Rape is a four-letter word Editorial
Stabroek News
January 30, 2007

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Religious and political protestors last week must have been so consumed by the controversy over the coming of casino gambling and by complaints about the confusing introduction of the value added tax that few found of them time to contemplate the worsening plight of this country's girl children.

With yet another killing, this time of a child who was raped, bludgeoned and left to die on a pile of logs on the foreshore at Parika, this country is acquiring a nasty reputation for failing to protect its children and young women from sexual predators and for failing to arrest, convict and punish a sufficient number of the perpetrators of those crimes to serve as a deterrent to others.

When the January criminal sessions of the Demerara Assizes opened recently, about one third of the hundred cases listed for hearing were for rape - a number greater than for murder or manslaughter! But it can be expected that there will be fewer convictions. The Guyana Human Rights Association in two recent reports: Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in the Guyana Justice Process, and, Justice for Rape Victims: Reform of Laws and Procedures in Guyana, warned that the conviction rate for rape cases had fallen from a 'high' of only 0.9 per cent in 2000 to a 'low' of 0.6 per cent in 2004, even as the number of reported rapes had increased.

The reason for this, in part, is the cynical attitude of poorly trained policemen towards rape victims and their cursory initial inquiry and clumsy collection of evidence. Cases frequently founder because of flawed investigations and, surprisingly, suspicions that the reports are fabricated by victims. As a result, defective detective work and faulty forensic techniques are often compounded by the lack of sensitive treatment of the traumatised victims, a skill not inculcated in police training school.

The GHRA reports that 97 per cent of original complaints do not reach trial in the High Court, a high rate for such serious crimes, suggesting grave deficiencies in building cases at the levels of the local police stations and the district magistrates' courts. If, eventually, the case reaches the High Court, frequently years after the crime occurred, the victim might be reluctant to relive the ordeal, memory is blurred, testimony is woolly, witnesses are absent, evidence vanishes and the case disintegrates.

Because of the low rate of conviction, perhaps, perpetrators think that they can get away with the crime. Many of the worst cases of rape-murders seem to have occurred in rural communities - Johanna Cecilia; Mahdia; Onderneeming; Parika; Wakenaam; Warren. But everyday rapes are reported almost everywhere else obscured by euphemisms such as carnal knowledge, incest or sexual assault and often cloaked by abductions and so-called child marriages between male adults and female minors. The police pretend to be paralysed in these domestic but patently criminal matters. Rape is a four-letter word - a crime of violence that must be investigated with the same rigour as murder, armed robbery and any other crime of violence.

Is it such a hard thing for the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security to be furnished with sufficient resources; for the Ministry of Legal Affairs to do more about the torpor of the courts, and for the Ministry of Home Affairs to improve the proficiency of the police force to counter the societal and official constructs that allow the rape of children to continue in this country?