Taking a strong stand against the breaches of the Sexual Offences Act recently exposed regarding the rape of a young Amerindian woman in Mahdia, several human rights groups gathered in front of the Criminal Investigations Division, Eve Leary on Wednesday to protest the action taken by the police.
The demonstration was organised by Red Thread and endorsed by several other groups including Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and Amerindian Peoples Association (APA).
They are demanding that the police and medical authorities demonstrate “real commitment” to implementing the Sexual Offences Act and sounded calls for justice for all victims of rape and sexual assault in Guyana, “no matter where the offence takes place and who, or how well connected the attackers are.”
The young hotel worker was reportedly drugged and then brutally raped by three men at a popular hotel and bar in Mahdia, Region Eight. She was hospitalised after the attack and the police had said that they have launched no investigation into a rape allegation, but had revealed that they instead are investigating a case of assault causing actually bodily harm.
In light of this, Red Thread members reminded that the Sexual Offences Act clearly spells out the procedures that law enforcement and public health personnel must follow in order to assist the victims of sexual offences attain justice.
The protestors reminded that Section 87 of the Act gives special attention to the issue of sexual violence in remote areas, with access to police support and medical attention being specifically called for. They are contending that the case in Mahdia (and so many other instances all over Guyana) illustrates that the laws on the books are given mere lip service, with their actual implementation and enforcement being severely deficient.
Red Thread pointed out that the unavailability of rape kits at the Mahdia District Hospital (and apparently all hospitals outside of Georgetown), an incomplete medical examination of the victim, as well as the callous and unprofessional treatment the young woman received at the hands of the police officers, illustrate a disturbing lack of commitment on the part of the authorities to protecting victims of rape and sexual offences, and to properly enforcing the Sexual Offences Act of 2010.
They said that although sensitivity was noted in the female police rank who took the victim’s statement at the CID Headquarters in Georgetown, the comments in the press by a senior officer alluding to the victim’s consumption of alcohol “serve to further belittle and degrade victims of sexual assault and shows a great deal of ignorance still remaining, even at the senior level, about the basic etiology of rape and sexual assault”.
Protestors said too that the Ministry of Health also has to be held accountable for their poorly trained staff who did not conduct a full medical examination of the victim and who did not provide her with anti-HIV medication, as well as for the fact that rape kits are not made available to hinterland hospitals.
The medical examination, the bodies emphasised, is a critical part of the rape victim’s quest for justice and must be done properly. They said that the individuals who have been thus traumatized require understanding and sensitive treatment, and for their claims to be taken seriously.
“Police and healthcare workers, who are untrained, hostile, and unwilling to do their job correctly, or influenced by fear or bribery by the attacker, are an impediment to justice and should be strictly disciplined. All rape and sexual assault allegations in Guyana must be taken seriously and investigated properly – on the coast as well as in hinterland communities,” they stressed.
During the activity, the demonstrators were invited to have a discussion with Crime Chief Leslie James who assured that the matter is now engaging the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
According to Joycelyn Bacchus, Secretary of Red Thread, the organisation received commitment from the Crime Chief that any offence committed under the Sexual Offences Act would be thoroughly investigated.
As it relates to reports of the rape of an elderly woman in Matthews Ridge last week, James said that the force is investigating the matter but stated that her speech impediment, due to a stroke she suffered about eighteen months ago, has posed some difficulty with ranks taking a statement from her.
On Tuesday, the GHRA had strongly criticized the manner in which the police and medical officials in Matthews Ridge have handled that case.
The local human rights body issued a call for concerted and urgent action, both from the Ministry of Health and the Guyana Police Force, to ensure that a more professional and realistic response to allegations of sexual assault is adopted in hinterland areas. The GHRA had noted that this was not the first instance of sexual assault where an unacceptable response was garnered from the police and medical officials.
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