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Trinidad & Tobago's First Female Murder for 2017 Is a Schoolgirl, Deepening Fears About Gender-Based Violence

A screenshot taken from a CNC3 news report about the death of Rachael Ramkissoon, a student who was on her way to school at Northeastern College in Trinidad when she was murdered.

A screenshot taken from a CNC3 news report about the death of Rachael Ramkissoon, a student who was on her way to school at Northeastern College in Trinidad when she was murdered.

After a year chock-full of distressing stories about violence against women in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago's 16th murder victim for 2017 is a schoolgirl, who was found — still in her uniform — in a town in north-east Trinidad.

After she was found on January 13, police were in the process of informing the girl's family, but the news was all over social media in a flash. Facebook user Skye Hernandez was very upset:

Feeling gutted about the death of a schoolgirl and the photo of her lying in her uniform so beautifully among the green leaves. It is too much.

Trinidadian entertainer Nikki Crosby wondered, in a public Facebook post, why people were focusing on recent charges surrounding television personalities rather than the ongoing gender violence in the country:

Where I living boi? A school girl was found bound and murdered in her school uniform and we more concerned about Ian and Alexander #Smh #Yesanotherwomandead #Iliveinparadise

The slain schoolgirl was later revealed to be 16-year-old Rachael Ramkissoon. Her family said the youngster was late to catch her school bus that morning because she had been up late the night before studying for an exam. Police believe that Ramkissoon had therefore opted for private transportation — ostensibly from someone she knew, as her peers say she would have never got into a car with a stranger — to get her to school that morning. Her body was found lying in some bushes; there are conflicting reports about the nature of her injuries.

Ramkissoon's death, coming so close on the heels of the murder of another young woman, Shannon Banfield, raised the ire of social media users, many of whom had participated in the protests and think tanks that were organised after Banfield's body was found in early December 2016. A hashtag, #RIPRachel (albeit with the incorrect spelling of her name) was started on Facebook, and a few people began the hashtag #RachaelRamkissoon on Twitter. Journalist and Facebook user Laura Dowrich-Phillips mused:

The solution to crime is a multipronged one that requires short-term and long-term strategies. The responsibility lies with all of us, not just the authorities. Start at home. We need to fix what is producing these sick minds.

Her colleague, Franka Philip, concurred:

There are a lot of sick people living among us. There is something nasty beneath our laughing, partying exterior and we have to find it and deal with it. #RIPRachel

A recurring theme in the online discussions about curbing gender-based violence revolve around the need for Caribbean men to be socialised to respect women. Facebook user Gilberte O'Sullivan tried to remember whether aggression against women was always such a burning issue:

As a schoolgirl, i don't remember stories about young women and children being murdered. Someone correct me. What is really going on in this place?

In the context of spiralling rates of violent crime, this was a question that criminologist Renee Cummings wanted the police service to answer:

I don't know what worries me more, the unending spate of violent crime fed by an abysmal detection rate or the lack of ideas by law enforcement and government that keeps evidence based responses to violence suppression in a deficit? How could a country exist without a national plan for homicide reduction and violence prevention? What then is the purpose of the National Security Council, Office of the [Attorney General], Ministry of National Security, [Trinidad and Tobago Police Service]?

No reassuring answers seem forthcoming, however, causing Facebook user Khafra Rudder to quip:

[Trinidad & Tobago] Needs A Bush Bath!

A bush bath has special, healing herbs steeped in the bath water. It is widely believed to said to ward off “maljo” (evil eye), bad luck and other dark forces.

One Facebook user accused her fellow Trinidadians for having the nine days’ wonder syndrome, claiming that the online outcry over Shannon Banfield's death was far greater than for Rachael Ramkissoon.

For other female social media users, both murders were cause for them to be concerned about their own safety. In a status update reminiscent of the #LifeinLeggings movement, which provided a safe, virtual space for women all across the region to share their stories of sexual harassment and gender violence, Deidre Jesse Rahaman — who used to attend the same school as Ramkissoon — recounted a harrowing experience of her own:

Circa 2004, I sat in my North Eastern College uniform after school in a maxi bound for Arima. My best friend wasn't present at school that day so I was traveling on my own.
A male stranger sat next to me and I noticed he was ridiculously fidgety, to the point that I assumed he had some kind of medical condition. I pressed myself against the window and and tried not to look his way out of respect. Only when we were almost at Valencia Junction did I look down and notice that the man had unzipped my school skirt on the left side and was touching my underpants with his finger. It took a few seconds for me to process what was happening. And then I panicked.
I began shouting, almost in tears, about the ‘hardback nastyman’ that was sitting next to me in the maxi, full of passengers, to draw attention to what was happening. He immediately pressed the bell, paid the driver and jumped out in Valencia like nothing had happened.
Of course I was in shambles.
Sooooo many people (adult and children) have experiences like this. Please protect us. Somebody.
#RIPRachel

Women's anxiety may be higher than usual at this time. The country is in the throes of “Carnival fever” — the passionate, party-filled prelude to the country's annual two-day street parade — and a large percentage of women participate in this beloved national festival. Last year's Carnival festivities were marred by the discovery of a dead female masquerader on Ash Wednesday morning. No one has yet been charged for that murder.

Renee Cummings, quoting “Full Extreme” — a hugely popular soca hit by the group Ultimate Rejects, which is a strong contender for this year's Road March (a prestigious title which recognises the song that is played the most on Carnival Monday and Tuesday) — again took issue with the low performance of the police service. The song perfectly captures the “Carnival mentality” that Trinidad and Tobago is often accused of having, basically saying that Trinbagonians would still be fixated on having a good time, even while Rome burned. Cummings said:

Were I the commissioner of police, in a country where the clearance rate for homicide is less than 10% […] I would not be able to sleep. […] Anywhere, in the world, a 10% clearance rate for homicide means you have failed misereably [sic] as a law enforcement agency. The national average, in the U.S., for homicide, is a 65% clearance rate, the lowest in about 50 years. It has created a crisis among law enforcement leaders, in the U.S., who are looking, at break neck speed, at new ways of thinking to generate new ideas to reduce homicide. But you know what, in true Trini parlance, our law enforcement leaders ‘they jammin still’ and you know why, the guiding philosophy of service delivery (law enforcement/national security is a service paid for with taxpayer dollars), for many years, in this country, has been ‘jus hold dem and wuk dem.’ Could it be that the ultimate rejects have been dictating the pace long before 2017?

An autopsy has determined that Rachael Ramkissoon was strangled. The police are continuing their investigations.

2 comments

  • […] to the poor detection record of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). There have been spiralling levels of violence — particularly towards women and girls — in the country. Just as disturbingly, graphic images […]

  • Neil Mathura

    The criminals are roaming free as they KNOW that they will NOT be caught. It is obvious that the present government cannot link the crime situation with the economy and other factors and though I am not in total agreement with the last government, they kept the economy going so that there would have been employment and other opportunities for persons. Also, the importance of the constitutional reform comes into question as only the Police Commissioner has the “say” in how the police service is run, and this is the crux of the problem. Clearly there is no accountability and with a low performance grade from the top cop and his management team, there is nothing that can be done to replace him and properly manage the Police Service. There is NO need to increase the number of officers hired into the police service, but the police officers themselves need so desperately, adequate leadership from the senior officers…..It is a shame that this is taking place in T&T and it is hoped that the present government recognizes the issues arising from the decisions that they have taken over the last almost two years in almost every area of the country’s business affairs and will examine the ramifications of their actions and implement an adequate strategy for recovery.

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