Discussing the Caribbean's Rape Culture

The disturbing gang-rape – and subsequent death – of a young woman in Delhi, India, has elicited global outrage and discussion about gender-based violence. A handful of Caribbean-based bloggers have been sharing their thoughts…

Code Red, a blog which takes a pro-feminist stance regionally, made a bold statement earlier this week, saying that sexual violence is a men's issue. The post began in defense of women's rights groups, which one Trinidadian newspaper columnist suggested could be more vocal in their defense of rape victims:

Roberta Clarke, on her Roots and Rights blog, pointed out that for the last 20 years women’s organisations have in fact been speaking out, advocating for legislation, running shelters and crisis centres etc. Caribbean women have been anything but silent in the face of relentless and ongoing violence.

The post then turned the entire issue on its head:

When it comes to sexual violence the overwhelming majority of persons who are raped or sexually assaulted are women and girls and the overwhelming majority of rapists are men. Men and boys too are victims of rape (though not at the same rates as women and girls) and in these cases too, men are the overwhelming majority of rapists. It should therefore be self-evident that sexual violence is a men’s issue. And the more appropriate question to ask is why men as the majority of elected leaders in the region, as individuals and members of various men’s organisations are not doing everything in their power to end sexual violence. Rape is a men’s issue. Ending rape, speaking out against violence against women and girls is the collective responsibility of men.

Yet, men collectively, as major power brokers in the region, are silent. Why is men’s silence not shocking?

Annie Paul, a blogger with Indian roots who resides in Jamaica, began her post with an excerpt from Indian novelist Anjana Appachana's Listening Now, which “captures the horrors faced by women in India’s capital city where packs of predatory men regularly terrorize women and have done so for decades”. She commented:

What makes Delhi such a charming city and one that I keep returning to are the splendid ruins of old tombs and temples that irregularly interrupt the bustling city scape. Reluctantly I’ve come to believe that there are correspondingly ancient, if unlovely, mindsets –steeped in feudal, patriarchal logic and incompatible with the demands of contemporary life in cities such as Delhi. What we are confronted with in the case of these violated girls, are archaic psyches interrupted by the postmodern, themselves no doubt the victims of class-based iniquities, reacting to the assaults with savage violence and cruelty. The failure of the Police to do the right thing by women is also symptomatic of this time-worn hoary mentality. We are in the midst of a cultural crisis of no mean proportions. I don’t believe we can legislate our way out of it.

Appachana, a friend and former classmate of Paul's, responded to her blog post, which Annie shares here:

Anjana, like many other feminists, seethed with anger at the blatant lack of respect women were treated with, and was particularly incensed by the impunity with which men behaved, their actions circumscribing women’s lives in harmful ways. But were only men to blame for this state of affairs? Not at all. Her response to my quoting of the scene in her book makes the point that it’s often women themselves who deny the existence of gender-based violence, thus allowing it to continue without check. As she said:

Sometimes I find, even about other things, that it is women who are most incensed by some of the things I write about. It is the attitude of “It-isn’t-like-this-anymore.” And from what I have seen and lived, it is worse now, because we women are going forwards and the men are rapidly going backwards. Also, all these rape protests are good and necessary, but are women making any changes in their own lives? Do they feel passionately about what is right and wrong and then do they try and do something about it?

I think we’re all just beginning to realize that if we–women, that is–want to feel safe and equal, we’re going to have to do something about it ourselves and this includes erasing or reformatting our own socialization.

Code Red was adamant, though, that:

Everybody should be outraged when schoolgirls are sexually harassed in the street and on public transportation, when women are killed by their intimate partners, when police officers turn away rape survivors for being naked, when payments are accepted in lieu of prosecution in cases of child sexual abuse, when our legal system supports this form of injustice, when deputy commissioners of police suggest that teen girls are the ones responsible for the sexual crimes against them. Everybody should be outraged. Not just women. Not just the handful of women parliamentarians. Not just overworked and underfunded women’s organisations. EVERYBODY. And that includes men who for too long have been shamefully silent.

The post went on to wonder just what that silence communicated, asking:

Does it communicate an acceptance of rape culture, of gender inequality? An understanding that violence against women and girls and the threat of it is part of what helps to maintain male privilege? A desire to see that privilege maintained at all costs?

It’s time we heard from Caribbean men what they intend to do to end gender-based violence.

In the interim, Trinidadian blogger Tillah Willah examined “our own rape culture”:

Who wants to have a conversation about dismantling patriarchy? Who wants to confront the fact that whether or not you think the Prime Minister is good at her job or not, the criticism of her is always bordering on disturbingly sexist and overbearingly sexual? Who wants to take on the thinking behind the bizarre comments of the Deputy Commissioner of Police blaming teenage girls for the increase in sexual offences. I’m no longer willing to accept that rape culture is part of the burden women have to bear and surely somebody with a little bit of sense needs to tell Mervyn Richardson that the way to address sexual offences is not to start by blaming girls for filing reports.

Every Carnival we get a slew of advertisements and articles admonishing women about what to do to avoid being raped or attacked on the streets. Don’t go off by yourself, they say. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Women are always expected to take responsibility for their actions. Where are the campaigns addressed to the men?

Where are the campaigns challenging backward notions of masculinity? Where are the boofs for men to man up and stop raping women? Why are we raising women to be victims and men to be aggressors?

Annie Paul added:

If we want to lead free and unencumbered lives we’ll have to secure it by finding solutions to each of the ways in which society systematically failed that ill-fated young woman who was trying to do something as pedestrian as catch a bus home last December 16. We’ll have to acknowledge that there are fundamental ways in which our culture(s) must change. If not change won’t come in our lifetimes or the next.

Tillah Willah got the last word:

Maybe one day we’ll stop seeing rape culture as somebody else’s problem. Maybe one day we too will take to the streets for all the Daminis in our communities who are too terrified to report their own sexual offences for the fear of being blamed by a society that is still to scared to talk honestly about sex.


  • tashez

    Will be discussing this issue on radio in Trinidad and Tobago this Sunday 13 January…Eye on Dependency from 10am on Talk City 91.1FM or http://www.talkcity91fm.com. Tune in and join the conversation! In studio is Police Superindendent Joanne Archie…

  • It is truly disgusting that there are men out there that believe they are entitled to take as they please, yet the women victimized by them are often blamed for being careless. This is the same in all countries, across all cultures and all faiths. It extends from the ignorant man forcing himself on a young girl in a shantytown to the legislator that prohibits that girl from gettIng contraceptives or an abortion afterwards. From the policeman dismissing a rape victim as a “careless gyal” to American politicians like Todd Akin and the like talking about legitimate rape and the resulting pregnancy being a blessing from God.
    Older conservative women are to blame as well, they pass the same comments as their male counterparts. Conservatism is the common thread that can be found thoughout all persons that can be considered “pro rape”. Women are just a part of what conservatives believe they have a right to take from whomever they consider to be below them. This mindset is truly despicable and it needs to die before it destroys us all.

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