That Scourge Called Rape

THERE used to be a time when Saint Lucia was considered the trendsetter in the OECS. Of course, that was during the years when green gold reigned supreme and other OECS territories seemed to have tacitly endorsed Saint Lucia as having that status. Today, however, a new reality has taken shape and Saint Lucia is now struggling to keep up with the rest of the sub-region on many levels.

Take, for instance, the outstanding issue of setting up a sex offender registry here. While the matter has been discussed for years, especially following another vicious rape, the once long arm of the law has become shorter and tied as rapists seem more emboldened to prey on our women and children.

As a result, rape continues to be one of the foremost concerns on the minds of women who continue to fear for their safety and lives in a society where the cure-all being prescribed – even by the police – is that women need to ensure that they lock their homes properly and dress moderately.

The culture of rape in Saint Lucia is so widespread that victims – especially minors – do not even bother to report it. At the other extreme, payoffs from the alleged rapists often result in the cases being dropped. And, thus, the shameless acts of rape win over dignity, respect and peaceful social order.

This week, however, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet announced that government is mulling implementing a sex offender registry once and for all. Chastanet’s decision to set the process in motion follows Grenadian Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, who signaled less than two weeks ago that that country will be setting up a similar registry.

In the case of Grenada, data from the courts indicated a year ago that one-third of all cases listed for the Assizes were sexually-related offences. In December last year, Social Development Minister, Delma Thomas, said “a radical approach” needed to be taken to correct the problem of rape. Like Saint Lucia, Grenadian officials were also concerned that a large number of rape cases were being settled out of court. Apparently, Grenada has moved from just talking to working towards addressing that scourge called rape.

One of the reasons cited in the past against setting up a sex offender registry here was that since Saint Lucia is a small country, such a registry would open alleged and convicted perpetrators to stigmatization and victimization. The counter argument to that, however, is that people need to know who the offenders are. Further, for once perpetrators should be made to feel the shame their victims feel, anyway.

Moreover, the setting up of any sex offender registry will be a waste of time if confidence is not restored in a forensics lab that has had more than its share of woes in the past. History has shown that time and again, even the best evidence can be destroyed, stolen and replaced.

In November 2015, the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force reported that there were 56 cases of rape committed thus far for the year, with gang rapes featuring prominently. That number would obviously pale in comparison when those rapes that go unreported are considered.

For once and for all, Saint Lucia needs to become a trendsetter, especially in the spheres of life that redound to restoring dignity, a peaceful social order and respect. Aside from the impending sex offender registry, a clear message needs to be registered to potential sex offenders that justice will be served swiftly when our women and children are violated, including imprisonment and putting a name and face to rapists and their shameless acts.

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