The Medical Research Foundation (MRF), in a statement last week, said that 400 females were raped at gunpoint and/or gang-raped over the past ten years in Trinidad and Tobago.
The most recent case of rape reported in the media was that a 13-year-old girl who was abducted in San Fernando and gang-raped by three men.
Given this shocking set of data on the crime of rape in Trinidad and Tobago, the public response is at best mute even with the recent news of the rape and assault of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern by five men on a bus in Delhi, India.
The intern was so badly hurt that she succumbed to her injuries. But while there there is not any hue and cry over the alarming data, there are those who, noticing the crime, are taking action.
Playwright/director Ronald John has captured the horror of rape in new play he has written, Miracle. This play, he says, is how a woman who was kidnapped and raped by two men, who managed to escape, and survived this ordeal. The play, he said, is based on a true story that happened right here in TT.
John says he has noticed the increase in rapes in the country in recent years.
“I am concerned about it because I have three daughters. Almost every day you see and read something about it. I am of the view that sex crimes against women is a problem that affects not only Trinidad, but it is a global problem. Men seem to have a very brutal attitude toward women,” he said.
John said it seemed as though some men were opposed to the fact that women were now a force to be reckoned with in terms of education and economic power.
“I don’t know if it is a social reaction to women who have become quite independent.
“Recently my daughter graduated from UWI (University of the West Indies) and I was counting the amount of men as opposed to the amount of women who graduated on that particular day, there were few. So, I am quite cognisant to the changing modalities between men and women in the country, and I feel that this is impacting very badly on men,” John said.
He noted the incident with the intern in India.
“In a country like India where women have not been a visible force or voice, they are now being seen as a huge force in education, in terms of jobs. They are commanding a lot of respect
“I think what is happening in Trinidad is happening on a smaller scale as is happening in India. I don’t think it’s any different. You want to call it the emergence of women as a force to be reckoned with,” John said.
“I think we can deal with this, in my view, through education. We have to deal with the fallout that exists right now with a lot of the young males. We have to teach them how to be men. We have to teach our sons how to respect women, starting with their mothers and sisters and aunts,” he said.
He said Government could help by holding workshops and programmes for men and parents.
John also suggested that in the case of single parenting, women who are parents to boys, were perpetrators of their male behaviour
“There is a different standard of behaviour for a young boy while he is growing up and a different standard for a young lady. The boy is set free when it comes to sexual behaviour, the young girl isn’t. She is always kept in check
“I think in a lot of cases a lot of women themselves are responsible. I think it’s more single mothers. I think in the case where you have a family with a strong father figure in a home, just like in the animal kingdom, the male tends to be the commanding figure and voice which keeps them in check, shows them how to behave, how to show respect...the lack of father figures is a serious fallout in this country,” John said.
Chair of the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, however, was not too sure that men felt threatened by women moving up in the world.
“What John is talking about is not so much fact as perception, and he may be right because if he is saying what he is saying on the basis of his own experience, he has to speak for himself.
But, if you look at the facts in terms of power, we have one female prime minister, we have a great minority of women in Cabinet, there are very few women CEO’s of companies on almost every level still.
“You find that members of boards are 80 percent male and what are you talking about in terms of positions of power? The Police Service is 90 percent male, the judiciary is 80 percent male. “Women have made a very small advance, they have made a definite advance in terms of education, earnings and jobs, but it is nowhere near even 15 percent what men have accomplished. The fact that we have been able to accomplish anything threatens some men, and I think this is really what he is talking about,” Mahabir-Wyatt said.
She said some men could only be comfortable with women who they felt they were in a position of power over them.
Mahabir-Wyatt suggested that there are more rapes than are reported, that “throughout history men have been raping women and it’s not reported because nobody would take it on.”
She noted that it was only recently that the police had been the given the mandate to treat cases of domestic violence and rape seriously and with tact. Before, domestic violence was treated as a “husband and wife thing”.
Noting that the rape of the intern in India was particularly bad because of the viciousness of the act, Mahabir-Wyatt recalled an incident in TT back in 1969 when a woman was found in Sea Lots mutilated in a somewhat similar manner.
“She was dead, of course. Why do you think I got into that in the first place? That horrified me so badly I can’t live with that, and that actually happened in Trinidad., but nobody remembers that now, and it didn’t stop people from raping people.
“It is a vicious thing that is going on and it’s going on all over the world. I am not convinced that the frequency is more than it was. If you go back to sixth or seventh century when you had the Persians fighting Cyruses, it was taken for granted that the soldiers would rape all the women in the villages they conquered before killing them. They did that all over the world. Raping women was just their expression of victory and conquering. I am quite sure those men in India did not know that this girl was a medical student,” Mahabir-Wyatt said.
Noting that women in India say they were under threat every time they got on a bus by themselves and now had to get on their cell phones and keep in contact with their parents until they got off the bus and home, she suggested that this is what needs to happen in TT.
“Even here, there was a comment made in the papers where a 13-year-old child was kidnapped and raped by three men that people had to be more careful when they get into taxis, and parents should be more careful how they allow their children to go school and be picked up from school.
“There was not a word against the people who did the raping. It was the victim and the parents of the victim who were responsible because they hadn’t taken proper care. Now if you let your girl child go out, you have to be careful of my boy child, not that you regard this kind of behaviour as reprehensible,” Mahabir-Wyatt said.
Attorney Lennox Sankersingh, who has noted an apparent increase in rape cases, has taken the a step forward in moving to offer legal guidance to rape victims.
“I have noticed that many victims do not get the legal guidance that they need in terms of court appearances, how a case is handled and the procedures involved. As a result, many of them fail to turn up or get so frustrated with the system that they just abandon their matter, so they are really being victimised twice. First by the crime and secondly by the process of the system itself,” he said.
“Recently I noticed there were a number of rapes. There were two instances in Debe, one a 14- year-old school girl and one of the lawyers in my office knew her personally. We got involved to assist her and her family, and since then I have received calls from two other victims to assist them.
“We will be assisting them and any others who want to seek our services. Our services are voluntary to any victims of crime, not just rape,” Sankersingh said.