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Richardson hit for comments on sexual offences

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Merle Hodge

Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson’s comment on sexual offences last week were irresponsible. So said Hazel Brown, co-ordinator of the Network of Non-Governmental Organisations of T&T for the Advancement of Women. At last Wednesday’s press briefing, Richardson attributed the increase in the sexual-offences statistics to young girls running away to be with boyfriends.


In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, Brown said: “We think it is a very irresponsible statement.” She said while the organisation agreed there had been an increase in the number of reported rapes, owing to increased confidence in the police and in women’s rights, she felt any increase in rape was nevertheless significant. Creative strategies, Brown added, were necessary to change behaviours.


She called on Richardson to redefine rape and added a lot of victims were raped by people they knew and statutory rape was statutory rape, whether a young girl runs away or not. Most young girls, Brown said, ran away because there was no one for them to talk to and they were then raped when they turned to the wrong people.


When asked how she felt about Richardson’s call for deeper involvement from NGOs and communities, Brown said many communities and NGOs lacked the resources necessary to provide information and safe spaces. Dr Gabrielle Hosein, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies’ Institute for Gender and Development Studies, said men and young boys should also be held accountable for their actions.


In an e-mail to the T&T Guardian, Hosein said: “We should not lose sight of the ultimate responsibility of older boys and men for what they do with these minors. “Rather than speaking of girls as a problem and in need of protection, we need to face the reality of predatory and inappropriate behaviour of older men and boys to young girls and the vulnerability of this group of minors to adult males.


“This is a social problem with implications not only for girls’ early sexual initiation and experiences of forced sex but also for child sexual abuse and incest.” She said continued education was needed for young people to make informed decisions about sexuality.


She added: “The (deputy) commissioner’s statement speaks to a continued need for education and information regarding sexuality as part of the school curriculum in order to help adolescent girls and boys to make decisions that are age-appropriate, healthy and safe. “We need to acknowledge the implications for girls and for families and the need for social support services beyond the police.”


Merle Hodge, a founding member of the NGO Working Women for Social Progress, questioned Richardson’s attribution of the increase of sexual crimes to young girls. She asked: “How can we be sure? We don’t really know. We can’t dismiss it that lightly. It could be but we can’t say it without the necessary research. Is this part of the plan to say that crime is going down?”


Hodge said Richardson’s comments were glib, condescending and cause for concern. She said if girls were running off with men that did not make rape any less serious. She questioned: “Isn’t it rape whether or not a girl is assumed to have consented or not?  It’s a complete misunderstanding of rape and the autonomy of women.” Hodge said as police officers were the first line of contact with rape victims, she thought special training was required.


She was uncertain about specific training geared toward police officers to address rape but she thought only female officers were trained to interact with rape victims. Hodge sees Richardson’s statements as a direct correlation to the Government’s inaction on a national gender policy.


She said anyone should be able to go to a police station to make a report, but gay people were laughed at when they did so, and she believes training for police officers on gender issues is important. Tara Ramoutar, a representative of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action in T&T, declined to comment on Richardson’s statements.


She said sexual crimes used to be swept under the carpet but that was changing. While she could not say there had not been a hike in sexual offences outright, she said:  “These offences have been happening for years and years.”


She added: “It is only in recent times that you are hearing more of it being reported because women, girls, boys, men, they now feel much more confident, they are much more aware, they have much more information that they feel they could come forward now and report it to a teacher, a priest, someone who can then take the steps from there.”


She attributed that to the work being done by NGOs with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme and the trust and confidence those relationships have created. Ramoutar said it took time to change mindsets and while the police have been undergoing training, it was unlikely the effects would be immediately apparent.


She said the Police Service had a special unit, the Victim and Witness Support Unit, headed by Margaret Sampson-Browne, that had been instrumental in leading the charge. Ramoutar believes it is important for women to support each other globally and work in partnership with each other. She said parental guidance was important to guide both males and females on sexual matters.


Ramoutar said, while rare, there have been attacks in the Caribbean that have had the same level of violence as reported in the December 16 gang rape of a medical student in India. Repeated calls to Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray and Margaret Sampson-Browne went to voicemail up to late yesterday.


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