Another week, another report of sexual abuse destined to be forgotten by day’s end. The attacks become more and more brazen: a woman ravaged in broad daylight at her work place; another rudely awakened in her own bed. One victim was in her eighties. Still another, a mother, had given TV reporters a harrowing blow by blow of her ordeal: her attacker had forced his way into her home, threatened to kill her and her children if she did not do precisely as he ordered.
The Gender Relations minister later commented for the benefit of the evening news, sounding ever so much as if reading from a script left behind by her predecessor: “I will do everything in my power to ensure she [the latest victim] gets adequate counselling.” She commended those who had in any way assisted the raped mother. As I watched the news clip, I thought about other viewers; how many had by now gotten used to such reports; how many had by now been rendered desensitized by the commonplace incidents, most of them unresolved. I wondered, too, how many rape victims no longer listen to the news for fear it included an item that reminded her of her own similar ordeal. My mind turned to one particular rape victim whose story had featured on social media.
We’d met a few times before and engaged in small talk about what was going on in our respective lives. On the last occasion we were both off-island. She told me she’d left Saint Lucia to find a place where she could reflect and decide about her future. Then came the bombshell. She told me she had been assaulted in her apartment; woken from sleep with a knife at her throat—held by a silhouette!
“He ordered me not to scream or I would be killed,” she recalled. “I don’t know how I found the strength to stay calm until I grabbed the knife and started screaming.”
In her struggle to take a look at her attacker’s face he stabbed her in the thigh and made his escape through the window he had broken to make his uninvited entry into her apartment. “While I was fighting him,” she recalled, “I imagined being forced to have sex with this person I didn’t know but who knew me . . . who might even engage me in pleasant banter in the street, knowing full well what he’d done to me . . . I just knew I had to fight back—even if I died in the process.”
She suspected her attacker was familiar with the layout of her apartment; that he’d been there before the incident. “I never heard him opening the window,” she said. “I never heard him turning off my light. He went as far as taking a knife from my kitchen and I heard nothing. Just imagine you’re lying in your bed and next thing you know a guy is whispering in your ear: ‘Scream and you’re dead.’ ”
She told me she’d been staying with family, hoping to get her head together before returning home. She had given up her apartment shortly after the attack. Hearing what she had been through ripped me apart. Her experience reminded me of other victims, younger and older, who had over the years chosen also to break the silence that concealed atrocities that never should have happened in the first place. I thought all of them brave, particularly my friend; coming from a region where talking about sexual abuse is taboo and victim-blaming commonplace.
After our conversation I was left with many questions. Of all the women who have broken their silence, how many have found justice? How many of the perpetrators had appeared before a court? In January 2016, Saint Lucia’s acting police corporal Delvin Mathurin announced a drop in sexual offences in 2015, as compared to the previous year. There had been 250 reported cases in 2015 (70 for indecent assault, 59 for rape) marked an 11 percent decrease in reports of sexual offences. When the report was presented to the media Mathurin said rape incidences had increased in 2015, as compared to 2014. Eleven more cases were added to that category, while the overall detection rate for all sexual offences decreased by 11 percent.
Internationally, statistics show that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police (U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics). Reports go further to say that only three percent of rapists will spend time in prison. With the odds seemingly against women for reasons that largely have to do with evidence, fear and discrimination, is it any wonder sexual violence continues to be the ever-recrudescent demon of humanity?