March 10, 2007
A Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) study on sexual violence released this week, titled 'Getting Serious: Detecting & Protecting Against Crimes of Sexual Violence in Guyana', reveals that sexual violence against girls is most prevalent among under 16s and that young Amerindian girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years old are the most vulnerable in the country. This gives statistical weight to the anecdotal evidence that presents itself practically everyday.
What makes the GHRA study, published in Thursday's edition of this newspaper, even more horrifying reading is the fact that the research was conducted using only 120 police case files and that these were only 13% of the volume of sexual violence cases reported to the police over the past five years. Even given the fact that the files were not randomly selected, but were used because of the way in which they were stored, which raises the issue of selection bias, one does not even need to do the extrapolation to grasp the magnitude of this problem. It jumps out at you. The researchers also had no way of knowing how many of the cases had gone to trial, were still pending or had been closed for one reason or another.
What has always been known, however, is that a great many incidents of sexual violence go unreported. The GHRA, in a report it published last year, had called for Section 76 of the Criminal Law Offences Act, which deals with rape, to be reformed. Among the recommendations it made were for evidence which deals with the complainant's sexual history to be banned; for in-camera hearings of rape cases to be made mandatory; for absolute anonymity for complainants and for the abolition of the common-law rule on corroboration. These among other recommendations, it was felt would help to increase the reporting of rape cases. There have been no moves made on this as yet.
Releasing its study on Wednesday, the GHRA said that through collaboration with the police and the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions it was able to determine that with appropriate computer software a national programme could be developed to systematically record such information. If applied appropriately, it added, such information could not only raise the level of detection of sexual violence by profiling potential predators and their victims, but could also provide the necessary foundation for developing effective protection programmes for women and girls.
The GHRA, through this and other studies it has done, is playing a vital role in providing the much-needed statistical evidence on sexual violence. Prior to this organization taking on this task there were no available studies on this issue, which impacts so heavily on the lives of women and young girls and the nation as a whole. This is proof of the readiness of civil society to get serious about this issue.
Government's response should be action in the form of moves to amend the legislation dealing with rape; increasing the expertise of police officers in dealing with sexual violence crimes as well as providing the necessary computers, software and training in its use, rather than the usual rhetoric.
International Women's Day was observed on Thursday last under the theme 'Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls'. This theme, selected by the United Nations, is a sad confirmation of the fact that violence against women rages on with impunity all around the world. If steps are not taken today, to put systems in place that can check this, then practically everything else that is done to honour women would have little or no meaning. It is time to get serious. It is time to end the violence.