Words matter, and often can and do take on a life of their own.
Thus The Caribbean Voice (TCV) is happy that so many were critical of the words of the Minister of Education, Dr Nicolette Henry, who implied that violence is “normal” in schools countrywide with her comment: “Well, usually students fight. It’s nothing unusual, as you would know; you’ve gone to school yourselves and we all would’ve seen…”
The reality is that no matter how often it happens, violence cannot be normalised by anyone, much less by a minister whose portfolio includes addressing the increasing violence and bullying in the nation’s schools. Worse yet was that this was a case of gender-based violence, since it was a male student abusing a female student. No amount of subsequent ‘damage control’ and actions to address the situation will have nullified the effect of the Minister’s words.
TCV also really does hope that an investigation is launched into the recent case presided over by Justice Jo-Ann Barlow, who took off one third of a sentence after a guilty plea by an abuser was accepted, because the abuser “didn’t waste the court’s time”.
Justice Barlow also said she took into consideration that the abuser was younger than the woman, and therefore the woman would be more aggressive.
To reduce the sentence of an abuser because the abuser pleaded guilty insults all victims of abuse and waters down the seriousness of gender-based violence, which is fast becoming an epidemic in Guyana and globally. As well, it sends a message to abusers that, once they plead guilty, they will receive less than the maximum sentence. In fact, one wonders whether there is any legal basis for such an action.
Furthermore, to base that reduction partly on an assertion that is baseless is astounding. Surely, the learned judge is supposed to have ensured that assertions are evidence-based, since courts should be dealing with evidence, and not suppositions.
The fact is that aggression in a relationship has nothing to do with age. Gender-based violence (GBV) is the result of the abuser’s need to assert power and control.
The third instance of words being used with little consideration given to their impact has to do with a statement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, in which she disclosed that the most popular sexual offences her chamber is faced with is rape of a child under sixteen years, whereby there is penetration and sexual activity…”. To use the term ‘popular’ to refer to an act of rape is to awfully sanitize the act.
No matter how often rape is committed, it is never ever, and never can be, popular; and someone of the calibre of the Director of Public Prosecutions must be absolutely circumspect with the way she uses words.
Our appeal therefore is that those whose words can and often do shape views and opinions — especially when they are policy-makers or tasked with dispensing justice — must ensure that they use the right words in the right contexts, and assert evidence-based conclusions at all times.
The Caribbean Voice