‘Rape and sexual violence crisis’ in SVG: Opposition leader claims

Photo by Nelson A. King

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Opposition Leader, Dr. Godwin Friday Sunday night lamented what he describes as “a rape and sexual violence crisis” in the country.

“Sadly, we have in St. Vincent and the Grenadines not merely a rape culture but a rape and sexual violence crisis,” Dr. Friday, president of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) told a town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.

“This national crisis requires all of us to work together to combat the problem,” he added at the meeting organized by the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Progressive Organization of New York, otherwise known as SPOONY. “The permissiveness, the deafening silence and the willingness among many to sweep complaints under the rug must end.”

Friday, who is also a lawyer, referred to a recent workshop for educators, at which Kimberley Cambridge, a psychologist attached to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, made he characterized as “a courageous and candid statement.”

“’St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a rape culture and, to combat it, we must talk about it,’” Friday quoted Cambridge as saying. “’We cannot pretend it does not exist.’”

“Rape is on the rise in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he further alluded to her as saying.

For the period January 2018 and January 2019, 47 new cases of rape were reported to Cambridge’s department, 40 were of girls under the age of 18, according to Friday.

“In one case, the victim was a boy under the age of 12,” he said. “The victims came from all over the country.”

The NDP leader said Cambridge’s statement and the supporting data “ignited a broader public conversation on the matter of rape and sexual violence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines “ranks among the worst countries in the world for rape and sexual assault.”

Friday said recent reports in the media of rape, with three separate incidents reported on at the same time, “have shocked the conscience of the nation.”

He said two of the incidents involve police officers as the alleged offenders and young girls as the victims.

In one of the incidents, Friday said it is alleged that several young men/boys “gang-raped a 15-year-old schoolgirl.”

“The description in the media is shocking!” Friday declared. “It should shock all of us.”

To provide support and show commitment to addressing the problem, the opposition leader urged Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, to “regularly address the nation on the issue of crime, particularly the high murder rate, and on rape and sexual assault.”

The Northern Grenadines representative in Parliament also urged that the local constabulary be “better trained to investigate and prosecute rape and sexual assault cases.”

“Include it as a major part of the curriculum of the police training course and provide opportunity for mandatory continuing education in the area,” he advised.”

In addition, Friday said court sentences must be “more consistent and predictable, and severe enough to deter potential perpetrators.”

“Even if conviction is achieved and appropriate punishment meted out, victims continue to suffer for life,” he said. “So, put education and social programs in place to empower women and girls, and community to combat and prevent sexual violence.”

Friday said sexual offence is not simply against the person but also against the state.

“The practice of ‘mekking up’ (making up) such a case must be rooted out for it trivializes the matter,” he said. “This is not like a theft case where restitution is possible.”

In combating crime generally in the long term, Friday also urged the government to “recruit more and better candidates for the police service, ensuring that selection of trainees is based on ability not on political affiliation, and not simply to give someone a job.

“Police work is hard work, and the recruit must be willing and prepared for it,” he declared. “Too many people join the force just to get a job until they can find something better to do.”

Additionally, Friday wants the incumbent Unity Labor Party (ULP) administration to equip the police for modern-day crime-fighting by providing basic facilities, and introducing and improving forensic investigative techniques.

He called for the promotion of community policing in order to build better relations between police and the people.

“Clear out bad apples in the force,” he said. “Punish who do wrong and break the law and get rid of them.”

Friday also urged the government to promote high morale among the police by, for example, improving living and working conditions, and conducting hiring and promotions on the basis of merit, “not on the basis of political allegiance.”

He warned that reports of violent crimes frighten residents, and scare away visitors and potential investors.

“There can be no development without security,” Friday said. “That is, security in the country is (a) pre-condition for development.

“The ULP leaders are indifferent or downright blind to people’s concerns about violent crime, and they offer only political spin,” he claimed.

“The gulf of mistrust between the community and the police is wide and getting wider every day,” Friday added. “People are unwilling or afraid to give information to the police or to be witnesses for fear that their role would not be kept confidential. This is making the police less effective in preventing and solving crime.”

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