Rape myths must be demolished - GHRA
Stabroek News
November 29, 2006

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With conviction rates in rape cases at an all time low, and little success in the courts, the local human rights body says myths about sexual violence against women have to be demolished to initiate judicial reforms.

"It will take a concerted effort to change public opinion about the realities of sexual violence against women," the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) said in a statement issued to accompany the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women rally last week. It added that public awareness about the ineffective legal and judicial response to crimes of sexual violence must be highlighted, while adding that public opinion is complacent because of the pervasiveness of four myths in particular about rape.

There are some who believe that women cry rape as revenge, or to cover up consensual sex they later regret. According to the GHRA, this is false and in fact, unjustified rape claims account for only 3% of the allegations made by women.

Another myth is that rape victims are attacked by strangers. In reality, women are more likely to be raped by current or former partners, in settings that are familiar to them. However, it is the rape by a stranger that is the most likely to be reported, while marital rape or date rape is the least.

Getting a case to and through the court system is not getting easier. The GHRA notes that between 2000 and 2004, 97% of reported cases failed to make it to trial. No charges were laid in 60% of reports to the police during the same period. Between half and two-thirds of rape cases are abandoned by victims out of frustration. Only 14 per cent reached trial in 2002.

Lastly, it is false to think that rapists are now more likely to be convicted. The conviction rate is at all-time low and, in fact, only 1.9% of the 647 reports to the police between 2000 and 2004 ended in conviction.

The GHRA has published two reports with details of the statistics and it has concluded that sexual predators have nothing to fear from the justice system. It adds that demolishing the myths about sexual violence must be high on the agenda of all organizations concerned with sexual violence. It says recognising the myths is the "first step" in creating effective laws and legal procedures.

Meanwhile, the GHRA has recommitted itself to renewed efforts to better educate public opinion about the pervasive nature of violence against women. To date, 102 organisations from diverse sectors have endorsed the call for reform in the rape laws. It is urging other organizations and individuals to join its efforts, while emphasising that the problem must be constantly highlighted and that all are involved in dealing with it.