The local media have reported on numerous cases involving sexual assault that are engaging the attention of the judicial system. In quite a few of these court hearings, the nation has been shocked to learn of the details which emerged, of how the victims were sexually and physically abused.
In one of these cases, a taxi driver from Tucville, Georgetown, who has since been jailed for 11 years, preyed on a vulnerable sex worker. The victim, who in her impact statement said she is a mother of three, described the accused as a “monster”, noting that since the tragic ordeal, “I have a lot of fear, anger, hatred, and helplessness.” She besought the court to lock up the perpetrator for life, so that he could not hurt anyone else.
The rape survivor told the presiding Judge: “I want you to help me to get justice for myself and the other victims, because I wasn’t the only victim of that monster. I would want to kill him with my own hands, because that man destroyed our (her family’s) lives.”
This is just one of a long list of cases of women being sexually violated. While life would never be the same again for the victims involved, it is good to see that the perpetrators are facing justice for these despicable and cruel acts. However, this might just be the tip of the iceberg, as it is widely believed that many sexual abuse cases, including those involving children, are deliberately hidden and go unreported for various reasons.
Sexual violence against women and children is considered to be a gross violation of rights. According to UNICEF, sexual violence can take the form of sexual abuse, harassment, rape, or sexual exploitation in prostitution or pornography. It can happen in homes, institutions, schools, workplaces, in travel and tourism facilities; and within communities. Increasingly, the Internet and mobile phones also put children at risk of sexual violence, as some adults look to the Internet to pursue sexual relationships with children. There is also an increase in the number and circulation of images of child abuse.
A UNICEF study, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, estimates that, worldwide, around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. Boys also report experiencing sexual violence, but they do so to a lesser extent than girls.
Evidence shows that sexual violence can have serious short- and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences, not only for girls or boys, but also for their families and communities. Those include increased risks for illness, unwanted pregnancy, psychological distress, stigma, discrimination, and difficulties at school.
In Guyana, the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) and the Human Services Ministry, along with various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), have been on the frontline in bringing some of these cases to light. These agencies must continue to work diligently in ensuring that all such cases are brought to the fore, where they could be properly investigated and prosecuted.
The Guyana Police Force is also a key partner in the fight against sexual violence perpetrated on women and children. The Force must continue to provide the necessary training to its officers in order to properly investigate sexual crimes against women and children. Our women and children need to be assured that when violence against them is reported, the law would act quickly to persecute the perpetrators, and that our judicial system would function efficiently and equitably to bring such criminals to justice.
Importantly, too, is that all the necessary support systems must be put in place to ensure victims and their families are provided with counselling, etc, to overcome the trauma of sexual violence.
Women and children, irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural or social backgrounds, deserve to live in an environment where they feel safe and are part of loving and nurturing families.