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“I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?” (Laurie Halsy Anderson, in her book: Speak)

Catholics believe that human life is sacred, and that the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. “This principle is grounded in the idea that the person is made in the image of God… Human dignity can only be realised and protected in the context of relationships with the wider society…Every person is a reflection of the sacred and is worthy of respect”(www.stjohnvianney.org).

But respect must be nurtured. Too often it appears that the law of the jungle prevails in society. Or perhaps I am being unfair to the animals that live in jungles, as many of them behave in a more civilised manner than some of us human beings.

We read about the alleged gang-rape by 3 men of a 19-year old Venezuelan woman while she was at home with her boyfriend in the early hours of 2 May, 2020. Three male suspects have been charged with rape and burglary, and one of them was additionally charged with the offence of grievous sexual assault.

Police media release on Friday 15 May stated that 3 men appeared before Magistrates in Arima and Scarborough to answer charges for the alleged sexual assault of 4 female minors in separate incidents. Also on 15 May Officers of the Child Protection Unit arrested 5 men of Central Trinidad in connection with 63 sexual offences against minors.

Guardian reported that the end of November 2019, according to official police statistics, there were over 552 re­port­ed cas­es of sex­u­al of­fences for that year, “with women mak­ing up the ma­jor­i­ty of the cas­es. Of these re­port­ed cas­es, 92 have been rape.”

Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy has rightly stated that “violence against women and girls, is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. Regrettably, it remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it…a culture of justice and a multi-pronged system for victims of rape and violence must be developed.”

Sections 4 and 4A of the Sexual Offences Act (as amended) outline the law relating to the crimes of Rape and Grievous Sexual Assault. Legislation is not enough. Unless we change our culture, crimes against the dignity of the human person will continue apace. Do we have a Rape Culture in TT? Although I wish to focus on the current culture as it affects women, let’s not forget that a significant proportion of victims of rape or other sexual violence incidents are male.

“Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorisation of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. Rape Culture affects every woman. The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women…” (www.marshall.edu).

The rape of any person – man, woman or child, diminishes us and is anathema to the concept of integral human development, which is the development of the whole person, and of each dimension of the person. Over the years I have assisted a number of rape victims both in the UK and in TT. The trauma that each one experiences remains etched in my memory.

I recall driving with a friend to an event, when she suddenly opened up and told me about her experience of being raped by her father for years. Her mother denied that it was taking place. As soon as she could, she left home and struggled to survive. Even though she has a good job and her own family today, the scars of the violation of her body and mind continue to haunt her. She wept in my car as though it had occurred recently.

I knew a school girl who was on her way home. A man walked up behind her, placed a knife at her waist, ordering her to follow him. He took her to an abandoned house and raped her. He was never found. She continues to receive counselling.

Our duty is to work together to promote right relationships in TT. Lord, heal our land.