By Latrishka Thomas
“Rape is rape” and should be treated as such, opined a local psychologist speaking on Observer’s Big Issues radio show on Sunday.
Clinical psychologist, Jo-Nelle Walsh, was supported by other advocates on the programme who all agreed that rape should not be placed in categories.
“Rape is rape, just like a car accident is a car accident. I’m getting to the point where I’m now saying that trauma is trauma. We cannot trivialise it because trauma is trauma,” Walsh stated.
Gender and youth advocate Zahra Airall also chimed in, sharing similar sentiments.
“I don’t like the phrase ‘low category’ because it minimises what the law states. It minimises the social bearings of what is happening…I also feel like it has a connotation that if the act isn’t violent it’s okay to get a slap on the wrist,” she remarked.
Arita Phillip, social activist and head of the non-governmental organisation, Alternative Antigua, added that trivialising the offence of rape scares victims from coming forward.
“I think that is something that positions the issue in the mind of somebody who is a public victim of rape and also persons who are suffering very silently; they feel as though they are going to be victimised or they are going to be stigmatised if they are victims of such actions,” the activist stated.
Phillip further explained that the outrage being expressed by the public is because “people feel like the sentences are light because they do not believe that rape is an issue where people should have reduced sentences and that is a position that I agree with.”
The women were speaking in relation to the perceived low sentences that several individuals have received over the last few months for statutory rape.
Just last week, a 21-year-old was sentenced to spend a year in jail for having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in May last year.
And another was placed on a two-year probation for raping a 13-year-old girl based on the fact that the judge characterised the circumstances of the crime as “low category”.
Civil and criminal defence attorney Lawrence Daniels sought to explain why there may be categories of rape.
“If you have girl at the age of 13 and a boy at the age of 14 engaged in this kind of activity, are we saying that we are going to criminalise the young boy because he is 14 or 15?
“The court has a duty to balance justice with the facts and circumstances to ensure that it arrives at a just sentence that speaks to the offence, and also gives justice not only to the defence but also to the victim as well,” Daniels explained
Meanwhile, the pundits lobbied for a proper sexual education programme to be implemented in schools.
“I am definitely one of those persons who believe that if we had a proper sex-ed system in the schools that that would help in some regards. Even if the adults as well were to treat it seriously it would help to curve that,” Airall said.
She also emphasised the need for legislation and practices “to reinforce consequences”.
The gender advocate said that while she agrees that the law is clear, “the guidelines may definitely need to be revisited and perhaps with consultation from the Directorate of Gender Affairs and other experts or psychologists”.