Speak Out St. Lucia Calls for National Plan to Be Adopted.
THE old way of dealing with the issue of rape and physical abuse against women and children is yielding minimal results and a more comprehensive national plan needs to be adopted, one advocate says.
Norbert Williams, Communications Officer for advocacy group, Speak Out St. Lucia (S.O.S.), told The VOICE yesterday that while the island’s justice system appears to be in shambles, solving the rape problem cannot be limited to law enforcement and the social services department.
“The attitudes in our society stem from many influences,” Williams said. “We must start from the schools, church, workplace, music and culture. We must teach our children to respect persons and their personal space. Civics lessons in schools and the consequences of breaking the law must be emphasized.”
Williams argued that rape and violence against women and children has been trivialized over the years and changing that mindset will not be a short-term effort. Authorities, he added, also need to send a clear message to those enabling rapists and physical abusers.
“In Saint Lucia, we have all heard of the ‘sootiwez’ or enablers,” Williams said. “Surprisingly, what we have found is that most of the time the people who make the excuses for the perpetrators are women. It is counter-intuitive that the women who should be the nurturers and protectors of our children are very often the ones who shield the perpetrators rather than their own children.”
He added: “We must focus on these people and the circles who defend and protect rapists and abusers. We need to reach out to them since they have an influence on these individuals. Instead of using that influence to shield, we want them to turn things around and not tolerate their abuses.”
Several women and children were reported to have been sexually abused in recent months, resulting in public outcry from many rights groups and the general citizenry. While the police continue to assure citizens that they remain committed to fighting the scourge, they, however, lament their inability to bring the occurrence of rape to zero, citing limited resources.
Social services, Williams said, need to be proactive by playing a major role in coming up with innovative and minimally expensive ways of dealing with the problem, including working with other organizations and institutions – such as schools – on a national strategy that can redirect people’s views on rape and gender violence.
However, Williams believe that those charged with curbing the rape problem often exacerbate an already uphill battle by aiding and abetting offenders. Witness tampering, he said, is the root to many perpetrators walking free only to commit similar offences.
“We have all heard these stories of certain policemen and even some lawyers contacting victims or witnesses urging them to not come forward in certain cases,” Williams explained. “Recently, we were informed about a particular lawyer who contacted a victim in order to have the case dropped. It was evident that this lawyer is a friend of the arrested and charged individual.”
The police confirmed yesterday that rape occurred in Dennery over the weekend, resulting in two people being taken into custody by police. Williams said that latest incident continues to highlight the serious problem of rape and the brazen attitude of those committing such crimes.
To that end, Williams said Speak Out St. Lucia suggests the setting up of a special commission consisting representatives from education, law enforcement, churches and other concerned circles who can identify where changes needed to be made so as to tackle these social issues. However, he believes such a plan should not take years since everyone knows what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed.
“We suggest that 60 days is not an unreasonable period within which a draft national plan can be drawn up and then finalized in quick time,” Williams estimated. “This is a national crisis and if we are truly concerned by the alarming reports of rape and physical abuse in St. Lucia, this national strategy is what’s required.”
Over the years, many rape and physically-abused victims have been ambivalent about reporting their cases to the authorities. In some instances, they fear being stigmatized by members of the community or targeted by their abusers. Notwithstanding those fears, Williams calls on victims to not suffer in silence.
“Not coming out will only allow these rapists and abusers to continue as they feel they can get away with their crimes forever,” Williams said. “Victims should not continue to be victims. These crimes affect them psychologically, emotionally, financially and throughout their lives.”