A few weeks ago, my friend and I went to a nearby beach back home in Antigua to spend our Sunday afternoon. While in the water, my friend drew my attention to a big-haired little girl doing the most (having fun). We watched from a distance as she played with some other little girls; smiling, running, jumping with utter glee. A lot of what I do advocacy wise is focused on ways we can protect girls and boys from the horrible experiences that threaten to rob their innocence and rip them of their honest smiles. I know what it means to be a little care-free girl, ignorant of the fact that some grown men see you as a weak soul to corrupt and leave damaged. Sexual assault, abuse, rape and suggestive conversations are the unfortunate right of passage for many young girls. It has become so ingrained in our society, that it is normalized to the point that we have taught our young girls, and boys, to expect that their innocence is under siege.
Like the little girl on the beach that warm Sunday afternoon, I value seeing youthful smiles and enjoyment. How can we keep that though? How do we challenge ourselves to do more than just public outcry washed in the narrative of ‘dirty, hardback men’? How do we preserve little girls sugar, spice and their everything nice? When I say sugar, spice and everything nice, I don’t mean the gender normative roles that deem girls weak and meek, but rather, I am speaking to their right to live free from fear that they are to be preyed upon. And why when incidents of sexual assault and abuse are brought to light, do we rush to express our public outcry without very little thought to the best means of healing our young girls and boys? We rush to share hashtags and point fingers at everyone else for facilitating the perfect storm of sexual misconduct, often times refusing to take ownership of our own actions. We are all to blame. Our young girls are under attack, and every parent, family member, family friend, church, school, and government must take ownership of their hand in the ordeal.
So let me share my experience with you. I have told this story multiple times in small spaces where I’ve had to talk to young girls and boys about speaking up when they have been the victims of abuse, rape and other inappropriate behaviors, and I have also told it to parents and other adults as a reminder that it is their duty to protect children. So here I go:
When I was in 1st form in Antigua, every morning I would walk to the bus stop from my home, in order to catch the bus to school. On my way to the bus stop, I would have to pass the home of a police officer, who lived with his wife and children. He was always very polite, but something about him use to rub me the wrong way. I would also pass an older man, who was my dad’s age, waiting on the corner. I found him just as creepy as the police officer. He would never say anything to me, but would watch me and smile menacingly. I would never walk on the side of the road he was standing on. I thought he was mentally unstable, and was scared that he would grab me. I was 11. This man, would remain at this spot, every morning, for the length of years I attended high school. The full time! Let that sink in. He would eventually tell a family friend that lived across the road from him, that he was in love with me. The family friend told my mother, and my parents threatened him and informed the whole neighborhood about his behavior, but of course couldn’t take it further, as he had never said anything to me or approached me physically. It is important to note, that even without a word being said or any physical contact, the inference of his thoughts held power over me.
Now back to the police officer. One particular morning, rain caught me at the bus stop, and the officer was passing in his car and stopped to offer me a ride. He is a police officer, and was in his uniform. I was taught that officers of the law were to be trusted. So, I got into the car, but regretted it right away. The police officer began to strike up a conversation with me that made me feel very uncomfortable. He asked me if I had a boyfriend, and if I went on dates, and if I were having sex. Let me remind you, I was 11. I was so scared and caught off guard, I kept still and literally pasted myself to the passenger door, putting distance between me and him. That drive to school was the longest 10 minutes of my life! I was dropped off at the school gate and I could not get out of that car any faster. My heart was beating at a supremely fast rate, and I was struggling to breathe. I ended up rushing to the school’s washroom to throw up.
When I got home that day, and my mom came home from work, I told her what had happened. I told her I felt uncomfortable. I had not completed explaining my ordeal to her, before she was quickly putting her clothes on, with no bra, no shoes, to proceed around the corner to said police officer’s home. She called him out, or rather yelled him out of his house, and began to curse him aloud and told him that she would be reporting him to the Commissioner of Police. You know what he responded and said? He told my mother, that he noticed that the young boys in the area had been watching me a “kinda how”, and he wanted to warn me from them. My mother said, “nerp sir, you are a liar and a predator, that is not how an adult man should speak to a little girl.” She told him I was a child, and she was the parent, and if he were so concerned, he should have come to her. Mi madre don’t play that. She was not buying his explanation.
