being sentenced to four years’ jail for raping and forcing a 14 year old girl into prostitution. As Division Commander in a Force already trying to deal with the sexual misconduct of its own ranks, those looking to Commander Hicken for guidance should be met with a more positive and supportive message.
Guyana is signatory to more than 15 international agreements on Human Rights with the same number of legislative acts and amendments locally designed to enshrine and preserve the rights of women. These include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW – 1980) and the Sexual Offences Act 2010. The National Policy for Women also sets out the inclusion of the issue of gender equity on the national agenda.
It is condemnable that we live in a society which can be so recklessly uninformed of circumstances surrounding sexual assault, that some would wholeheartedly support the idea that there is a direct correlation between ‘provocative dress’ and rape. We must not default to a culture of victim blaming which both prevents persons from speaking out about sexual abuse as well as adds miles to the road of recovery and the search for justice.
In considering Commander Hicken’s statement and the resulting public outrage, what is less talked about is the manifestation of a larger problem. We saw this many weeks ago in the statements made by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandalall, concerning a female reporter. These cases are dissimilar in their implications but similar in that the men at the centre of these utterances exhibited a gross disrespect for and objectification of women.
Perspectives such as these exist for many historic and cultural reasons which include inherited structural conditions, gender role expectations, and the fundamental exercise of power in a patriarchal society. Confronting rape myths demands a critical examination of the data and re-evaluating knowledge in the face of social facts. Research has found that the vast majority of rapes are planned. Rape is the crime of the rapist, not the fault of the victim. Rapists look for victims they perceive as vulnerable, and are attracted to their victim for various reasons that cannot be
Where we cannot fault Commander Hicken, is in his observation that our society does seem to be creating the atmosphere where the crime of rape flourishes. Where Guyana’s rape conviction record stands at 1.4%, in an environment where proper investigative work is uncommon, and in a justice system which does not offer adequate protection to a rape victim, we must pause and examine the other factors that contribute to the creation of a rape culture.
Take into account a male-dominated local entertainment industry that promotes songs such as “Kick In She Back Door” and the myriad of obscene dancehall songs; there is a relentless stream of images and music encouraging the sexual objectification of women. What impact does this have on rape culture? Does it promote the necessary attitudinal change in men and boys highlighted by the National Policy on Women? Let these be the conversations we have, to alter the trends that we can – let’s not indulge in victim blaming of any form or fashion.
No person, whatever their behaviour or dress, deserves to be raped. Women deserve to live in a society free of fear in this regard, and we must all work together to promote a rape-free society. As we near International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day on the 25th November, the Council calls on the Commissioner to not only retract his statement but to also issue a public apology to the women of Guyana. It is necessary that a commitment to protecting our women (whatever their choice of dress) is reaffirmed, particularly from an institution that is sworn to protect and serve. Further, the Council calls on all, particularly all the relevant Government authorities, to implement and enforce the Sexual Offences Act 2010, to safeguard and protect the rights of women.
The Guyana National Youth Council
A Network of Youth and Youth Organizations