LAST June, I had the opportunity to listen to some of the most unfortunate stories about how primitive some people still are in what many deem an enlightened age. The stories were narrated to me by a female aspiring writer who, through her words and courage, might well want to count herself lucky to be alive. She might also want to write a book someday.
I was leaving an event in Castries around 10:00 p.m. one Tuesday when I asked the female teenager how she was getting home. She said she wasn’t sure how and, noticing that everyone else was clearing out of the building, I asked her where she was headed. When she described where she lived temporarily, I immediately knew that the route she’d have to take opened her up to a myriad of dangers, especially at that time of night.
All of the people attending that event that evening with their own vehicles had already cleared out. The only people remaining were this teenager, a male security guard friend of mine and yours truly. He and I both decided that we would walk her home, by which time it had started to rain. After seeking shelter under the eaves of a city store for about ten minutes, the teenager – let’s call her Helen – began to tell us her life story.
Helen said she ran away from home at 15 after repeated advances from her stepfather and chidings from her mother that she was just out to break up a good relationship. The streets proved nothing better for her, she said, after she fell into the arms of a 28-year-old man who pretended to care for her in his own ways.
She described the sick scenario where she was even raped one dark night at gunpoint by two unknown men near a bus stop located just a clear shout away from a busy city street. Even worse, another incident resulted in her being gang-raped after being invited by some female friends to a party. All she remembered was getting to the party, drinking something and waking up sore the next day. A few days later, the sex tape featuring her and a gang of males went viral.
As we walked Helen home safely to her home away from home, I could not help but feel dead inside that our dear Helen was being raped by the very sons that should be honouring and protecting her. The matter-of-fact manner in which she explained the scenarios seemed too much at times that I had to interject and cut her off. The thought of my daughters ever having to endure anything close to Helen’s trials – God forbid – sent a chill through me.
What is comforting to know is that Helen understands that she’s not to be blamed for the unfortunate callousness that has been meted out to her repeatedly. What is unfortunate, however, is that she regrets not getting the requisite care and attention from the authorities that keep preaching they do. Still under 18 at the moment, Helen still roams the streets and frequents some of the most popular entertainment locations where karaoke and intoxicating liquor sometimes act as a front for deep-rooted prostitution.
Over the years, we have seen what rape has done to the social fabric of this country. Whether we participate in committing it or kicking the can down the road when it comes to finding solutions to combat this scourge, the evidence is clear. High-rollers and low-lives alike are among those who prey on our women and children for their sexual gratification. Along the way, the can gets kicked so much that it begins to crush even more, not unlike the spirits of those victims who are forced to live in shame.
According to statistics provided by the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force earlier this month, 56 cases of rape have been reported thus far for the year. Gang rapes seem to be the current trend among rapists who have even resorted to breaking into homes to execute their violent acts. The media recently ran reports of two teenage girls being gang raped when masked men broke into their homes. And just last week, two rapes were said to have been committed at Corinth and Marchand respectively. Let’s not even begin to fathom what the unreported cases might amount to.
Since what seems to be an upsurge in rapes has been making the news, many in officialdom have been voicing the same perennial concerns: that women need to become empowered, men need to respect women, and boys and girls need to be taught at an early age to be respectful of people’s human rights. Some even cite local social services agencies and the RSLPF’s Vulnerable Persons Team (VPT) as means of consolation for the victims. To me, they act more as reactive remedies than proactive cures.
The irony in all this is that women now feel more at risk of being violated due to rapists probably feeling more empowered now that the forensics lab at Tapion was closed recently. Just when we thought we were getting somewhere after experiencing the pains felt from the loss of Giselle, Tricia, Verlinda et al, another door to justice has now been slammed in our faces.
One of the things I haven’t really heard coming from those who claim to be in charge of our affairs – let alone women’s affairs – is the need for basic self-defence classes to empower women with the skills needed to ward off would-be rapists. I’ve heard the pepper spray argument but with that item being illegal to possess, women would now be forced to break the law to have it in order to protect themselves. The law is an ass, they say.
Patrick Edward is Chairman and Chief Instructor of the St. Lucia Shotokan Karate Association. He believes the martial arts are “very significant” among the few assets that can arm women with the necessary tools against rape. While he’s not totally against the pepper spray idea, he questions whether women would have it on their person at all times. The right skills, he said, are those that can be used effectively at all times.
“Practising martial arts is important because that is something you’re going to have everywhere you go,” Edward told me recently. “This is one of the fundamental principles we practise: learning to develop the body as weapons so that in the event of such a situation (as rape), you will be able to use those weapons instinctively.”
Edward’s academy caters to students ranging from children to adults. He believes that the earlier these basic self-defence skills are taught, the better – not only for females but for males, too, who are taught discipline and respect.
Edward’s advice seems more appropriate than even the call for strengthening of existing legislation regarding rape. Laws written in books quoted by attorneys and judges do very little to safeguard women from being violated. As such, I believe the adoption of self-defense classes in schools should become part of the physical exercise regimen. In the case of adults, women, too, need to sign up for some basic self-defence classes. I mean, it will cost you a fee, but can we really ever put a price on defending our person, dignity and honour?
As for Helen, I saw her earlier this week and we waved at each other from a distance. But I’m certain that if I get within earshot of her again, she would relate more sordid stories about her perilous journey through life at the hands of callous men and a broken justice system. But as much as it pains me to do it, I’ll give it a shot soon.
If you asked me, men who rape need to man up and treat women with the same respect they would want for their mothers, sisters, aunts, and other female relatives. We cannot accept as normal living in a society where women are often left to carry pregnancies and shame just because heartless criminals invade women and children’s privacies. Men who see rape as having any star quality need to understand that a dark cloud always remains in the wake of what might seem a pleasurable deed for them.
To any woman or girl reading this, know that you do have the power to change the variables around when it comes to rape. Be sure to recognize the early signs of rape that can come in the subtlest forms – from a free vehicle ride to a dinner date. Clearly, the authorities do not have the right dosage of resources to stem the problem, so it’s up to you to safeguard yourself from becoming the next unfortunate statistic and media sound-bite.