‘Rape Culture, we cannot pretend that it does not exist’ was the Headline of the Searchlight Newspaper of Friday 23rd August, 2019. In that news story, a psychologist attached to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital presented statistics for 2018 and expressed her concerns about the problem of rape in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Is there a rape culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
The New Democratic Party (NDP) has been continuously highlighting the problem of rape that has been plaguing our country. Leading up to the 2015 general elections, all of the polls that were conducted by the NDP revealed one common trend. They showed that Violence against women, including rape was the number one issue that most Vincentians were concerned about. As a result, in March 2015, our party held a successful national symposium under the theme, ‘the role of government in the advancement of women’s agenda and the elimination of violence against women’. It was at that symposium it was revealed that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was ranked third in the world for rape.
Members of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime were upset and disputed the figures that were presented at the symposium. Undoubtedly, they did not see it as a serious problem to be addressed. To show the callousness of the ULP regime to victims of rape; for instance, a young lady who shared her experience of her ordeal of rape at that symposium was criticized and ridiculed by spokespersons for the ULP on national radio. One spokesperson for the ULP government went so far and presented to the public personal information of the young lady. Further, there has been a number of allegations of rape leveled against prominent individuals in our society and it would appear that nothing has been done to address the issue. One may ask; does the government that care about addressing the problem of rape in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
Moreover, in her 2017 budget presentation, Senator Marcia Barnwell addressed the issue of rape. She called it a rape culture. She said, “There is something very nasty and ugly beneath the surface of our people; it is tearing away at the very fabric of society; and added to that there seems to be an atmosphere of dejection, hopelessness and helplessness. Statistical records from the Royal Police Force of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the offences reported for period 2015-2016 indicate that there has been 28% increase in sex offences, and of the total number of sex offences reported in 2016 there was a 27.2 % increase for sex with girls under 15 years. Further, there has been a 16% increase in sex with girls under 13 years. This is horrendous! This is painful circumstance!”
Senator Barnwell further stated, “In a 2014 regional study called Breaking the Silence conducted by Reid, Reddock and Nickenig, it was found that, ‘Most alarming, however, is that 47.6% of females and 31.9% of males described their first intercourse as forced or somewhat coerced and attributed blame to family members or persons known to their family.’ The rape culture that is rooted in our nation must be eliminated if we are to save this nation! We must lead the way against this scourge that afflict the region and the world. Our National Development Plan states that, ‘If women are left, then half the world is left out’. Let’s save our girls, so that they can be the best women of tomorrow!”
In order to support and empower our women and strengthen our families, the NDP will: review the functioning of the Family Court and all legislation connected with Domestic Violence and violence against women to, among other things, increase the power of the Family Court to include the imposition of criminal sanctions for domestic abuse and expand the scope of the Family Court to encourage mediation and alternative dispute resolution and conflict resolution in family situations; revise and broaden the police training manual to include training for all police recruits in domestic violence and human trafficking; implement the mandatory use of rape kits in medical examinations of rape victims at all district clinics and hospitals; and make mandatory the reporting by all medical personnel of births to minors at hospitals and clinics or wheresoever that birth may take place.
We will also begin to collect data relative to domestic violence, and violence against women nationally including its dissemination to the public; institute and enforce a code of conduct within the public service at all levels that provides for protocol on reporting sexual offences including sexual harassment in the workplace; respect for the women and girls in our society must be a part of how this government conducts itself. We will implement the Social and Spiritual Redemption Charter to provide women and children with proactive opportunities at the community level and make education programs available on public and social media.
The NDP will support the welfare service so that it can better address the needs of vulnerable women and children; restructure and improve the Foster Care System; support community projects that include continuing education and skills training, especially those targeting young parents; engage with single mothers, and especially single mothers who are farmers, to address issues that are specific to them as a group; provide incentives for employers whose working hours create challenges to the safety of women traveling to and from work, to address these issues and partner with NGOs to offer hotline services and support for women, children and young people who are at risk.
There are several challenges facing our women and children that have not been addressed during the past eighteen years by this government. These include the increasing sexual assaults suffered by women and children. The NDP is committed to working with all stakeholders which will assist to solve the problem of rape and violence against our women and children.