In simply beautiful Saint Lucia it would seem the only thing cheaper than sex is life. Mary Rackliffe, Giselle Georges, Trisha Dennis, Valerie Lorde, Verlinda Joseph, Cheryl Hunte and several other daughters of this fine soil might readily have testified to that notion, if only they could. Alas, a long time ago they were interred with their sad history—and forgotten.
Shortly before Christmas one of our multitudinous TV stations featured at prime time an interview with an 80-year-old woman who had been sexually attacked as she slept in her bed at her extremely modest home. While the reporter fired at her his predictably inane questions, his colleague lingeringly swept his videocam over the unidentified old woman’s skin-and-bone hands, her crossed ankles and other parts of her clothed anatomy. Such queries as she was unable to answer were put to a traumatized young female relative who lived next door.
She had bumped into the perpetrator as she rushed to investigate the old woman’s feeble cries for help, she told the reporter. He was about her own age, 19 or so by the look of her. She would have no trouble identifying him if she saw him again. To date there has been no related arrest; at any rate, none confirmed by the police.
Still, the octogenarian victim had survived her unspeakable ordeal, if only physically. Thirteen-year-old Verlinda Joseph was not quite so lucky. Several years earlier her ravaged half-naked body was discovered in a muddy area not far from her parents’ home in Saltibus. Forensics personnel later announced the young girl had not only been brutally battered and raped on her way to school but that she had also been forced to swallow a killer weedicide.
More than a decade later the matter that appeared to have shaken this nation to its hypocritical core remains unresolved. The only suspect, Verlinda’s stepfather, was taken into police custody some six months after the incident. For close to twelve years he remained on custodial remand at Bordelais, until an unidentified charity organization based in Canada put up the money for his bail. An announced trial date set upon his release has come and gone without further official comment.
Then there was Mary Rackliffe. In 1989 the mother of four had reported at Port Police Station the rape of her 10-year-old daughter, despite that her live-in lover had threatened to kill Rackliffe if she informed on him.
Shortly after she returned home that remembered Saturday evening, Mary’s boyfriend kept his promise: in the presence of her young children, he cut off her head with his cutlass. He was never arrested and remains at large. (It would emerge that a female police officer assigned to accompany Rackliffe home and to keep her safe from her boyfriend had discovered she had more pressing weekend chores to attend to.)
Does anything in the preceding paragraphs suggest a ho-hum attitude to rape in this avowed Christian society of ours? Until quite recently, even our calypso composers tended to blame the victims of this unspeakable crime (their skimpy attire made them irresistible to predatory males), never the perpetrators.
As for our politicians, while from time to time they may be heard talking the talk on praedial larceny, gun violence against tourists and utopian jobs for all, seldom have they seen the need to comment publicly on what many believe is Saint Lucia’s most often committed crime—alas, grossly underreported.
Not even the all-too-common impregnation of children under twelve years by their ostensible protectors has been enough to provoke a public reaction from our predominantly male parliamentarians. Our laws demand that parents, local hospitals and caregivers notify the police of pregnancies involving girls less than 16 years old. If there has been regular compliance, then that must be the nation’s best kept secret, second only to Grynberg!
The police are quick to underscore the obvious: there is little they can do about unreported rapes—as if indeed the reported cases had all been satisfactorily resolved. Of course it is not difficult to understand the reluctance to involve the police. Certainly it does not help that in Saint Lucia the wheels of justice grind so exceedingly slow as to appear static: nearly half of the Bordelais population have not had their constitutionally guaranteed day in court.
More often than not complainants choose to abandon rape cases before trial, for various reasons, all of them at the expense of the victims and justice. Remarkably, the police seldom mention rape in their annual crime reports. The prevailing practice is to lump rape with other unspecified “sexual offences”—of which there were 385 in 2013.
It turns out rape is also “widely underreported” in many other countries, for instance the resourceful United States, where a study by the National Research Council uncovered “major inconsistencies in national data.”
Its focal point was the National Crime Victimization Survey—an annual crime report conducted through household surveys by the U.S. Census for the Bureau of Justice Statistics—“which counted 188,380 victims of rape and sexual offenses in 2010.”
Another data source, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, counted 1.3 million incidents that same year. Data from the FBI, which gathers its statistics on rape or attempted rape reported as a crime by local law enforcement, counted only 85,593 in 2010.”
Several weeks ago, with five-year-old persistent rumors of a serial rapist still viciously active in the island’s north, I set out to interview female workers at a dozen or so Rodney Bay establishments on the problem.
