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Rape culture or just totally lawless?

Monday, December 19, 2016
Jamaicans take part in a demonstration against the rape of three children and two women in Kingston in 2012.

Do we have a rape culture in T&T?

Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture, defines it as: “...a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm. In a rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable. However, much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.” 

At least one Wikipedia entry supports the idea of a rape culture in Trinidad:

“According to the US Secretary of State, the (T&T) government and nongovernmental organisations reported that many incidents of rape and other sexual crimes were unreported, partly due to perceived insensitivity of police, exacerbated by a wide cultural acceptance of gender-based violence. There is a lack of reliable statistics, but women’s groups stated in 2013 that over 50 per cent of the country’s women suffered abuse. Many community leaders asserted that abuse of women, particularly in the form of domestic violence, continued to be a significant problem.”

Amilcar Sanatan, a man who works at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, told the Guardian he believes T&T definitely has a rape culture. He explained the term in his own words:

“Rape culture does not refer to the prevalence of rape in society alone. It refers to the pervasiveness of images, everyday experiences of harassment, and narratives about sexual violence against women.

“Rape culture creates an environment of risk to violence for women, and often puts the blame on women for the violence that they may experience in such a society, and ultimately imposes male desires and control over women’s bodies. Rape culture is prevalent because it is rooted in intersecting forms and articulations of misogyny, sexism and violence against women—in music lyrics, popular advertisments, street harassment, intimate partner violence, online bullying, revenge pornography.” 

Lennox Toussaint, a deacon, is very concerned about how women are treated, but has a different view. In a telephone interview with the Guardian, he said he was not familiar with the #LifeinLeggings campaign. However, when asked if he thinks T&T has a rape culture, he said no. Our problem, he feels, is much broader and deeper than this:

“I think we have a lawless society,” he said, alluding to lawlessness in practically every aspect of living here, from institutions to relationships.

“The entire society is lawless. Look at how people drive on the road—they don’t care about each other. And that is just an indication. You take that same behaviour into the workplace, you take that same behaviour into the home. People are so lawless that people feel they could do to other people whatever they want, however they want. It is a frightening thing.

“So we have no respect for our women. We forget that our women are somebody’s sisters, daughters, mothers. We feel that we can tell them all kinds of foolish things, and if they don’t respond, then we could do what we want. Therein lies the danger.

“We can’t look at the fruit. We have to look at the root. We definitely need to pull up our society together. It is everybody’s responsibility.

“This society has gone down a road. If you look at T&T two or three decades ago, we were a society to be admired. When I went to New York and people asked me where I was from, I’d say I lived in the closest place to heaven—T&T. I can’t say that now. The society has lost its way. Priests, politicians, everybody needs to get together in a serious way and pull this society back together. We are in a mess. I mean, another killing is no big thing for people now — and that is a frightening thing. People just don’t care. So there is a lot of work to be done.

“We need to start in the home—develop family life in the home, help children to have respect for themselves and other people. From that respect, we’ll get love. From that love, we will start to care for one another again.”


Space for healing

Speaking on issues raised by the #LifeinLeggings social media campaign of womens’ shared stories about sexual violence, Amilcar Sanatan reminds us that rape is a male problem, and men need to check their own behaviour:

“Many men who subscribe to ideas of male dominance, violence and control over women—and also the men who are complicit and sit idly by while ‘other men’ carry on in that way—are part of the problem, because rape and violence against women are men’s issues,” he said.

“Men need to challenge other men. Men enjoy spaces in the public that few women have access too. So men must listen to women’s stories and work with men to end the great social problem of sexual and gender-based violence.

“Male sexual entitlement in a patriarchy can only be transformed when toxic masculinity is transformed, and ideals of masculinity are reconfigured for collective security and harmony,” believes Sanatan.

Where does the #LifeinLeggings campaign go from here? It’s still unfolding, but its co-founder Ronelle King shared:

“Some really big organisations have reached out to us to assist, and we are looking forward to working with them... We want to not only to bring awareness, but we want to dismantle the rape culture in the Caribbean.”

In the meanwhile, she said that through the sharing of experiences online, some people are finally breaking their silence, and enabling themselves to heal as adults from experiences that in some cases happened in childhood.

“I’m glad that the hashtag was able to let people finally speak out. One of the things that people started doing, within the hashtag movement, was to reach out to people who shared their stories and tell them: ‘Thank you.’ They gave them the courage to share their own stories, and they appreciate their bravery and honesty. Some actually found healing buddies with each other.”


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