Bahamas Crisis Centre Director Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson yesterday expressed alarm over the increasing number of women and girls being sexually assaulted in the country and the numbers presented by police are not a true reflection of the extent of the problem.
Dean-Patterson said after years of being in the fight to address gender-based violence, it’s saddening that young girls make up a large percentage of female victims of sexual offenses.
“Of course we’re alarmed and we have been alarmed,” Dr. Dean-Patterson said.
“We’ve certainly seen more referrals with sexual assault and intimate partner violence last year, but in particular children and teenagers we saw a great increase in.”
On Monday Police Commissioner Paul Rolle revealed that there was a 34 percent increase in sexual offenses in the country during 2020, compared to 2019.
He said there were 213 incidents reported in 2020 compared to 159 the year before.
The crisis center director said there have always been twice as many children under the age of 16 who have been sexually assaulted than there are women victims.
“But this year, it’s even more worrying,” she said.
“For me, as somebody who has been in the field and fighting this battle for so long, it’s very upsetting and disheartening to see it.”
She added that the numbers are even more concerning as they are not a true reflection of the number of incidents that occur.
“We must know that reported sexual assault is just that – reported. Internationally, it’s been shown that 65 percent of rapes are not reported. So, that can give you an idea of the extent of the emotional damage that our people are living with.”
Thirty-nine rapes were reported on New Providence, nine on Grand Bahama and two on the Family Islands. There were 111 reports of unlawful sexual intercourse on New Providence, 16 on Grand Bahama and 31 on Family Islands.
Dean-Patterson said, to an extent, the judicial system has failed victims of sexual assault as she considers the rate of conviction to be far too low.
“When we did the research we found that only about 50 percent of the perpetrators were arrested,” she said.
“And when you look, you know you can think about it, almost 3,000 adults and children were sexually assaulted between 1990 and 2013. If you look at the courts, maybe 15 cases at the most were cleared in the court. So, what does that say? Most perpetrators get away.
“The consequences are not there. So, we have to look at how we strengthen this system, how we resource this system, whether it’s a separate sexual offenders court, whether it’s strengthening the attorney general’s office, strengthening social services so they can do their probation reports in a month and not six months, whatever.
“There are lots of things in the system that can cause delays, but we have to address it.”
The police commissioner also indicated on Monday that the majority of missing person reports last year turned out to be young girls who were engaging in “sexual intercourse”.
However, Dean-Patterson said the onus need not be put on the girls, but the grown men found “preying” on them.
She said in many cases of sexual assault in children, the perpetrator is known to the child.
“It’s often positions of trust,” she said. “Whether it’s a family member or neighbor or jitney driver or youth leader or somebody in a position of trust.
“Then, of course, there are also those girls who run away from home and adult men have them living with them or doing things and they are at risk.
“The tendency, of course, is to blame the girl or the child, but remember we’re talking about children under 16 who do not have the capacity to consent.
“So it’s not that they’re consenting to sexual intercourse, but they’re being molested.”
Dean-Patterson applauded the police commissioner, who she said has been working and taking the advice of the crisis center to help make women feel more comfortable in coming forward to report sexual offenses.