Advocating For Survivors

Image of Souyenne Dathorne
PROSAF — Surviving Sexual Abuse In The Caribbean By Souyenne Dathorne

Over the past few years our televisions, radio stations, newspapers, social media feeds have been flooded with one case of sexual violence after another.

With each case, it has become more evident that there is no discrimination when it comes to sexual violence and who the perpetrators are or who they choose to be their victims. For many it is easier to believe that there is only one type of person who commits crimes of sexual violence and a specific type of individual who becomes a victim — but there isn’t.

It seems easier to accept that crimes of sexual violence exist if the victim and perpetrator fit the ideal mold we have created. The perpetrator will be a scary-looking man who will attack you on impulse and the victim will appear to be innocent and fragile. The moment the victim deviates from that erroneous ‘ideal’ mold, the sexual assault that was suffered becomes their fault.

The perpetrator, who rarely seems to fit the image created by society, is always given the benefit of the doubt. What we hear is: “This nice man could never have forced himself on this individual.” The victim, very rarely fits the mold. Therefore, on some level, they caused their abuse and deserve no empathy, support or care. And then we hear: “Look at what she was/is wearing. She enticed him, she seduced him, she let him in…”

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We blame the victim for a crime committed against them; we blame them when there is physical evidence they fought back; we blame them when there was no evidence they fought back. We blame them regardless of the circumstances. We absolve the perpetrator of their crime because regardless of the circumstances, they were ‘tricked, deceived and/or seduced,’ and ‘They didn’t commit the crime of their own free will.’ Somehow, by this warped account, the victims always cause the perpetrator to sexually violate them!

What do we think that a victim/survivor/thriver went or goes through during their sexual assault? How do you think they have suffered during and after their sexual assault? Do we think that any individual asks to be sexually violated? Do we think that a case of sexual assault is so trivial that the victim/survivor should just get over it? Do we think that a victim/survivor didn’t understand or misunderstood the rape/sexual violation they experienced? Do you ever truly question what sexual violence really is and how those who are sexually victimized are affected? Do we realize that we live in a country where sexual violence is a problem, a problem that is not being given adequate attention, a problem that we are all ignoring? Do we understand that the current state of affairs will either remain the same or get worse?

There needs to be a change in how we understand, address and discuss the issues surrounding sexual violence. How many more have to suffer? When will the loss of life push us to change or to demand greater action? When will we start fighting for the rights of the victim?

So much is expected from those who survive crimes of sexual violence – ‘Move on, get over it, you have survived, put this behind you; Don’t let this ruin you, don’t let your perpetrator win…’ etc.

Yes, a survivor is acutely aware of the fact that in some way, they have survived this horrific crime, they are aware that they are continuing to survive this awful crime.

That knowledge doesn’t make the road to recovery any easier, nor does it aid in trying to comprehend how as a victim I may have been affected and how one should proceed with their lives after. I have heard people mourn over the loss of the life of the perpetrator — how their crimes have negatively affected their lives, how accusing them of sexual violence has altered how great their lives could have been or ruined their success moving forward.

But we fail to mourn the loss of life of the victims of their crimes. We fail to see that even though an individual may have survived the sexual assault, that parts of them were killed and forever changed during the attack.

We need to understand that, in many ways and for a long time, they will feel dead inside, they will wonder what they did to deserve this and why no one believes or supports them. They will fight every day to get out of bed and continue on as if nothing has happened, as if they are not suffering inside.

We fail to empathize with the victims for their loss of who they were, of who they could have been and for what was taken from them the moment their sexual assault started.

We fail to see the sexual assault as a murder of the person, because while the victim/survivor may continue to walk among us, they feel like their life has been taken from them, like they have been tortured and murdered. They feel like they have lost themselves.

Loss is a complex feeling; it appears that we can only understand it when we actually see something is taken from us. We seem incapable of understanding it from a victims stand point. A perpetrator is caught and locked away and so he experiences a loss of freedom. We don’t seem to understand that a woman/man/child experiences great loss when they are violated. We fail to understand what is taken at the moment the sexual assault happens, will never be regained.

Many cultures find it hard to understand what one who is raped or sexually assaulted goes through. Many find it easier to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator. We are failing to see that those very actions reinforce sexual crimes, reinforce the actions of the perpetrator and reinforce what the perpetrator may have said during his act/acts.

Many perpetrators know that people prefer to turn a blind eye to the sexual violence they know is happening next door and many abusers know that people’s emotions are peeked when the tragedy occurs, but will die down a couple of weeks after. Many perpetrators understand the environment they are offending in and they know how the people react and what they will get away with.

In the Caribbean, many perpetrators of sexual assault know the system is flawed and that people are more inclined to ignore the crimes being committed. They know that people are more likely to stand by them, rather than against them. They continue to assault, they continue to rack up the number of individuals who will join the victim pool.

Asking for things to get better and demanding change starts with us. We have to be willing to stand up and say something when we know a crime is being committed. We have to be aware enough to pick up on the cues that are presenting themselves. We have to attempt putting ourselves in the shoes of one who is victimized sexually.

Wanting things to change requires that we do our part as well, that we put aside our feelings of discomfort to ensure that survivors are surrounded with support, that we all become advocates against sexual crimes.

Too many have fallen victim to sexual crimes in the past few months and from what we know the likelihood is that many more have stayed silent. Victims who survive crimes of this nature are left with quite a lot to deal with and very few options for support and even fewer avenues that result in adequate punishment for those carrying out the crimes.

St. Lucians have to want to change things and be willing to be part of the change.

Survivors of sexual assault need a supportive environment to begin the healing process. They need to believe and feel that they are part of a culture that doesn’t support individuals who commit sexual crimes. We have to be the difference we want to see in our country. We have to be willing to start to make change.

We, at PROSAF, have acknowledged that violence against women is a problem in St. Lucia and the wider Caribbean. We are here to begin the metamorphosis that is desperately needed. We are always here to listen and if you are not ready to come forward but need a listening ear, feel free to contact us.

Remember that Sexual assault is something that happens to people, it does not define them; it is something that was done to them. Survivors, Victims and Thrivers: remember you are a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman/child/man who has suffered a trauma through no fault of your own.

You are not guilty of any crime. Something was done to you against your will. Sexual Assault is something that happened to you, it does not define you.

You are worthy of love and happiness. Always remember that you are not alone, that you have nothing to be ashamed of.

We are taking the baby steps necessary to make it better for all. KNOW YOU HAVE A SAFE SPACE IN PROSAF.

If you are interested in finding out more information about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact us at:

Yours Sincerely,
Souyenne Dathorne and Velika Lawrence
Email: [email protected][email protected]
Facebook: SURVIVING SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CARIBBEAN: https://www.facebook.com/pages/PROSAF-Surviving-Sexual-Abuse-in-the-Caribbean/165341356853908
Webpage: http://www.prosaf.org (under construction)
Telephone: 1-758-724-9991 (Sue) 1-758-723-6466 (Vel)

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