|Acquaintance rapes rampant in TT |
SUZANNE SHEPPARD Sunday, January 16 2005
AVAILABLE STATISTICS on sexual assault in Trinidad and Tobago show that the majority of victims know their attacker. Figures from the Rape Crisis Society show that there has been a consistent increase in such attacks, known as acquaintance rape, over the last five years. However, according to Karen Sutton, the Society’s Acting Executive Director, that trend is not unique to this country. Worldwide, acquaintance rapes are more widespread than all other forms of sexual assault, accounting for about 85 to 95 percent of such attacks. In its latest annual report, the Society states that most sexual assaults “take place at the survivor’s home, followed by the home of the perpetrator.” Acquaintance and date rapes account for 51.5 percent of reported sexual assaults, while 29.4 percent of rapes were committed by strangers and 14.7 percent were gang rapes.
Despite its high incidence, the Society said date rapes are among the most under-reported sex crimes in this country because “most survivors treat the incident as a personal experience rather than a criminal act. “It occurs when the victim goes on a date with the perpetrator and non-consensual sex takes place.” The report continues: “Regardless of the type of rape, 75 percent of rape survivors report being roughed up by the rapist, 95 percent are verbally intimidated and threatened. These threats are compounded by the presence of weapons, 50 percent incurred physical injuries. “Rape happens at anytime of the day or night and at any place.”
While the majority of rape survivors counselled by the Society are women, the organisation is “becoming increasingly aware of male rape.” However, it is estimated that only one percent of male rape is reported. Most of the handful of male rape victims who seek counselling from the Society are minors who are brought in by a parent, guardian, or teacher. According to the Society, there has also been an increase in reports of incest and child sexual abuse in recent times. The report stated: “One in every three girls and one in every five boys are sexually abused before they reach adulthood. Research has shown a great percentage of criminals are victims of some type of abuse in their homes or environment.”
Figures for 2003 show that 39 children were victims of incest and 17 were victims of sexual abuse. This was an eight percent increase from 2002. Overall, said Sutton, it is difficult to get full statistics on sexual assault in TT since the issue is shrouded in taboo and shame. Most attacks are never reported, or are reported weeks and months after they actually occur, making it difficult to prosecute the offenders. “In Caribbean societies there is still that taboo, particularly with regard to the victim and whether or not she deserved it,” she said. Sutton said taboos about rape are so deeply ingrained in TT society that it is difficult to educate people on this issue. This is one of the major challenges the Society faces in its outreach and education programmes throughout the country.
One of the consequences of the rape taboo is there is no way to determine whether there is an increase in such attacks during the Carnival season. However, Sutton emphasised that there is a need for increased awareness at this time, since certain events and venues provide an atmosphere in which sexual attacks can occur. “It is very important that people make careful plans and take certain precautions,” she advised. Of particular concern, are the many instances in which victims are drugged before they are raped. Sutton told Sunday Newsday, this is a growing trend in Trinidad and Tobago and is closely linked to acquaintance rape. “Most victims won’t accept drinks from strangers,” she pointed out, “so very often the people spiking drinks are well known to the victim. . . someone the victim might ask to buy a drink, for example.
“That is why we urge women in particular to be alert and aware. They need to be very aware of how much they drink — the recommended amount is one alcoholic drink an hour for women — and they must never leave their drinks unattended, or let anyone buy them a drink.” According to data collected by the Society for 2003, the majority of victims seeking counselling were female and from North Trinidad. Most were adolescents or young adults, followed by persons in the 27-35 and 36-44 age groups. Three sex attacks involving children of pre-school age — four years or younger — were reported to the Society and all were from North Trinidad. There were 18 reported incidents involving victims in the 5-11 age group and seven involving persons 54 years or older.
By geographic area, a breakdown of the figures show that the largest number of attacks — 138 — were reported in St George, followed by Victoria where there were 40 attacks and Mayaro a distant third with 21 attacks. The Rape Crisis Society, established in 1984, addresses the issues of sexual and domestic violence through counselling and public education. The Society operates centres in North and South Trinidad and is considering expansion into Tobago in the near future.