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PROSAF — Surviving Sexual Abuse In The Caribbean By Souyenne Hackshaw and Velika Lawrence

As we come to the end of the month of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I ask that we make some commitments to ourselves to do more where the topic of sexual violence is concerned. Sexual assault affects many within the Caribbean. Our Statistics don’t clearly reflect the extent of the problem. Many prefer to remain silent because a supportive and non-judgmental environment is lacking especially in our country. Addressing sexual violence requires that as a society, we make the decision to become more educated, tolerant and supportive of survivors/victims in our society. It requires that we understand the damaging effects of victim blaming, that we let go of the belief that there is a certain kind of person who becomes a victim or perpetrator of crimes of sexual violence.

The shame and secrecy associated with crimes of sexual violence serve to perpetuate the cycle of abuse; they create an environment where sexual violence becomes woven into the fabric of the society. The month of April was supposed to be the month were NGO’s and governmental agencies alike encouraged education on the topic of sexual violence, where we validated those who have been victimized and who are being victimized. It should not be the only time the topic is discussed but it should definitely have been the time to start. No one likes to be called ignorant, but the truth is that when it comes to sexual violence as a society we are ignorant.

Survivors of this crime need to know what resources are available to them, and who they can call on based on their current circumstances. Building the road to recovery means ensuring that society is part of that process, because currently society is part of the problem. We blame at every point, we place the onus on the victim/survivor to 1) know they would be sexually assaulted and 2) to in some way prevent that act. When a survivor is incapable of being a mind reader we blame them by saying they wanted it to happen. They wanted to be sexually assaulted. Those who commit these crimes need to be dealt with so they understand there is a zero tolerance level for this crime. We cannot at any point indicate that a perpetrator should have been excused for his actions while blaming the victims/survivors. Letting them go only creates more victims and reinforces their sense of power and invincibility. WE, society, need to stop seeing sexual assault as something that affects only one individual at a time; it affects multiple persons and creates a break-down in our system. For so long the only method of dealing with sexual assault has been to pretend it doesn’t happen – this isn’t an option anymore. Pretending something isn’t or hasn’t happened doesn’t stop it from happening or erase what has happened. Acknowledging is the first step, education comes next and action follows. Sexual assault isn’t only about sex but about power. Join us in trying to make a difference. The time has come to stand up and do something. We have sat back and done nothing for too long.

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, 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. 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 about sexual violence and what you can do as part of this community, please feel free to contact us.

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