Women's Issues In Guyana


The trials of female sex crime victims

Kaieteur News – November 24, 2006
Editorial

The way society treats female victims of sex crimes is an excellent indicator of the true state of gender equality in this country.

When male perpetrators are on trial for raping or sexually abusing women, courtroom proceedings across the country expose Guyanese society’s wide-ranging bias against females. In countless cases, females who are in court seeking justice for rape or sexual abuse have to endure an intense psychological bombardment oozing with pro-male bigotry. It is an excruciating experience requiring enormous fortitude. Even worse, there is no guarantee that by enduring it female victims will get justice.

The courtroom ordeals of female victims of sex crimes often result from the callous and bizarre tactics used by the lawyers for the alleged perpetrators to convince courts that the sex was consensual. It is most revealing that these tactics usually aim to destroy the character of female accusers by pointing to the way they dressed or behaved before and after the alleged sex crimes, or their sexual histories. Apparently, this is rooted in the spurious concept that it is excusable to rape females who dress or behave inappropriately.

In court cases involving sex crimes in which the accused are male and the accusers are female, it is hard to miss the gender bias against females. In the courtroom arena, the way some lawyers defend the accused clearly implies that only women whose deportment and reputations are impeccable can be rape victims. They put it over as if females who wear revealing outfits, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or have several relationships automatically lose the right to refuse sex.

This reflects the archaic double-standards that unfortunately are still prevalent in Guyana . Unlike women, men wear the revealing outfits without this signifying sexual availability to all comers. Unlike women, men smoke, drink, dance, or have multiple relationships, and it tends to enhance, rather than hurt, their reputations. Unlike women, men can refuse or discontinue sexual encounters with females at any stage of intimacy, disengage themselves and walk away without risking the forced completion of the act.

Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of the perverse disparity of power in sexual relations between males and females in Guyana involves males who admit to sexual contact with underage girls and see nothing wrong with it. Male paedophiles sometimes have the audacity to declare, even in open court, that they had ‘consensual’ sex with obviously underage females, who clearly cannot give consent to sex. The backward social conventions that repress females in this country generate these extreme mindsets.

With regard to underage female victims of sex crimes, the situation is particularly grim. It is virtually impossible to bring the male perpetrators to justice because of institutional weaknesses at every stage of the redress process. Earlier this year, the state system allowed three underage female victims to visit with a grown man who had allegedly violated them sexually for years. Fortunately, a senior social worker intervened and had the abused children removed from the clutches of their alleged abuser a second time.

Commenting on that case, a senior official explained that the existing system permits social workers to return victims of abuse to the homes in which they were abused as a last resort, provided the entire family, including the abuser, has received counselling and there is compelling evidence of “progress.”

The process of seeking justice and getting appropriate counselling for victims seems to rely heavily on the expertise and judgment of social workers and counsellors.

There is no question that in Guyana ‘s courts, female sex crime victims usually find themselves on trial along with the accused. This is so because social conventions and attitudes that are prejudicial to women’s interests permeate all levels of society, including the courts.

It is vitally important that all right-thinking persons, especially women, do their utmost to challenge and overturn these jaundiced conventions and attitudes in order to advance true gender equality.

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