Georgetown, 23rd October, 2018,
GEPAN wishes to express its growing concern over the manner in which cases of rape, sexual assault and violence against women and girls (VAWG) are being handled by authorities in Guyana. We would like to state our disappointment that little has been done over the years to provide a safe environment for Guyanese women and girls who are confronted with the rampant endemic of sexual abuse, gender bias and discrimination, now characteristic of our country. We believe that conscious gender bias continues to affect the performance of our national institutions and deprive victims of justice, especially when assailants are privileged or placed beyond the reach of the Law.
Such has been the case of a REO who was charged with sexual assault allegedly committed on several co-workers, including a former Deputy Mayor of Lethem and an education officer who were affiliated with the same political party. Despite multiple complaints, it took almost two years and relentless efforts from the victim who pursued justice, as well as a petition of twelve hundred signatures from indigenous peoples, before the REO was finally charged. Sadly, poverty and the subsequent challenges to procure pro bono legal services, along with the incessant attempts to discredit and humiliate the victim who dared to stand up to her party and fight for justice, resulted in the REO’s release. The Ministry of Communities then transferred him to another remote Region and as predicted, he has already become the subject of a new allegation of sexual misconduct according to the written complaint from the husband of the victim. By shifting the problem from one region to the next, the Ministry of Communities has merely exposed other vulnerable women and girls to a political figure who has long since earned the reputation of being a known sexual predator.
The recent case of combined robbery and rape allegedly committed by two GDF officers who took turns raping a woman while forcing her male companion to watch, is another example of how our national institutions are failing us. The distressed families of the victims have since reached out for the support of the general public as they struggle to resist the alleged harassment and pressure from GDF ranks, while pointing to the indifference of the Police which they fear will result in another snuffed-out rape case. The first hearing of the case revealed that both alleged rapists are still on the GDF’s payroll, causing the victims to lose faith in our legal system.
A new case of alleged sexual grooming and rape perpetuated in some of Georgetown’s most popular nightclubs, by a circle of prominent and affluent men among whom are said to be promoters and businessmen, is currently being built by a growing list of victims. The victims allege that after being drugged and losing consciousness for hours, they would awake in the backrooms of these clubs with signs of sexual abuse on their bodies. The perverse nature of these crimes which occur when a victim is weak, asleep or not in a position to give her consent freely, are a troubling manifestation of the pervasiveness of sexual predation in Guyana.
These three cases have triggered the alarm on the state of rape culture in Guyana and help to understand why our country ranks 122 on the Gender Inequality Index, shamefully far behind our Caribbean neighbours Barbados (60), Trinidad & Tobago (73) and Jamaica (95). It even puts us behind countries like Brazil (94) and Venezuela (105). As a matter of fact, Guyana’s GII is closer to India’s (127), (a country figuring among the top 10 with the highest rape crimes in 2017) than its neighbours in the region. This situation should force the Government of Guyana, our national institutions and the Police, to take up their responsibility to eradicate VAWG and gender inequalities, as well as to protect victims of gender-based violence from abuse of power, discrimination and bullying.
GEPAN calls on the Government of Guyana through:
1. The good offices of President Granger in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, to ensure that the victims of the alleged rapist soldiers are given a fair chance before the Law, without having to continuously resist coercive pressures by the GDF or affiliated interest groups;
2. The Ministry of Communities to consider the safety of the women in the hinterland, over that of a certain political appointee in its employ who has developed a track record of sexual allegations;
3. The Ministry of Social Protection to break the silence on rape culture and violence against women and girls inflicted by men, in particular those who are shielded from the Law by their social and professional status.
The growing number of femicides and sexual abuse committed on minors to date (almost 400 girls sexually molested between January and May 2018) continue to reflect the level of inefficiency of our policies and institutions in building a safe and healthy environment for our children. Rape is not the act of “deflowering” once described by Minister Volda Lawrence, but a grave human rights violation which contradicts the Government of Guyana’s international commitments to promoting gender equality, women’s rights and the rights of the child.
In concluding, GEPAN would like to urge the Government of Guyana to act on its human rights commitments to the citizens of this country, without discrimination based on gender, race, religion or political creed.