Access to Justice a Sore Issue in Sex Crimes – People tell Public Forum

Speakers at Sunday’s Public Forum on the Use of Sexual Violence in Gross Human Rights Violations, all reiterated the need for our justice system to be strengthened when it comes to enforcing the laws against sexual offences. 

Speakers included Danuta Radzik of Help and Shelter, Wintress White of Red Thread, and Zenita Nicholson of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), who also moderated the event. This forum was organized in commemoration of International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, observed annually on March 24. The aims were done to raise awareness to the scourge of sexual violence affecting our society, to acknowledge that victims of this type of crime rarely receive justice and to develop a plan of action on how this issue can be addressed collectively within our communities.  Participants were placed into small working groups and given an opportunity to discuss key issues in addressing sexual violence in our communities, in institutional settings and the justice system.

In her presentation, Radzik spoke extensively on the rape culture in Guyana which she reiterated is fuelled and sustained by rape myths, stereotypical, traditional and fixed beliefs of gender and gender roles, homophobia and false notions of masculinity and sexism. She also gave a very comprehensive overview of the Sexual Offences Act 2010 which is known to be one to the most progressive laws on sexual offences in the Caribbean. Her presentation also pointed out, however, that the implementation of this law proves to be a challenge. Additionally, Guyanese are not fully aware of this law and as a result, prosecution under this Act remains very low. Particularly challenging as well is recognizing that men are also  raped. While the laws clearly recognizes this, as a society, male victims of sexual violence are too often dehumanized, and further victimized if they report being raped. Rape is also used as a form of torture against men, as is the case in the Colwyn Harding incident.

                                                                                    

Danuta Radzik presenting at the forum

Presenters Wintress White and Zenita Nicholson both reiterated that survivors of rape often suffer a systemic violation of their rights as often times the authorities fail to act or are slow to act when rape is reported by specific vulnerable groups in our population. White exemplified her point  by sharing the experience of a sex worker who attempted to report that she was raped to the police and they in turn chased her away chastising that ‘sex workers do not get raped.’ These rape myths, White noted, need to be debunked; anyone can be raped regardless of their profession. She further pointed out that police officers need to be properly trained on the Sexual Offences Act and that it is their duty to respond to every report of sexual abuse made to them.

                                                                                  

Wintress White (standing) facilitating a working group discussion

In addressing the manner in which reports of rapes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons are handled by the police, Zenita Nicholson remarked that “this is where we see the most overt violations of human rights occurring.” She stated that oftentimes LGBT persons do not report sexual abuse to the authorities because they are further victimized by the police and healthcare providers. She pointed out that a vast majority of sexual abuse incidents go unreported by LGBT persons as the victims feel they have no real form of redress for the everyday acts of discrimination they endure in society.

After the presentations, participants were placed into three discussion groups: one group dealt with sexual violence in institutional settings, another dealt with sexual violence and the community and the third group dealt with sexual violence and the justice system. Some key issues arising from these discussions included the need to address the development of rape culture in Guyana where victims are blamed and the incident trivalised.  Participants noted that citizens are not educated on the laws and as a result they do not know how to seek justice. They also pointed out that service providers and police officers need to be educated on the laws regarding sexual offences and that they need sensitivity training on how to respond to survivors of sex crimes. Of concern too was the fact that the Sexual Offences Act does not adequately cover sexual harassment in the workplace and that this leaves many victims of sexual assault in the workplace or in institutional settings without recourse if they fall prey to sexual predators. Other issues arising are the normalizing of violent sexual acts by promoting sexually explicit musical lyrics and videos. The recommendations made to address these issues were documented by the host groups.

                                                                                

Participants discussing recommendations in a working group

After the forum, a donation was collected to support the efforts of the Colwyn Harding Support Group to seek justice and proper medical care for Harding.  

This forum was organized by the Colwyn Harding Support Group, Help and Shelter, Red Thread and SASOD.

View photos from this event here.