By Kadeem Joseph
Gender advocates are making an argument for improvements to be made for the mechanisms used to report violence against women as well as greater efforts to improve education about sexual abuse, starting within the school system.
The concern over the paths to reporting sexual and other violent acts against women comes as debate and discussion continues over a recent guilty verdict returned in a sex trafficking case against R&B superstar R Kelly, that has spilled over into the region, including Antigua and Barbuda.
Speaking on the Big Issues programme on Sunday, activist and writer Linisa George explained that the experience of having to walk a victim into a police station to make a report can be both “intimidating and upsetting”.
“As an adult, I can tell you having to walk someone into the police station, it’s just a dreary, cold place, even where they are taken to give a statement,” she said as she questioned, “what are we doing to make it easier understanding there is so much stigma and trauma that even the step to reporting it is retraumatizing the victim?”
George is calling for a re-evaluation of the steps victims use to report instances of sexual violence to ensure that these sensitive cases are handled correctly.
Meanwhile, the activist also suggested that schools could play a role in seeking to help curb some of these social ills on a community level and giving critical information on support groups and services available for victims of sexual violence.
“Often times, schools don’t want to be the ones responsible for disseminating that information to students and young people specifically, because there is always a backlash from parents, but these are resources that are necessary for victims and survivors to have access to that will provide the care and assistance and support that they need to follow through,” she explained.
Speaking during the same programme, the Deputy director of the National Counselling Centre in St Kitts, Naeemah Hazelle agreed that schools are a “great place to start” in seeking to address behaviours that may ultimately lead to the perpetuation of violence against women and girls, noting that children can learn new ways of socialisation that may prove more difficult for adults.
“We can say that we have health and family life programmes but we don’t apply them across the board; not every child in every school gets health and family life education,” she said. “It is important that we are teaching our young people in our curriculums and in our social services … so when you’re teaching social science you should be talking about abuse and appropriate relationships.”
She is also calling for schools to be more proactive and call on civil society to support them in educating young people about these issues.
Hazelle said there also needs to be greater community outreach and sexual assault training across organisations to expand the number of people who have effective tools to deal with the issues of sexual assault.
She is also calling for an “offender rehabilitation model” that help offenders rather than just punishing them so that they do not continue these behaviours when they return to society.