Victims of rape and other sexual assault, one way or another, are often further victimized in court. All too frequently they are required to answer why they didn’t run away, scream or just say no. Scant regard is given the abused woman, regardless of her age. Or that they were attacked at gunpoint or with a knife or cutlass at their throats.
Consider this particular case in January 2003, tried a year later before Justice Indra Hariprashad-Charles. It ended with 37-year-old Ivan Henry Milton being sentenced to 15 years for rape. Unrepresented in court, he had several times challenged the sobbing victim, asking her whether she had scratches or bruises to prove she’d been raped, and why she’d gone home immediately after the alleged encounter, and not directly to the police.
In her testimony the young woman had admitted rushing home to tell her family and her boyfriend about the attack, before reporting to the police. During the proceedings, then Crown Counsel Leslie Mondesir had asked the accused: “Don’t you think an allegation of rape is a serious thing? Why would she put herself through it? Don’t you think she was traumatized?”
That same year an eight-year-old victim walked into court grasping her mother’s skirt and sucking her own thumb. Her abuser – a repeat offender – was sentenced to prison for eight years for engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor. Before passing sentence, the judge informed the child molester that the law allowed her to impose a life sentence.
After the accused had pleaded with the judge for a second chance, the judge revealed that the probation officer had recommended a sexual offenders’ programme. Alas, there was at the time in Saint Lucia no such programme. Over a decade later, not much has changed. Judging by the frequency, and magnitude of cases throughout the years, it is blatantly apparent that we need one.
Memorably, Justice Ola Mae Edwards had added: “The court must send a deterrence. I have to take into account the prevalence of this [crime] in our society and the very aggravating features.”
Another remembered case had been dropped after four years, in 2005. The victim was a 15-year-old girl from Balata. The accused was 18. She told the court: “He told me if I said anything to anybody he would shoot me. I left to go home. I told nobody.”
The young woman recalled how scared she was for her life, knowing her attacker was armed with a gun. Here again the defendant had challenged the validity of his victim’s testimony, suggesting to the court that she had not resisted his advances. By the time the matter reached the high court the case had been dropped.
Another five-year rape case was dropped that same year. A 17-year-old had accused a Ciceron man of rape. In court, while recalling the experience in explicit detail, the witness collapsed. Again, the accused had challenged her testimony: “She was the one who took off her clothes.” In any event the jury found him guilty of indecent assault, not as charged, with rape!
In November 2015, three men appeared in court on charges of rape and burglary. Their victims were both 16. The accused included brothers, one 16-years-old, the other 18. The third accused was 23. The brothers were dealt a maximum sentence of 10 years while their friend walked away scot free. The proceedings had spanned a year and a half. For once the justice system had moved with more haste than it was accustomed to but that would in no way become the norm.
Cases of a similar nature are a dime a dozen, with the names of the most unfortunate victims all too often played on a loop while their families continue to fight for justice and while the real monsters in our midst continue to roam freely.
We can continue to recite the names of the ones who were raped, dehumanized and murdered, or we can do all we can to ensure the protection of women and girls. The perpetrators should be reminded, by any means necessary, that still, “No means no”. It is crucial that we get a handle on this, so our women are not caught in situations where they are so fearful for their lives, that they dare not even scream.