The fight to raise awareness of the devastating effects of all forms of abuse in our society dates back many decades.
The Women’s Crisis Centre was opened by Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson in 1982 in response to the unmet need to educate against domestic abuse of women and children and to provide emergency counseling and a temporary haven to victims of such abuse.
Since renamed the Bahamas Crisis Centre, the organization continues to provide free counseling to men, women and children experiencing any form of abuse, whether within the family, in the work place, at places of worship, or in wider social settings.
One of the primary goals of the organization has been to raise awareness of all types of abuse and to target belief systems and behaviors that spread and tolerate sexual and domestic violence in our country.
The Crisis Centre has rightly identified the wide acceptance of gender roles that subordinate women as being at the heart of most of the violence in relationships. We have previously commented that a former and a current member of Parliament, in statements made on the floor of the House of Assembly, suggested the acceptability of gender roles that define women as inferiors.
The rejection of widely-held perceptions of females as inferiors and the acceptance of positive attitudes of fairness and equality between the sexes need to become a part of our social ethos and national character.
Such change will only gain widespread acceptance if it is promoted and supported from the top among political, civic and religious leaders.
Positive attitudes toward gender equality must also be adopted by parents and by teachers, particularly in the formative years of children. And, conscious efforts must be made to stop reinforcing old stereotypes that portray females as subservient to males.
Young boys, coddled and excused by their mothers and favored by many teachers, are too often permitted to avoid responsibilities from the earliest age. Many, not surprisingly, grow into adulthood expecting women to always meet their needs and excuse their bad behavior.
Conversely, too many young girls are required by those same mothers to take on responsibilities as cleaners, cooks and servers to the males in their households, including older and younger brothers. Many grow into adulthood accepting that even unreasonable and demeaning demands by men are acceptable.
These attitudes of privilege and dispensation for males in their relationships to females create an environment where sexual abuse is easy; where victims, particularly female victims, are oftentimes not believed and where perpetrators are excused and protected.
Some laudable work has been done in amending the rules and regulations that govern the legal relationship between men and women in our country. Today, married women may own and inherit land in their own names; the dower has been abolished, male and female heirs to an estate are treated equally and the law requires the same pay for same work for men and women.
Still, four decades on since the creation of the Crisis Centre and the subsequent introduction of a number of family life affirming programs by the Department of Social Services and some established churches all promoting respect and correctness in relationships between men and women, the lack of awareness and the continued high incidence of sexual and other abuses persists in our country.
The persistence of bad habits continues to make it acceptable for women in The Bahamas to be harassed on the street, in the work place and at social functions by rude men who make crude comments and suggestions, touch perfect strangers inappropriately and comment on an individual’s body type and clothing, as if by right.
In that environment it was perfectly normal, but wholly unacceptable, for a defense attorney in a recent rape case before the courts to cast doubt on a victim’s allegation of rape because she had not been visibly injured.