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Eustace questions why women are afraid to report rape, sexual abuse

Eustace questions why women are afraid to report rape, sexual abuse

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Are women in St Vincent and the Grenadines who are raped or sexually assaulted afraid to come forward because a high-level government official who was charged for rape never answered the charge in a courtroom?

That is the question being posed by Opposition New Democratic {{more}}Party (NDP) leader Arnhim Eustace.

Eustace noted this week, that Caribbean-born, Vincentian-raised women’s rights activist, Dr Peggy Antrobus, “observed that the effect of the Gonsalves (Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves) rape case is that people are afraid to come forward. The message he’s sending is, ‘we will discredit you’…”

The Opposition Leader made the comments while speaking during the NDP’s ‘Conversation with Women’ panel discussion, which was held at Democrat House at Richmond Hill yesterday.

In 2008, a female member of Gonsalves’ security detail accused him of raping her on January 3, 2008 at the Prime Minister’s residence at Old Montrose, where she was on patrol.

Two private criminal complaints were filed against Gonsalves, but they were discontinued by the Director of Public Prosecutions on February 4, 2008, who said after reviewing the evidence, there was no basis upon which Gonsalves could be charged for any of the offences as alleged.

On Monday, Eustace spoke of the incident, blaming it in part for the high rape statistics that were addressed by not only a United States of America (USA) based agency, but also by the United Nations.

Eustace said in his opinion, a collective sense of shame and outrage blanketed this nation when the 2007 United Nations (UN) report ranked St Vincent and the Grenadines third in the world for rape.

“According to Yasmin Solitahe Odlum of the Inter-American Commission, St Vincent and the Grenadines ranks highest in the OECS for the number of reported cases of rape in the period 2000 to 2010,” said Eustace.

Addressing a large gathering of women and giving statistics, Eustace said that there were 802 reported cases of rape in St Vincent during that period (2000 to 2010), while Antigua and Barbuda ranked second in the OECS with 569 cases.

Moving on from the statistics, the Opposition Leader said that we must consider the data in light of our distinction of having a Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, charged with rape, but never having appeared in Court.

He added also that while in most rape cases the victims are not revealed, that was not the case with the female police officer who levelled the charge against the PM…“the officer, having had her identity disclosed to the media was never afforded the basic protections guaranteed to virtual complainants in rape cases,” said Eustace.

“I wonder what the region and the world felt when a rape rally was held in support of a man, charged with rape, holding the highest public office, and never being made to answer the charge – particularly when that rally was attended by some women. What therefore is the message implicitly communicated to victims of rape by powerful men?” questioned Eustace.

Eustace said that over the past months, he has heard “obtuse arguments” about whether the rape rally or the Prime Minister’s “avoidance of court,” discouraged victims of rape from reporting their attackers.

“Quite apart from that contrivance to avoid history’s condemnation of those person’s support of the disgraceful rape rally, it is impossible to abstract from the data whether the Gonsalves case emboldened affluent rapists or cowed victims. To argue that the example of a powerful man charged with rape never having to answer the charge would not have impacted women rape victims is both counter-productive and base,” opined Eustace.

He stressed that whether ranked first or 20th in the globe, rape and other forms of violence against women are rife in this nation, “and the Vincentian woman is meat…she is object.”

Eustace said also that beyond Dr Gonsalves, women victims of sex-based or gender-based violence meet a number of systemic obstacles to securing their bodies, their states of mind and their financial welfare.

“Women encounter indifference and poor training among some police officers. They are often told to go back home to their abusers or to check with the Family Court in the morning,” stated Eustace, adding that the medical personnel who treat victims are not required to report their observations, “that the nature and severity of the bruises and frequency of the treatment are indicative of domestic abuse.”

It was also stated by Eustace that the Family Court is limited by the parameters of the Domestic Violence (Summary Proceedings) Act because, even when women secure Protection Orders, they are sometimes hard-pressed to find police who will enforce them.

“…and women in need of safe harbour are generally unable to access the much vaunted National Crisis Centre, because despite funding allocation in successive Estimates of Budget and Expenditure, the shelter is, for all intents and purposes, not operational.”

He added that the drafting of the Domestic Violence Bill now before the Parliament was completed in 2007, some eight years ago and expands the definition of domestic abuse and gives the Court greater powers to treat domestic abuse.

“How many women, how many victims of domestic abuse were, within the narrow ambit of the current Act, unable to seek protection from the Family Court in those eight years? How many have suffered prolonged abuse as a result? Given the context, it ought not to surprise many that applications for refugee status by women seeking asylum in Canada rose to 4,700 over the period 2001 to 2011, prompting one Canadian jurist to declare that ‘the time has come where it is insufficient to simply say that St Vincent and the Grenadines is a democracy. It is a democracy where domestic violence runs rife.”

Speaking about another report, this one from the United States, Eustace said that the US State Department, in reference to St Vincent and the Grenadines, has stated that domestic violence and sexual violence are “serious and pervasive” and are among the most serious human rights problems here.

“In November 2014, a shadow report was prepared by the UQUAM International Clinic for the Defence of Human Rights out of Canada, in collaboration with the St Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association. The report was presented to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Government was criticized in that report for several shortcomings and failings in its policy, including its failure to properly collect data on domestic violence complaints, and to make its information accessible to the public, the Government’s failure to address the need for more training of its police officers to handle domestic violence complaints….”

Eustace said that another issue that was not in the report and one that plagues him and has been recognized locally is that there is insufficient training of police officers and education generally for the public in the areas of human trafficking and its impact on vulnerable women and girls, “and the UQUAM report also attacked the Government’s failure to address needed amendments of our Domestic Violence Legislation.”

The panel discussion also heard from lawyer Samantha Robertson; women’s rights activist/feminist Jeannie Ollivierre; sociologist and historian Patricia Robinson Commissiong; and a domestic abuse survivor, going by the name of ‘Kate’.

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