The fact that I am even writing this article means that we have reached an extremely low point in society. There should never need to be articles discussing the ways women can defend themselves from men because, as Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, Minister in the Ministry of Finance, stated: “Men are physically stronger than women, and should use their strength to fend for women. Instead, some use it to violate women in the most heinous of ways.”
In a country where there seems to be an underlying, yet accepted, practice of disrespecting women, the need for strategic self-defence tactics is becoming all the more necessary. It is obvious that women do not feel safe walking the streets alone, especially at night, nor do they feel comfortable in wearing just any outfit, for fear of being attacked, and perceived to be ‘asking for it’. Women are encouraged to go out in groups, to refrain from wearing clothes that are too tight, or too short, and not to accept rides from strangers, even if stranded in the worst of weather conditions.
A 2015 press release from the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force made no reference to the amendment of laws regarding the use of pepper spray and tasers but simply listed ways to ‘lessen your chance of being raped’.
For Minister Flood-Beaubrun, there is a need for a comprehensive plan in order to tackle the prevalence of violence against women, be it rape, domestic abuse or other forms of physical assault.
The first approach would need to be on the community level, by nurturing children, instilling wholesome morals and teaching simple ethics. This is all a bit idealistic since tradition dictates that boys are often allowed greater freedoms than their female counterparts, and parents usually fear the many dangers that may befall their daughters. To accomplish any change on a community level, there is need for a complete upheaval of generations of norms and values which is, admittedly, a difficult task.
There is also need to properly equip police in a way that they will be able to adequately tackle the issue of violence against women. Special emphasis must be placed on the ongoing training efforts officers undergo to deal with cases of domestic violence. It is equally important for officers to express sensitivity with rape and sexual assault cases, which is necessary in dealing with these situations after the fact.
However, there is an immediate need for law enforcement to stop these instances even before they happen. In the recent case of the murdered Laborie woman, Saadia Byron, her family made reference to police reports in which she made law authorities aware that she was being stalked. Although a police spokesperson indicated that Byron had terminated the report, we are left to wonder if her unspeakable demise could have been avoided if investigations had continued, never mind when the particular report was made.
According to Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, the third branch of a comprehensive approach to reducing these ‘heinous acts’ is an individualistic approach. “Women need to think seriously about doing self-defence,” was her response to the idea of implementing self-defence strategies for women.
Being of the opinion that we are naturally inclined to defend ourselves and others, Flood-Beaubrun agrees that we have reached a point where the possession and use of pepper spray, and even tasers, should not be prohibited, and would serve as a first line of defence against attacks on women. As it stands, police officers are allowed to confiscate pepper spray but laws relating to its use are perhaps out-dated and in need of revision.
Self-defense classes, although not taught by the RSLPF, are made available through some police officers and other independent bodies like martial arts clubs. One police officer states that he believes a self-defence class is something that individuals should look into undertaking themselves, and is not necessarily a role of the RSLPF.
It has become an unsavoury environment for women in Saint Lucia. Danger lurks on every dark street, in every secluded area and even in work places and one’s own home. Women now have to resort to defending themselves against impending attacks by men. The prevention of these attacks needs to start with a new-found appreciation and respect for women among men.