Dec 01, 2021 Letters
Kaieteur News – The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) believes that the cruel, inhumane and possibly illegal treatment experienced by the young rape victim Tonika Calder by investigating officers at the Cove & John Police Station contributed to her subsequent suicide some two hours later.
Such self-harming, by a vulnerable teenager who only last month celebrated her 18th birthday, is yet another red flag not only to the Guyana Police Force (GPF) but to the society at large.
In addition to the mental and emotional violence done to Tonika Calder, this callous behaviour is an affront to all the institutions and individuals who have worked over the past two decades to have in place, a modern Sexual Offences Act.
Belonging to a family with five siblings, Tonika Calder, the baby in the family, was nine years old when she left Guyana to join an older sister and her mother in Trinidad who had been living and working over fifteen years there. After the mother developed a heart condition, the family decided to return home which they did within the last two years. At the time of returning home, not only was Ms. Calder in the CXC stream, doing well in swimming and in Taekwondo, but also was recognised sufficiently as an ‘achievable student’ within her Secondary school to be given a letter of recommendation to bring home to Guyana.
On Friday, November 12, three sisters of Tonika Calder visited the Cove & John Station for a morning meeting with the Police Commander of Region 4 (‘C’ Division) seeking additional answers as to why screened information taken from their sister’s mobile phone by the police was now in the public domain. According to the family members, assurance was given by the Commander that the matter would be investigated fully; a file was being prepared and would be sent to the DPP for advice. At the close of the same working day, a family member received a phone call from the Inspector assigned to the matter that the file had come back from the DPP and that no charges would be given since the victim is dead.
Some explanation is needed from the DPP as to how the advice of ‘no charges to be laid’ could be given in such a short period of time without seeking other information, particularly in light of possibly illegal investigatory procedures with the victim’s family. Moreover, the contention that a police investigation into the rape allegation could not be carried out because the victim committed suicide is bizarre. The victim’s good reputation and her surviving family deserve no less, even if charges cannot be laid. The behaviour of both the DPP (based on information given to the family) and the GPF show inordinate sensitivity to the rights of the accused while ignoring completely those of the victim.
The agencies responsible for funding and promoting protection of the rights of women against sexual abuse, assault and harassment need a new degree of militancy. Too many women are being damaged permanently or have died at the hands of violent partners because of systemic dysfunction and police indifference to prior complaints.
The dysfunction of the Guyana Police, as displayed in the above incident, is prompted ultimately by a perception of their role shaped entirely by the male community, against whom the police need to protect themselves. Moreover, after the reformed Sexual Offences Act was passed, issues such as securing Protection Orders on a routine and rapid basis from police stations remain dependent on individuals in police stations.
The Ministry of Social Protection, with the enormous financial resources made recently available by the European Union and UNDP through the Spotlight programme, treat violence against women as something to be resolved by a plethora of projects, by a plethora of agencies, rather than a matter of power and political will. The barbed-wire, barrack-room architecture, the weapons and sirens are the complete opposite of what community-oriented policing and the needs of women require. While there are undoubtedly improved strategies with respect to dealing with abused women by the GPF, and sporadic internal initiatives such as Çops and Faith, their consistent and predictable non-implementation of relevant legislation continue to encourage illegal behaviour and actions within and without the GPF.
The GHRA extends its condolences to the family and friends of such an untimely and tragic death of Tonika Calder.
Guyana Human Rights Association
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