You wouldn’t know it from what the police said last week about crime in Saint Lucia but the hard truth is that sexual offences, particularly against women and children, are on the rise. 34 cases of sex with minors less than twelve years old have so far been recorded this year. Additionally, there have been 56 indecent assault cases.
As of October this year 37 rapes have been reported. During the same period last year there were 26 reported incidents of which, according to the police, only 20 have been “detected.”
The startling figures were revealed at last Thursday’s police press conference. Four more rape incidents have since been “reported”—all in just a week. Given the reluctance on the part of victims to report incidents, the rape figures may be higher than officially announced. The reasons range from a lack of faith in a police force that stands accused of gross violations of human rights; a broken justice system; and the time it takes for such matters to get to court. The rape-murder of Verlinda Joseph some 13 years ago, to mention one case, remains unresolved.
The most recent incident of reported rape has again sparked general outrage. Police sources say that on Monday evening two females, both aged 16, were gang-raped by three unknown males. The victims were ravaged in their apartment in Reduit, Gros Islet.
Last Saturday a Jamaican security guard was also accused of raping a young girl at Reduit Beach. As if all of that was not horrifying enough, a police officer has been accused of raping his girlfriend.
There has been a flurry of press releases and comments from groups, individuals and politicians on these recent incidents. But nothing the nation has not heard before.
Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, an organization dedicated to the promotion of women’s rights, has declared itself “appalled and horrified at the surge of violent sexual crimes against women and girls perpetrated by aggressive and sadistic males.” The organization is calling on the government to put the safety of women at the top of its priority list and to ensure that more resources are made available to agencies to fight this issue.
Caring Hands Foundation has also expressed empathy with the victims. “We hope that every effort is made by the relevant authorities to treat and mitigate the impact of this horrendous crime on the lives of the two … treatment and other support services should also be extended to the families, friends and classmates of the young ladies.”
As for the politicians, three of them, all female, have so far commented. Former health minister Sarah Flood-Beaubrun says the situation is critical and it needs to be addressed.
The current health minister Alvina Reynolds said: “I want to send a strong message out to the men of this country that enough is enough, that there must be respect for women, there must be that sense of wanting to protect women. We are equal partners in this country and one group cannot be seen as being disrespected and violated again and again.” She advocated a discussion on the use of pepper spray and mace, currently illegal.
Opposition leader Dr. Gale Rigobert has also expressed her concerns. “We should take a stance, and the powers that be need to send a strong message to would-be rapists that they will feel the full brunt of the law.” Dr. Rigobert also appealed to government to better equip law enforcement to pursue matters rigorously instead of pumping resources into the infrastructure sector. During the last budget debate she had expressed concern over the reduced allocation to the police.
And so it would appear that all of this talk will again come to nought, if the country is without a functioning crime lab – inoperative for close to five months – and the police are ill-equipped to even begin to investigate such cases. And, even when some of the cases reach court, they take years before they come to trial, if at all. Meanwhile the victims who are scarred for life suffer even more anguish by a system that continues to fail them.
As I write, yet another march is planned for November 25 to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.