We can’t pretend a rape culture does not exist – psychologist
by Lyf Compton
St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has a rape culture and to combat it, we must talk about it.
“We cannot pretend it does not exist,” said Kimberley Cambridge, a psychologist attached to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH).
Cambridge made this assertion on Tuesday while speaking at a workshop hosted by the Psychology Department in the Ministry of Health. The workshop targeted persons working in the education sector here. The meeting had as its main agenda item, child sexual abuse in SVG, as efforts increase to create awareness about the issue.
Cambridge, who told the gathering before she began that the nature of what she was about to say was very graphic and persons could leave if they wanted to, said the statistics in relation to sexual abuse of women and children of both genders in SVG are startling and on the rise.
She said that between January 2018 and January 2019, 47 new cases of rape were reported to her department. Of the 47, 40 were girls under the age of 18 and in one case, the victim was a male under the age of 12. The victims came from 35 different communities.
“So, this isn’t localized. There is rape happening everywhere…there have been four, and three-year-olds…children I have had to have conversations with; toddlers, about sexual abuse. It’s disheartening…six, 10, 12-year-olds”, Cambridge said.
She said many people do not want to talk about the issue, but it must be addressed in order to fight it.
“This conversation is an inconvenient truth. We do not like to talk about it; it’s not comfortable to talk about. Its makes us feel sick inside to know that we might know a man or a young man or somebody’s son or maybe our son who might be interfering with people’s children, but we have to have these talks; we have to have these inconvenient truths put into our faces so that change can be made,” Cambridge said.
The psychologist said that the problem does not exist in SVG alone, but when the statistics are compared (per capita) to several other countries in the region, SVG has one of the highest reported incidents of rape, 112 per 100,000.
She said the psychology department of the MCMH sees on average two new rape victims per week, but the numbers may be higher as those are cases that come to the outpatient department and those numbers do not take into consideration the rape cases seen on the wards at the MCMH.
“…Because some of the cases do not come back, they don’t come back…and I would let you know, we are well on the way of making that amount (112 per 100,000) for 2019 based on the stats we have accumulated here,” said Cambridge.
“This is not a conversation that we like to have in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but it is something that prevails,” Cambridge said.
She said the term ‘rape culture’ means that there is an environment where rape is prevalent, and in SVG, that is the case. She further stated that rape culture also means that sexual violence is normalized and excused in popular culture and that happens in SVG.
“We joke about it, we encourage it through the use of the language we have, we objectify women’s bodies. Some of you, you can’t walk down the road without being harassed by somebody, they always have something to say…sexual violence if you don’t answer them, they tell you exactly what they going to do to you.
“So genuinely and generally, the safety of a woman’s body is being disregarded, so you have to really be on the alert at all times,” said Cambridge.
Cambridge also stated that ‘rape culture’ means that when it comes to actual sexual violence against women, the victim of the crime is usually blamed for the assault committed towards them and this also happens in SVG.
She said when children approach adults with sexual abuse issues, the types of question and the things said to them have to be very clear and the children must be made to believe that the adults know they are speaking the truth.
Questions like: “What were you wearing?” and “Why were you out so late at night?” should not be asked.
And things like, “I thought you had a boyfriend before,” should not be said. Children should also not be told that they are “fast”.
Cambridge said when victims are seen at the hospital after very traumatic experiences, the victims do not want to tell anyone because of the shame, and the thought that no one believes them, while they also run from re-traumatization. She said that girls would also say things like, “mommy is going to say is my fault because I was sexually active before.”
“All these things are what is perpetuated throughout society. We blame the victims. That’s rape culture and you have to ensure that you are not part of it so that the children can actually reach out to you to get help.
“We trivialise sexual assault, by saying things like ‘boys will be boys’. We make sexually explicit jokes. We are tolerant of sexual harassment. We define womanhood as being sexually submissive and manhood as sexually aggressive,” said Cambridge who noted that this is part of the problem while we also have here, a lot of male rape that is not reported.
“The media has an important role to play in rape culture. You have to call out rape for what it is; it’s rape, you don’t sugar coat it, say anything to make anybody feel good,” said Cambridge.
She said we must be literate about the way we frame the language of abuse in children and look at spreading awareness while speaking out about the “joking attitudes” that we have when it comes to sexual abuse.
She said that another statistic says that the first sexual experience of girls younger than 12 is forced in 42.8 per cent of cases and this is a huge number.
“Child sexual abuse occurs across all social and economic backgrounds and age groups, homes, schools and on the street,” Cambridge stated.