Monday, Nov 11, 2019
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Sexual assault and rape

Rape is defined as a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent.

The Bahamas has an alarming rate of rapes. Many rapes remain unreported. And, sadly, there continues to be a lack of respect for the rights of women in our society.

In recent times, a member of the House of Assembly felt empowered to say, “I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn’t beat her, she used to tell me I ain’t love her no more ‘cause I don’t hit her.” He later said the statement was made in jest.

Last year, a female member of the House of Assembly approvingly recounted her father’s admonishment that women who “come up” in their husband’s face should expect to face the consequences including being shaken, slapped or punched in the mouth.

Such attitudes sustain a culture of subjugation and of violence.

They encourage the worst behaviors and support the easy dismissal of allegations of crimes against women.

This disregard for women’s rights is not unique to The Bahamas.

The “Me Too” movement in the United States is replete with examples of rapes that went unreported for years because of the sense of powerlessness suffered by victims who feared retaliation from influential assailants but also the stigmas attached to victims of sexual attack.

A New York Times article recently recounted the dreadfulness of the problem in West Africa where many rape victims, even when believed, are told to “move on” or to “forgive and forget”.

Sociologists tell us that the reasons behind sexual assaults and rapes are many and varied.

Among explanations is the belief that rapists are seeking power, control and domination over another.

Some rapists act to seek revenge as compensation for rejections in their lives.

Others believe that they are entitled to sex after a social outing, while others are simply sadists who enjoy inflicting pain and humiliation.

In incidents of gang rapes, apart from the instigator(s) who may be motivated for any combination of the reasons given, some join in an attack fearing retaliation from their own pack.

The reasons that so many rapes go unreported are as varied and complex as are the motivations behind the crime.

Many feel shame and don’t want their family or anyone to know what occurred.

Some believe that no one, including the police, will believe or help them.

Still others fear retaliation from their attacker, his friends or associates.

This is especially the case when the accused is known to the victim, as often happens with “date rapes” or rapes by seniors of their juniors in the work place.

Some fear they will not be able to prove their allegations and in some perplexing instances, some victims experience guilt, as if they are to blame, may have misunderstood their attacker’s intent and don’t want to be responsible for getting the accused into trouble.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

In some countries horror stories have come to light of victims of sexual assault and rape themselves being charged with the crime.

Such stories are often associated with Muslim majority states but they come from countries of all political and religious stripes including western democracies like the United States of America where victims of rape have themselves been sentenced to jail terms.

Recently, five men were acquitted of charges of the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in Spain. Unconscious from consuming drugs and alcohol at the time of the incident, the girl offered no resistance; a requirement for a rape conviction in Spain!

Distressingly, victims of sexual assault and rape still face skepticism today, particularly if they are not visibly badly bruised or medically confirmed to have suffered internal injury as a result of alleged sexual assault.

Clearly this cannot be the standard by which abuse of women is judged.

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