Mummy came back home cussing, and told me what he said, at which time I felt super embarrassed, because I began to wonder if I interpreted what he said incorrectly. At 11, I struggled to express how uncomfortable I felt with the police officer’s conversation and interaction with me, and I really wondered if my intuition had failed me. My mother took my side, point blank. No questions asked. Her daughter felt uncomfortable, and told her, and she didn’t question it. She never once thought I was lying or that I had misinterpreted the officer’s actions. Did he touch you Linisa? No mummy he didn’t. Are you sure Linisa? Don’t be afraid to tell me. Parents are supposed to protect their children. Whether it be a stranger, a police officer, someone in the church, or the neighborhood, or a family member, it is their duty to always take their children’s side when they courageously step forward to share an uncomfortable experience they encountered with another adult. It is your responsibility to notice their behavioral changes and find out what is wrong. It is our collective duty to protect them. We are to seek justice on their behalf when others have taken advantage of them.
I wrote this, because I’ve found myself feeling tired and disheartened by our behavior when incidents of sexual assault are brought to the forefront. This article is in response to the recent incidents reported in the news in Antigua of alleged sexual assault by police officers. I applaud the young women for coming forward and sharing their harrowing experiences with their parental units. I am happy that the parents are taking it further. However, what has been most disappointing is the obvious political agenda that has been exposed, with the opposition party in Antigua publicly reading a letter from one of the young victims, which was written to her father, expressing the horrific acts of her assault. I was super disappointed to see supposedly educated and intelligent adults in positions of power, re-victimize a young girl, whose private letter to her father, which is now being filed into evidence as the incident is fully being investigated by the police, is being used to progress their political mandate. I was even more disheartened to see a female member of the party defend the despicable actions of her party under the Facebook post of a close friend, who is a lawyer, who expressed her outrage at the decision to go public with the girl’s letter. The female politician indicated that they had received the permission of the young girl’s father, which in my opinion is no excuse. I am calling bullshit. Let’s be real, those that do know should advise those that don’t of the right procedures and processes for receiving justice. No-right thinking, compassionate, empathetic person, much more a ‘supposed’ advocate, would ever suggest that the right thing to do is to have that letter read in public, while investigations are on going, and the case hasn’t been called to the courts. I am also disappointed, but unfortunately not surprised, at the alleged police cover-up, which is the reason the political party has used as justification for granting the father’s wishes to have his daughter’s letter read on-air. There are individuals in positions of power that are known predators. They take advantage of this power by preying on our youth, all of which goes unaddressed. At the heart of it all, are young victims who are indoctrinated into traumatic experiences that can perpetuate harmful choices sexually, low self-worth, and be the breeding ground for future perpetrators. This is how the cycle of abuse continues.
Nine years ago, I began my advocacy journey and there have been a lot of things I have learned that have not only made me a better person, but have also allowed me to correctly intervene in situations of crisis, all the while protecting victims and allowing them the space, with supported resources to help them find a path to healing. Sexual assault screws our children up royally! The damage is irreversible. Our reactions when faced with incidents like these are what will dictate whether more of our youth will give into the fear of discrimination and victimization, and remain silent. The least we could do is take our self-involved emotions and ambitions of grandeur out of the equation. The most we could do, is provide a safe space for their voices to be heard and acknowledged, and their cries for help to be acted upon. Why would we hinder justice by making decisions that are far from being in the best interest of the child?
One out of four girls, and one out of six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. Think about this for a moment, if you were to go to a primary school to present a speech, at least 25 percent of the little faces staring up at you, have either experienced or are experiencing sexual abuse. This is the magnitude of the situation.
Let’s take the time to own up to our shortcomings as parents, adults, teachers and law-makers when it comes to protecting our children and the larger society from predators. We know who they are. We always know. And often times, when we do get told, we do nothing. We must stop them, and in turn break the cycle that breeds them and harm our youth.
Tell me, what are we ALL going to do about truly creating a safe environment for our children to grow up in? We have to protect the next generation. One of the reasons I became an advocate, was because I wanted to preserve the smiles on the faces of little girls, like the colurful one my little beach friend is sporting in the image above. Outrage is useless without action. And our action is ineffective, if it infringes on the rights of our youth, while re-victimizing them for our own selfish agendas. Is it too much to ask us to do better? Let’s do better.