The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is seeking to address the issue of rape and sexual assault of women and children in the country, says Minister of National Mobilisation, Frederick Stephenson.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday in response to a question from opposition lawmaker, St. Clair Leacock.
Stephenson said the government has had discussion in relation to a sex offenders’ registry, which will go before the cabinet for further discussions.
Leacock, who is Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, said that the opposition has raised in parliament, support for the Social and Spiritual Redemption Charter but its attempts were unsuccessful.
The Social and Spiritual Redemption Charter is the New Democratic Party’s proposal for the use of moral teachings to address social ills.
It includes financial support from the state for organisations such as Scouts, Girl Guides, Pathfinders, and Cadets that seek to develop model citizens.
In his question, Leacock asked that to the extent that the subject of rape as a serious aspect of crime is now raising its ugly head for solutions would the minister be prepared to have a fresh look at the charter with specific inclusion of rape as a category of crime as a subject for the attention of the Parliament.
The opposition member wanted the minister to say how best his ministry could engage and obtain the assistance of our faith-based organisations in reducing this scourge on our society.
He asked Stephenson to say what other, if any, independent plans does the ministry have in mind to address the rape epidemic and whether the ministry accepted that the current state of rape and the violation of our women to be of crisis proportions.
In response, Stephenson said no social and spiritual redemption charter on its own can end any social issue affecting any country in the world, not even SVG.
He said his ministry and the government are deeply concerned about the number of reported cases of gender-based violence, specifically rape and sexual assault in SVG.
Stephenson said there was legislative reform of the family laws of SVG borne out of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States family laws and domestic violence reform project in 2001.
From this project, a suite of family legislation was drafted to address key issues and international conventions, with the only outstanding piece being the Child Justice Bill which is before the Parliament and is expected to be passed into law before year end.
The national mobilisation minister said that although the government has passed laws and developed policies and implemented measures and programmes in response to reports of child abuse and domestic violence, they remain some of the most prevalent human rights violations in the country.
“In fact, various departments within the ministry, such as the Child Development Division and the Gender Development Division have intensified efforts since 2012 in promoting the “Break the Silence” campaign encouraging persons to speak up and say no to child abuse and domestic violence.”
Stephenson said that these divisions within his ministry in collaboration with other social partners such as the Family Court, ministries of education and health and Marion House continue to provide support services to victims of gender-based violence.
He said the was speaking on day two of the 16 days of activism on gender-based violence, where the Gender Affairs Division and the National Commission on Gender-Based Violence was implementing a series of activities to galvanise awareness on violence against women.
“Due to the widespread impunity on sexual violence and rape at the global, regional and national levels, the United Nations Secretary General decided that commencing this year [up] to 2021, the focus will be on rape as a specific form of harm committed against women and girls in times of peace and war.”
Stephenson said that while there was a spike in the number of reported cases in 2015 as a result of the Break the Silence campaign, statistics from the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force revealed that the rates of sexual violence reported from 2015 to 2018 show some decline.
In 2015, there were 247 reported cases of indecent assault, rape and other sex crimes. In 2016, the figure went down to 196. In 2017, it was 264 and in 2018, there were 223 cases, Stephenson said.
The minister said that indecent assault accounted for the highest number of cases for all of these years.
“It is not my intention to downplay this social issue. One case of rape is one case too many. However, rape and its violation of our women is a global epidemic and concern, hence its thematic focus for the next two years at the level of the United Nations and here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Stephenson said.
He said the government has recently approved a comprehensive review of the sexual offences provision within the Criminal Code that discriminates against women, girls and other vulnerable groups.
“We are doing this, Mr. Speaker, so that our laws can adopt the recommendation made by the United Nations human rights bodies, the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
“This review will provide recommendations for reform to reflect international good practices on issues such as rape and sexual assault, sexual offences relating to people with disabilities and the age of consent.
“The review will also involve continued consultation with key stakeholders within the judiciary, the legislature, social sector, civil society inclusive of the Christian council”.
Stephenson said his ministry is engaging and seeking the assistance of faith-based organisations in addressing the social issues.
“This government is committed to guaranteeing a safe and peaceful society and we recognise that rape and sexual violence is a serious act that is used as a weapon of suppression.
“The Ministry of National Mobilisation, in collaboration with key stakeholders, is taking substantial measures, legislative policy and programming to address and reduce the social scourge in our society.”
He noted the November 2018 establishment of the Sexual Offences Unit with the police force to assist with providing access to justice for victims and punishment for perpetrators.
“In addition, the ministry collaborates with this unit and other agencies to provide support services to victims in the form of therapeutic interventions, social protection among others.
“We cannot also underscore the work of the major Crimes Unit within the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force in response to the issues of domestic violence and sexual violence, including rape in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Mr. Speaker, the government endeavours to continue the public education and sensitisation campaign on gender-based violence and support services available to victims and survivors. It is hoped that as a result of these awareness initiatives, many victims will gain the confidence and willingness to report their cases to the police.”
Stephenson said that sometimes persons would make reports to the police and some of the officers will still tell the victims to make it up with their significant others.
“The public education and the police education have to be one par with what the Domestic Violence Act is all about. One case that is reported and is not treated properly would seek to say to the perpetrator that I can go on and do what I am doing.
“Mr. Speaker, all of us need to do more for us to truly eliminate the scourge and we must all say enough is enough. Let us start or join the conversation within our homes and families and our friends in the workplaces, the church, within social circles, on social media about how, collectively, rape can be eliminated from our communities. Let us speak out and show the courage to say it is not OK to rape.
“Intervening as an active bystander signals to the perpetrator that their behaviour is unacceptable and may help someone stay safe. Gender-based violence is not an easy and overnight task.
“However, the government continues to endeavour to do its utmost best as it welcomes every single member of this honourable house, communities, families and churches and other social and civil organisation to join forces in changing attitudes and eliminating violence against our women and girls.”