All acknowledged their intense fear of attack, especially those resident in the targeted area. Some were grateful for transportation provided them at the end of their evening shifts, although that didn’t mean all were dropped off at their doorsteps. In any event, I persisted: What would they do if, God forbid, they were raped?
Not one of the 30 or so I talked with over a two-week period said they would turn to the police. Three or four said they would likely visit a hospital but only if their attackers had chosen to abuse them with their lances unsheathed. They would say nothing about the rapes, however.
When I inquired about their reluctance, the common response was: “This is Saint Lucia. What would be the point to reporting a rape? To suffer more public abuse and embarrassment?”
I knew precisely what they meant to get across to me. A 24-year-old mother of two who waited tables at a popular Rodney Bay Marina eatery told me: “It’s no easy matter going home to your boyfriend or your young children after you’ve been ambushed and raped at a roadside and having to pretend you had a normal working day. But to do otherwise is to risk your man walking out on you, if you have a man. As for the children, how do you explain to them that their mother was pulled into a roadside bush and treated worse than any human being deserves to be treated? Better to keep your mouth shut, weep yourself to sleep and try to forget about what happened to you—and could easily happen again. You keep your secret even from other rape victims!”
Small wonder that for Saint Lucia’s rapists it’s always been open season. In early December TV reporters cornered the nation’s health minister as she emerged from parliament and questioned her on the latest sexual attack on a woman.
Among the minister’s stunning responses: “Mothers will have to start teaching their young sons to have respect for women, children and animals. The police can’t be expected to be everywhere.”
By which I understood her to say that until young boys have learned from their mostly single mothers to behave like gentlemen toward women, children and animals the nation will simply have to grin and bear the rape plague.
More recently, in the aftermath of another rape, another female MP offered fearful females in her constituency the following words of comfort: “Gros Islet is a large community. Lots of people are all over the place. There are mad people walking around, so people have to be vigilant.”
It has been a long time since a male MP issued from the floor of parliament (better to ignore their rum-shop pronouncements) a condemnatory statement on the scourge of rape. Neither has there been a memorable public pronouncement on the deplorable fact that of the miniscule number of rapes annually reported to the police only a tiny percentage ever reach the courts.
In all events, the majority are abandoned by the state-represented complainants soon after the first half hour of cross-examination by high-priced defense lawyers well known for their own boozy misogynistic exhalations.
Indeed, the last time rape was mentioned in the parliament of Saint Lucia was during the debacle that preceded the passing of the so-called abortion bill back in 2003—and only in the following context, contributed by the then tourism minister:
“Let us say your daughter aged three or eleven or twelve is with your permission spending a weekend with her uncle. While she is asleep at one in the morning, the bastard enters her room and rapes her. Yes,” he emphasized, accumulated froth at the corners of his mouth, “he rapes her.
“It happens very, very often in Saint Lucia. What do you have on your hands? An innocent child raped.
“She gets up, crying. The blood from her rape by this drunken bastard is all over her. Blood on her clothes. Blood on the bed. Blood everywhere. A human dog is responsible.
“Worse, you discover later your little girl is pregnant. I put it to those now parading on the altar of convenient morality: Would you force your child to carry a rapist’s baby!”
Judging by the immediately above, local MPs get worked up over rape only when their precious little virgin princesses have been ravaged by the family’s “human dogs.” (Quite recently, notwithstanding our horror circumstances, our appeal court significantly reduced the sentences of two convicted rapists!)
I return now to the incident that early last December had moved Alvina Reynolds to lay the blame for the escalating rape figures on the mothers of the perpetrators, without even a passing reference to the police or the prevailing Saint Lucian attitude to victims of rape.
Some twenty days before Christmas, a young woman and her boyfriend were enjoying the normally serene ambience of popular Choc Beach when they encountered the mother of all nightmares: two masked hyenas that pounced on the couple then proceeded at gunpoint to rape the woman while her helpless partner was forced to watch.Afterward their assailants warned that if they notified the authorities they would both be killed.
I cannot tell at this time whether they went to the police. Certainly there have been no reports of a related arrest. But all of Saint Lucia and countless others via the local media and the internet heard the weeping woman as she related details of her shocking Choc Beach nightmare to a news reporter.
It has been a very long time since Saint Lucians were exposed to comparable courage. And although the name of the victimized woman must remain classified, still we can think of no one more deserving of this year’s STAR Person of the Year accolade!
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