OUR Caribbean society is no different than other societies around the world. Silence is still the approved response when one has been sexually assaulted. My abuse remained quiet for quite a lengthy period of time. It was discussed for the short period when I revealed it and then it was as if it never happened.
We have laws that indicate that raping someone occurs when sexual intercourse happens against the will of one of the individuals yet we find that not enough are prosecuted for this crime. We have laws that speak about incest- defining it- laying out the prison term; yet very little is done when the crimes are actually committed.. We find that a woman is re-raped by society for something that was done to her. I am not sure when the lines got so blurred that an abuser walked while an abusee suffered for years.
When did we become a society that was desensitized to the crimes of rape and child sexual abuse? When did it become all right to excuse, half/step/full brother, daddy, uncle, cousin, family friend, priest, teacher, coach, for raping, fondling, touching, kissing, or committing any act that made one feel uncomfortable, any act that violated an individual?
When do we draw the line at what we allow people to do to our children/ our women/ our men? When does it become enough so that society is shocked into acting?
Sexual Abuse isn’t something we are told or taught about in St. Lucia or the wider Caribbean. When you are growing up there is no mention of people touching you in the special place, of people’s comments being too sexual, or what you should do if one makes you uncomfortable when touching you. We are not warned that strangers are not our only enemies but that family and friends are also capable of damage. Our voices are drowned out by what we have been taught or what we have seen. We aren’t taught about the signs of sexual abuse. Our teachers are unaware of the symptoms that we exhibit when our world is being turned upside down. We are taught to obey our elders, listen to family friends, and do what we are told.
Girls, in particular, are to be seen and not heard. So many of us suffer in silence because of this. I was silent for 8 years and then another 13 years before I found my voice. You are threatened and guilted into keeping this secret- you are made to feel culpable in the act thereby making you a participant and not a victim. Our culture has stood by abusers, they have let them walk freely, the have absolved them of their guilt and found ways to blame the victim; what were you doing there, why were you wearing that, you know you wanted it, you drank too much– the excuses continue.
We are a victim-blaming society, making it harder for anyone to feel comfortable seeking help, or speaking out. Sexual assault is not only about sex but also about power. Blaming the victims doesn’t help solve the problem; or address it; it makes matters worse. We need to make the changes; we need to start to change. We need a safe space where survivors can seek help, we need trained individuals who are willing and able to help survivors. You can’t truly understand what someone who is abused goes through during and after their abuse. We expect someone who is abused to get over what was done to them, which truly shows how ignorant we are to what happens to a survivor of sexual assault.
As a society we prefer to not ruffle the feathers; we prefer to pretend that the issue is being addressed and that our survivors of these crimes will get up one day and be ok. It is not the case. We have not done our part to address sexual violence.
For those who have survived and are willing to speak to us and share your stories; feel free to call or email. We want to help, we want to create change. We want to create the supportive environment that is so desperately needed in St. Lucia. Crimes of a sexual nature should not be covered up or ignored, survivors of this crime should not be told to get over it, or in any way silenced. SILENCE is what gives perpetrators the power and confidence to continue abusing, SILENCE is what further victimizes a survivor.
We have to be ready and willing to accept what occurs when one is sexually assaulted. It is never a pretty picture and the stories are hard to hear but just sit back and think for a minute what that says about what the survivor endured and is continuing to endure. Part of ensuring that things change, is being willing to give survivors a chance to speak up and out about what they have been through. We have to know that living through sexual assault is not an easy thing, we have to know that so much is taken from an individual in that instance and silencing them only serves to reiterate the abuse and the abusers power. We need change and improvement when addressing sexual assault. We need to be willing to stand with the survivors and not the abusers. We have to understand that the survivor has nothing to feel guilty or ashamed of because sexual assault isn’t just about sex but about power. Join us trying to make a difference.
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SouyenneDathorne and Velika Lawrence
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