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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bahamas: Spotlight on sexual violence

By THEA RUTHERFORD ~ Guardian National Correspondent ~

A Bahamas Crisis Centre-hosted symposium on sexual violence held on Wednesday, November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, brought noted panelists together to increase awareness of the burning issue.

Held for a half-day at the C.H. Thompson Memorial Youth Center of Transfiguration Baptist Church, the symposium included presentations from physicians, psychologists, politicians and representatives from both the police sexual offenses unit and the Attorney-General's office.

In addition to remarks from the various stakeholders, students from Expressions of Excellence, the drama group at C.C. Sweeting High School, performed a skit to illustrate the issue.

Her Majesty's Prison superintendent Dr. Elliston Rahming was among the first to address the group, citing alarming international statistics for sexual assault.

One in 33 men and one in six women will be assaulted during their lifetime, Rahming said.

Statistics for the report of incidences of sexual assault were equally dismal, with Rahming noting that 60 percent of cases in the U.S. went unreported. He said that there were no specific numbers for the report of cases in The Bahamas.

"Sexual violence is a very serious problem but again in The Bahamas we see it as a law enforcement problem," said Rahming. "More and more countries are seeing it as a public health problem. When you look at the wide ramifications of violence and sexual abuse, it has any number of attachments — psychological, sociological, healthwise and otherwise, so we agree that we have a problem."

Rahming also shared common myths about the causes of sexual violence and the nature of its perpetrators. "The first is that sexual violence, domestic violence, occurs primarily or typically among poor persons — that is a myth. It runs the gamut straight across the spectrum," said Rahming.

Other myths include the notion that the victim deserves the abuse and that domestic violence is a private matter between husband and wife. Rahming also addressed the "blaming the victim" attitude that questions why the abused person does not leave, noting the psychological complications underlying such circumstances that such reasoning oversimplifies.

"If you have been abused or if you have been sexually victimized, you ought to know that it is not your fault and you have a duty, not an option, to report it," said Rahming. "Thirdly, you're not alone . . . help is available."

Dr. Ada Thompson joined the prison superintendent on the panel of speakers with a talk on the devastating consequences of spousal rape.

"Spousal or marital rape is more common than we know," said Thompson, a medical doctor who is also a minister of the gospel. "I've had some patients who have been raped scores of times by their spouses . . . but because we live in a society where men's rights, in spite of all the declarations we may sign, still seem to take precedence over the woman, then most times he gets away with it."

Weeks after the government's consideration of the proposal to amend the Sexual offenses and Domestic Violence Act in order to ban spousal rape became public, a debate raged in the news headlines between supporters and proponents. Religious leaders on both sides of the debate have been among the most vocal in public discussion of the issue.

Thompson dismissed the claims of those opposed to the still pending ban.

"You have some men of the cloth who are saying that it is not possible to rape a wife, because she is a wife she has given up her right to say no. And of course I challenge that," said Thompson. "She hasn't given up her rights to be a human being and if you violate her rights to being a human being, the right to say no . . . then that is violence and violence of a sexual nature is rape."

Underscoring the importance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women during the symposium, director of the Crisis Centre, Dr. Sandra Dean Patterson said:

"We thought to recognize [this day] by focusing on the whole issue of sexual violence. Sexual violence is deadly business. Rape is a four letter word that raises fear and terror in many, many women and is the source of emotional devastation and pain for all who are violated. It's the worst invasion of privacy that an individual can experience. It violates your physical body but also your soul and your spirit."

December 1, 2009