Groups urge reform of rape laws
Stabroek News
November 25, 2006

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The Guyana Human Rights Association, Help and Shelter and Red Thread are calling for urgent reform of the sexual offences law and policy on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In a press release, the groups said "We must all commit ourselves within our spheres of influence to (exert) pressure, not only for reform of rape laws and procedures, but to eliminate all forms of violence against women."

As regards rape the organisations said, "In Guyana today the dominant attitude towards women who report rape is scepticism despite the fact that false accusations of sexual offences are less common than of other crimes." They said while some areas of the judicial system are improving, "The disgraceful reality is that the legal system is so stacked against conviction that no woman can be blamed for deciding not to report that she has been raped." And further that, "legal decisions continue to be profoundly affected by assumptions about what constitutes "real rape."" Justice for rape victims must challenge the myths that women lie about rape, must recognise the predominance of rape by acquaintances and partners, must focus on the role of coercion and force rather than on consent.

The release said Guyana is not exempt from the intense global commercial pressure to sexualise the image of women as mainly sexual depictions of women "eclipse all other messages about [their] needs, rights and aspirations." Last year, an international survey revealed that one in three people, both men and women believe that women who act flirtatiously are partly or wholly responsible if they are raped. One in four felt the same about women who wear 'sexy' clothing. These same people comprise juries at rape trials.

The advocates said while juries and society prefer to believe the illusion that most rapes occur when strangers attack women in lonely places, the reality is that most rapes are committed by persons known to the victims. The home is also proportionately a much more dangerous place for girls and women, with respect to violence of all kinds, than walking from a night club on the street at 3 am, regardless of the mode of dress.

"We have to ensure that perpetrators will be held fully accountable for their deeds. Too many have been and are getting away with rape and other sex crimes, confident, with reason, that the justice system poses no threat to them," the groups contend.

Violence against women in the society is so pervasive that only a concerted effort by all concerned entities can make any headway in reducing the problem. The group said observing this day provides an opportunity for an unprecedented mobilization of both civil society and government to provide effective justice for women and girls, who remain the overwhelming victims of all forms of violence.