Gender advocates share safety tips and advice for women

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Kenicia Francis

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In light of the increased reports of sexual assaults, preteen pregnancies, robberies, burglaries, and violence against women in recent times, Observer sought the advice of two people who shared tips and advice for how women .

Nurse Alexandrina Wong, the executive director of Women Against Rape (WAR) highlighted the importance of not walking alone in the dark.

“Now, that can be seen as utopian seeing that many of our streetlights don’t work well from time to time. That might also be the only route home for a person, especially if they don’t have their own transportation. But still consider walking in pairs or in numbers,” she said. 

She also said that WAR encourages women to take self-defense classes and focusing on physical fitness 

When it comes to safety in the home, Wong spoke about having discussions with the landlord or contractor regarding adequate protection such as locks on doors and windows. 

“Also, we taught ladies, especially single households led by women, to create a safety plan that — should your home be invaded during the hours of night — this should be your escape,” she said.

Wong explained that WAR was formed due to a surge in nocturnal home invasions in 2007, dubbed the masked man night visits. This led to the establishment of the rape unit, initially at Cutters and later at Langfords, from 2007 to around 2010. 

The unit evolved into a one-stop shop managed by the Directorate of Gender Affairs. 

The one-stop shop provides comprehensive services for sexual assault victims, including medical legal examinations, sexual assault advocates for support, and police involvement. 

Despite challenges like under-reporting, advocacy efforts have encouraged more victims to come forward due to the improved care available. 

This shift has helped overcome reluctance to report cases, possibly influenced by traditional beliefs and practices.

When it comes to children, Wong said parents should be mindful of their behaviour, specifically if they feel uncomfortable interacting with “a relative, a good friend of the family, or an upstanding citizen of the community. If when a person approaches the home or where this child may be, the child runs and clings to a parent, those are warning signs that something is wrong, that individual has had some untoward threats and or behavior towards that child in the past,” she said.

She also explained that grooming is usually done by someone close to the family, a person everyone trusts, or someone well respected in society. 

If a child starts wetting the bed often, struggles to sleep, or their grades drop, those are red flags for parents.

A child’s sudden change from being happy and talkative to quiet and reserved is also a sign, so it is important for parents to notice these signs and seek help for the child.

So, when a child tells a parent about someone touching them in inappropriate ways like on the cheek, arm, back, buttocks, chest, or playing with their hair, parents should believe them. 

However, the abuser may be the family’s main provider, making it tough for the mother to confront them.

“There’s lots of information that has been generated from 2007 to the present time. Lots of training has been done. Frontline workers have been trained how to be compassionate when someone goes and makes or attempts to make a report. We’re training the persons as community-based advocates to identify what situations may look like, how to speak to someone if they receive a call or report in their community, and what to do and not to do. We also still have our helpline which is 721-5553. It is for all forms of violence, whether it’s from a social aspect, or of sexual assault.” she said.

Meanwhile, Raisa Charles, a program officer within the Directorate of Gender Affairs, who conceptualises and supports the execution of programs that are geared towards achieving gender equality in Antigua and Barbuda, also shared with Observer regarding self-protection tips for women. 

Her portfolio is centred around areas that have to do with gender-based violence, women in health, and women’s economic empowerment.

Some of the tips she shared included making sure all the windows and doors within the home are locked at night to provide as many barriers as possible to hopefully prevent someone entering illegally.

“Be mindful if there is somebody who is walking behind you or who seems to be following you or is extremely close. If you’re walking home, for example, and you notice that somebody is following you, try to take an alternate route so that they don’t end up seeing where you live because that, of course, can be an entry point.

“While we do want women to be mindful of their surroundings and to be careful, because at the end of the day, there is somebody going around actively seeking to harm others, and so we must take steps to protect ourselves. We also want to remember that the burden is not to be placed on women and girls to protect themselves from something that should never happen to them in the first place. One of the things that the Directorate has done in the past is work along with the Royal Police Force. We have, at one point, issued a bulletin to let women in particular areas where this type of crime was seen to be prevalent, issued a bulletin to let them know to be on the lookout,” Charles said 

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