Some might think that the phrase “rape culture,” is simply an exaggerated myth made up by angry, man-hating, bra-burning feminists to push their own agenda. However, they could not be more wrong. It is real and it is prevalent in Caribbean society.
Trinidad and Tobago is known all around the world for its Carnival, often touted as “the greatest show on Earth.” As true as this may be, Carnival 2016 was marred by the tragic death of Asami Nagakiya. For people from the Caribbean, right after Carnival Tuesday 2016, scrolling down their Facebook newsfeed, ‘rape culture’ had become the most popular phrase.
The ludicrous response by the then Port-of-Spain Mayor, Raymond Tim Kee that “Women have the responsibility to ensure they are not abused during the Carnival season,” incensed women and some men all over Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean.
This misogynistic proclamation made by a leader in public office in the capital, is a prime example of how gender inequality has permeated our society. So much so, that it has transformed into blatant victim blaming and morphed into a vibrant rape culture.
Culture is the foundation of all societies. Whether formal or informal, it is based on the attitudes, beliefs, customs, and rituals that members have consensus on and accept as normal.
Even though the official forensics reports later stated that Asami death was indeed a homicide and that she was not raped, the mayor’s statement alludes to a deep-seated belief that rape and other gender-based violence is the fault of the victim, and this is normal. Instead of viewing the criminal in the wrong light, the victim was highlighted as having caused her own death. Rather than pointing out the way women are treated as being a problem that needs to be changed, people in a rape culture are under the impression that this is “just the way things are,” as though men are unable to control their own actions and women must just deal with the consequences. Furthermore, we need to understand that the words coming from public office were clear signs that there is an element in society condoning and normalising physical, emotional, and sexual harassment and violence against women and girls and marginalised persons. This is feeding the rape culture and mentality, making it grow every day.
The unfortunate truth is that society seems to have accepted rape and violence against women as a part of life, and the strict gender roles that still exist in Caribbean society today propagates this. When unequal gender relations and the idea that men have sexual entitlement is a part of culture and social norms, there is the production and maintenance of an environment where physical and sexual assault it so normative that people believe because a woman may be dressed or behaving a certain way, rape is inevitable, and she is responsible for the harm done to her. In such societies, the frequency of rape and sexual assault is higher.
The 2001 Caribbean Regional Tribunal on Violence against Women Report observed that for many Caribbean women, even the home is a dangerous place. It mirrors the world in which we live, where, on average, at least one in three women is beaten or forced into sex or abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.
Some may argue that it is not a women’s issue, rather, it is a human issue. However, a 2012 United Nations Development (UNDP) Caribbean Human Development report indicated that 30.4% of women in the Caribbean report high rates of fear of sexual assault in comparision to 11.1% of men. The problem needs to be addressed by authorities, instead of exacerbated by them.
Not surprisingly, according to UN Women, 48% of adolescent girls in nine Caribbean countries reported their first sexual experience to be “forced.” Furthermore, based on joint research done by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Latin America and the Caribbean Region of the World Bank, in the top ten global rape rates, Caribbean countries feature three times. Whereas the worldwide average for rape is 15 per 100,000, The Bahamas had an average of 133, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 112, Jamaica 51, Dominica 34, Barbados 25 and Trinidad and Tobago 18.
All it takes is a short ride on public transport to be exposed to the essence of rape culture in Trinidad and Tobago. Deciphering the lyrics of popular music reveals a disturbing undertone that not only promotes violence against women but exalts it and encourages men to display inappropriate sexual advances toward women, with or without the woman’s permission. Many songs promote the idea that women exist to “siddong pon de cocky,” and endorse the idea that women are nothing more than a “pum pum is paradise.” From a very young age, men are indoctrinated into the illusionary belief that they have dominance over the female body. This is rape culture rearing its ugly head.
Young people often idolise famous artists and treat them as role models, repeating the lyrics until it is a part of their psyche. Is the rape culture what we want to reinforce?
What can also be deduced from comments and posts made by male counterparts on social media and through actual conversation after the mayor’s statement, is that while there are many men who are aware of the struggle faced by women in the Caribbean, many people are still ignorant of just how they are contributing to the culture.
Asami was a talented pannist who loved coming to Trinidad and Tobago and, in her own words, she loved the culture. As a society, there is a need to re-evaluate how we treat with women.
Until both a half-naked and a fully clothed woman is free to walk the streets without being cursed for not responding to the rude advances of men, the rape culture will exist, decomposing Caribbean society from the inside out. Sexual harassment is wrong. Unwanted, vulgar remarks about a person are not compliments, they make women feel threatened and unsafe. Therefore, condemning sexual harassment will make more flagrant sexual violence not tolerated. There needs to be a culture change, to one that does not implicitly accept misogyny and objectification of women. In order to put a stop to rape culture, we need to re-evaluate masculinity. It is possible to be a man/masculine without being violent, rape is not a norm and it is not a natural masculine compulsion. Masculinity equals neither violence nor hyper-sexuality. These are the values we need to teach the young ones.
It starts at home, teach boys the right way to treat with people and we will see a cleansing of the society.