Female victims of sexual abuse in Barbados are not only left to feel vulnerable with regard to their perpetrators, they also have little faith in the system to adequately protect them.
That is according to Barbara Jimenez-Santiago, the Americas Regional Director of international NGO Equality Now and co-author of the report, Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls and Adolescents in the Americas.
The report reviews the gaps and loopholes in the sexual violence laws of 43 jurisdictions in 35 countries in North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Jimenez-Santiago said victims of sexual abuse in Barbados were burdened two-fold.
“One of the things that was very interesting to learn is how victims feel they can never escape from perpetrators especially because everyone knows each other. If you compare that feeling with the lack of access to a system where the victims go for assistance and they don’t have the procedures or officials trained then it’s a double burden to speak up. That’s one of the big things that we understood,” she said.
She said some aspects of the laws need to be reviewed.
“As it relates to the law, we also found that Barbados’ law along with other countries such as Belize, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, still refer to women and girls with very strong and discriminatory language.
“When we reviewed the laws regarding the definition of rape, especially looking at which ones were based on the use of force, we found that many Caribbean countries, because of the common law background, they have the definition pretty much based on consent but what we found is it is not based on the free and willing consent and sometimes doesn’t include all of the circumstances,” Jimenez-Santiago said.
She said relationships of power such as those involving teachers and students were not included in those circumstances.
Jimenez-Santiago said the manner in which the laws were written were very limited and did not help victims in those particular situations.
She pointed to the fact that marital rape was still not recognized in many countries in the Caribbean, although she lauded Barbados for being among those that did.
“That’s very problematic because it doesn’t recognize the freedom of the woman even in that relationship and that in a domestic relationship she doesn’t have the liberty to decide if she wants to have sex,” she said.
Jimenez-Santiago called for discriminatory language to be repealed and for the definition of consent to be broadened.
She also said there was the need for an implementation approach where training for officials, judicial officers and police was made available.
Speaking on a webinar to discuss the findings of the report, Professor Ramona Biholar of the University of the West Indies Mona Campus, said while sexual violent rates are high in the Caribbean some laws in the region were deficient.
Speaking specifically to rape, Professor Biholar said there was a masculinization of rape perpetration and that the law is premised on, and endorses sexual stereotypes.
“Some sexual offences laws still limit the definition of rape to nonconsensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman…and such a narrow definition of rape sets ambiguous, heteronormative boundaries by which only a man can commit rape and only a woman can be a victim of rape,” Professor Biholar said.
As a result, she said there were victims of sexual violence which would qualify as rape but whose experiences are “silent by the law”.
She said these involved gay and transgender men.
Professor Biholar said in some instances it meant the law was a tool condoning harmful acts.