Letters & Opinion

Is it Lack of Control, our Excuses, or our Justifications?

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

THERE have been quite a few sexual assaults over the past few weeks. As always, when things are public and fresh there is quite a bit of verbal action and emotion directed at the crimes but within a couple of days, it is replaced by something more sensational, letting the topic and what needs to be done to address it fall by the wayside. We would like to discuss this a bit this week. There are parts of this article that may be triggering. If at any point while reading this article you feel triggered please stop. You can continue reading at a later time or not at all. Listen to your body and what it needs.

I’d like to start this week’s article by asking what you think sexual violence is? What constitutes a case of sexual violence? When you hear that someone was sexually violated, what do you think that means?

Sexual Violence is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic a person, or acts otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality, regardless of the relationship to the victim in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.

Now that we know what constitutes sexual violence, what are your thoughts on the fact that this and all other definitions do not include any mention of any actions by the victim/survivor, what they were wearing, how they were behaving, who they are, what their occupation is, what part of town they were in, what time of day it was, the nature of their relationship to the offender, whether they were on a date, what their sexual preference or history is or what their sexual orientation is.

Our thoughts are these are not included in any definition because they do not define sexual violence. Sexual violence is all about power, dominance and control. At what point do we stop blaming the clothing, the mode of transport, the age of the victim or the female body for the cause of sexual violence? When do we realize that our view is warped, that if a woman is violated she must have misunderstood what happened to lead to the eventual sexual assault? When do we stop blaming the type of relationship on the reason the sexual assault may have been a consensual act?

We ask because, we seem not to care or understand what truly happens to a person who has survived a sexual assault. We all get worried when there is a new victim, when a new assault has occurred, but that worry and anger about the crime lasts only for short periods before it gets replaced by the questions about the circumstances of the assault; and the need for the act to make sense to us, or to justify why it occurred, and then eventually we are on to the next thing happening in our country. We let the rape, the rapist, the crime, and the victim become another number with nothing being done.

Our question in this article is why wait until a rape has occurred to find out what people think about sexual violence and what we as a society think can be done about it? Is discussion and awareness on this important and prevalent issue only relevant if we deem this survivor’s story more heinous than another’s? The reality is, sexual violence is an issue affecting St Lucia. Our children, women and men are being sexually brutalized on a daily basis whether we hear about it or not. In our line of work we are all too aware of this fact and the alarming statistics.

When inevitably the sensationalism of these recent reports of sexual violence subside, and we as a society have rationalized it, isolated it as an exception and moved on, what we do not realize is we are surrounded by victims/survivors and offenders of sexual violence every day and everywhere. We keep this behaviour and rape culture alive in our society by ignoring the issue until the next news report surfaces.

We owe it to ourselves, our family, friends, neighbours and fellow humans to understand this issue, to keep its awareness alive, and to not participate in rape culture by tuning out the obvious signs of inappropriate behaviours around us. We all experience or witness these boundaries being crossed – sexual violence is not only a brutal rape, sexual violence is all violations of sexual consent; this includes all sexual acts, attempts of sexual acts, including comments violations, and when the act is too heinous to ignore, we try to justify and even victim blame.

So what can we do? How do we shift our attention and focus from the victims/survivors and onto the perpetrators and the measures necessary for the prevention of this behaviour? Because we are not truly asking children, women and men victims/survivors to alter their lives to help men and women sexual predators control themselves? We are not really blaming sexual violence on the survivor? Was it supposed to be the victim’s job to stop their abuser from coming into their room at night? Was it supposed to be the job of the individual being raped to stop their attacker? No.

We need to stop, take notice, and stand up for victims and play our part to stop this rape culture. We all must think about the environment we are living in, what we as a society condone, actively or inactively (by doing nothing). We need to think of, at the very least, believing victims and stop defending offenders, to stop justifying sexual violence based on the circumstances. We will discuss this further next week. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you have any questions, or need support, email: ssaitco@hotmail.com or thepowerofone_v@hotmail.com.

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