As Guyana joins the rest of the world in observing Child Protection Week under the theme “Children’s Safety and Security, Our Priority”, the haunting incidents of rape and sexual assault against women and girls continue to trouble this nation. The sad reality of this recently unfolded when a 21-year-old mother of one died following a sexual attack by a minibus driver. So severe were her injuries that a child is now left motherless. In 2015, there were over 230 reports of rape, but only 36 persons were charged. Compounding this actuality is also the fact that there is a stark court backlog on tackling cases of sexual violence.A recent United States Department report on human rights outlined that in Guyana, a high number of rape and sexual assaults are unreported to authorities, citing that this was most likely as a result of fear of stigma, a lack of confidence in authorities, retribution, or further violence.As with any form of violence, sexual violence tears at the fabric of a country’s well-being. However, when the agency responsible for helping victims of rape describes this horrendous crime as mere “deflowering”, the sad unravelled truth of our country’s approach to this crime is evident. “Deflowering” means to deprive (a woman) of her virginity, but is that what rape is? Mere deflowering? The Social Protection Ministry, in its statement on Guyana’s observances for Child Protection Week, stated that “incest and underage sexual activity in childhood (are) also of grave concern to the Childcare & Protection Agency (CPA), an arm of the Ministry. This deflowering of our children must stop.”It is frighteningly obvious that the Social Protection Ministry needs a trained psychologist to educate its staff about the true meaning of rape, particularly child rape, which is not simply “deflowering” even if the victim was virginal. Rape is more than “deflowering”; rape is sexual abuse, a lifelong scar. The Ministry needs to also be enlightened that rape and other forms of sexual assault have traumatic psychological, emotional, physical, social, interpersonal, and financial impact on victims. According to a study conducted by Rape Victims Advocates (RVA), each survivor reacts to sexual assault in their own unique way. Personal style, culture, and context of the survivor’s life may affect these reactions. Some victims may tell others right away what happened, others will wait weeks, months, or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so.Earlier this year, Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence came in for much criticism after she made some unfortunate remarks and had a casual approach in defence of a man, who was charged for sexual molestation. The Minister, in defence of the man, was quoted by another section of the media as saying, “This is a family issue that has been going on and on and on and on for whatever reason, I can’t tell you, because if I had a brother, even if there was an accusation, this is not how I would go about helping him.”What was rather disappointing is that the alleged molester’s sister further alleged that she told the Minister that her brother needed to be jailed for his involvement, but Lawrence asked her not to pursue such actions.Less than six months later, there is a statement issued by the Ministry the same Minister heads defining rape of children as simply “deflowering”.The Social Protection Ministry is where victims of such a dreadful crime seek refuge not only for their physical well-being but also for justice. As such, if rape/sexual assault victims’ tragedy is seen as mere “deflowering” by this ministry, then where can they truly seek help? This time around, President David Granger needs to do much more than modestly ask the Minister for an explanation.
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